We are awash in change and uncertainty right now. In times like this, we are looking for meaning or certainty or predictability. Something that is the truth. What’s the story here? Today I want to share some thoughts about the power of story.
To make sense of our lives, we create stories. These stories can be passed down from our parents or our culture. Stories can be embellished by our own experiences and learning, they are informed by our values, our wins and losses. Some of our stories are conscious as we use language to share our experience with other people. Bigger stories are invisible. Many times we aren’t even aware of how we tell the narrative of our lives, it's just “how things are”.
So, we can get really invested in our story and why we are right in our perspective. “It’s not my responsibility, let me tell you why..” “It’s really unfair, let me tell you why…”
“It’s going to be like this in the future, because let me tell you exactly how it has been in the past….”
It takes a lot of energy to “be right” and stay in a story that defends, avoids, denies, manipulates, insulates or any other number of verbs. And it can even be an incredibly smart strategy for keeping us protected from pain that we can’t feel or a breakdown we can’t face. I’m not judging stories, they are unavoidable and serve a valuable purpose.
However, for each of us, at some point, we feel limited by our story. Or we may not subscribe to the story being told to us by family, culture, work or religion. We want to move beyond that same old song - or at least investigate it. We feel stifled or may suspect there are other possibilities (after all, other people seem to be living out just the life we yearn for).
[ Meta side note….did you ever think about the idea that you have to make up language and story to communicate “how things are” -- and even in that process you’re taking it a step away from “the thing” and putting your own lens/language on it? The act of naming is an interpretation. ]
The act of naming is an interpretation.
If you’re still with me and you're interested in putting this to the test, here’s how to investigate a story.
How to investigate your stories:
- Select one specific story. Life is a big complex tangle, so separate out a thread here about a relationship with work or a friend.
- Tell the story out loud or write it out so you can either hear it or read it outside of your own ruminating brain.
- What language/tone are you using in your story? Is it negative? Is it judgmental? Is it so positive that it plasters over some of the unpleasant truth?
- What are the undeniable facts of your story? Is it true?
- What part are you playing? Are you the hero? The long-suffering victim? The selfless helper? The villain?
- Where does this come from? Is this an old story? Have you experienced this story or similar stories in your life?
- Just ask yourself, “What do I avoid by telling myself this story? Where do I hold myself back from action?” Maybe you don’t have an answer and that’s okay. Learning comes from asking.
After investigation, assess what you found:
- Are you seeing anything about your story you didn’t see before?
- Do you like this? Is it helping or hindering you? Is it highlighting things you’d like to see continued?
- Tell your story again. Write it out, speak it aloud. Did anything shift?
It’s unlikely that our story is 100% exactly the same. It may be better or it may be worse, but you can see that it can change. And maybe you can see the possibility that you can change it. This is a time when lots of stories are being questioned and you have power to choose how you’ll interpret events, take positive action and use this time of growth.