We all have a story to tell. That story might be about something sad, or scary, or happy. And while we all pick and choose what parts of our story to tell, did you know that HOW you tell your story can have a direct impact on your daily life, even making you more successful?
For my first blog launching this site, I thought I would offer something a little different. Instead of looking at some of the things that impact us from the outside, I wanted to focus on improvement from the inside. More specifically, how we can find happiness by something as simple as rewriting the script around our unique individual story.
Dan McAdams, a psychologist at Northwestern University, spent years researching and writing about what he refers to as Narrative Identity. In his research, McAdams looks not just at WHAT we choose to relate about our life experiences, but HOW we relate those experiences. When we tell a story about personal tragedy, its how we define the impact of that experience that seems to help shape our current behavior. McAdams found that people who viewed their lives as meaningful tended to tell their personal narratives in a way that was positive, even if the actual experience was a negative one.
This research has been found by others as well. In a 2012 study Adam Grant and Jane Dutton asked people that were calling out and soliciting donations to write about an experience from the perspective of either giving or receiving help. The study found that those who spent time talking about helping others ultimately worked harder to make more contacts than those who wrote about receiving help.
Ultimately, one of the key findings that McAdams offered is that those who talk about their life stories in ways that are redemptive and positive were the same people who felt that their lives had meaning, and that they could positively impact the world that they lived in. On the other hand, people that told stories of “contamination” or how their lives had been negatively impacted by outside events. People who maintain this perspective tended to be less likely to help others, and felt that they could not make a difference.
So what does that mean for each of us? Well, it means that we can improve our lives just by changing the way we talk about ourselves and our personal story. The key is in focusing on how events of the past can still lead to a positive future. For example, someone who spent time caring for a dying relative can either focus on how the experience helped them learn to care more for others, or how the experience made them fear hospitals. In one example, the experience helped to enhance a positive trait, caring for other people. In the other, the experience ended in something negative, fear. To be redemptive, an experience, no matter how bad, is seen as contributing to something positive. As you frame your story in this positive way, that will lead to a more and more positive focus.
Even if the story that you tell today is a contamination story, where some event in life has created a negative trait or emotion, you can choose to rewrite that script. Focus instead on positive things that you experience today as a result of your experience. Rewrite your own personal script to show how what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Spend time thinking about how your story has lead to positive outcomes in your life, and weave that into your personal narrative. In this way, you have a chance to rewrite your script, and change the story of your life.