Writing of her secret life as a prostitute, a blogger with the pseudonym Belle de Jour had a backstory worthy of a movie script. In fact it was turned into a Showtime TV series. She wanted to have a satisfying next chapter of her life story so she wrote about it. You see she’s “a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology.”
To create fresh scenes for your life, view it as a movie story. That’s what Donald Miller did when he wrote A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Screenwriters know that in a movie a Character is What He Does. An Inciting Incident must happen.
If you are restless with your life why not evoke such an incident to turn your next chapter into the kind of adventure story you want for your life? That’s what I’m embarking on, in a halting way. Four friends are on this path with me and it would be great to have you join us.
“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it,” wrote Hannah Arendt yet we do define ourselves by the spin we put on the stories we tell.
1. Recognize the Story of Your Life So Far
How we cobble together the incidents in our lives and create a narrative thread reflects that spin, revealing our hidden personalities and our tendencies suggests psychologist Dan McAdams, author of The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. To put it starkly, McAdams believes there are two kinds of people.
There are those who view life-altering experiences as “contaminative episodes.” An emotionally positive event suddenly goes bad and that will be the way they replay future incidents.
Others, like Taylor Mali view events as “redemptive episodes” through which they can eventually redeem bad scenes, turning them into good outcomes over time and becoming better people. I feel like I do some of both. How about you?
2. Choose to Put a Positive Spin on Your Stories and Pull Others Closer
How we feel about our past affects how we think about describing it – creating an endless loop of repeating scenes and expectations. Seeing the patterns in our past incidents, choosing to learn from them and rejoicing in that growth can be done most naturally by shifting the theme of the stories we tell others about ourselves. Move from contaminative to redemptive.
In this shift you create a life-affirming triple win:
1. You begin living from your strengths more often.
2. Others around you are encouraged by this emotional contagion, thus you are helping friends of your friends’ friends to see their life story in a more resilient light.
3. Reflecting resiliency in your storytelling can pull others closer as they are attracted to positivity.
Positively “integrated personal narratives are an important marker of psychological health,” according to Siegel.
Telling your stories from a resilient mindset also helps anchor that attitude in you – and more.
3. Storytelling Creates Connective Tissue Between Us
1. As you tell you often pull out stories from listeners. Stories tend to build upon each other and draw others in. They spark deeper conversations, begin to establish a common ground and build trust through that sharing.
2. Stories, by their nature, are static, action-driven and in sharing them we can move each other to act, to change.
3. Stories help to cultivate empathy, as PJ Manney points out, encouraging others to understand the perceptions and motivations of others including the storyteller.
4. A good storyteller can reduce a complex situation to its essence while cloaking it in emotionally memorable details. In so doing, stories focus our attention.
For example, if you choose to turn the page of your life story to a fresh chapter, a new adventure, you are setting yourself out on a quest. In describing this quest as a story to others, you may pull them into launching their own quest.
Stories are vital to build shared understanding. They help us make sense out of ourselves, each other and the kind of story we want co-create together as we grow our relationship. Stories are where we create meaning in our days to endure loss and failures to have a redemptive narrative, to savor our life –with others.
See stories as oxygen in your life.
4. Follow Yourself into the Brighter Next Chapter of Your Life Story
A fun way to recognize how to tell your own interesting story is to get interested in exactly what it is about. Take one or two of Russell Davies’ suggestions to recognize what most interests you. I’ve modified some of them to appeal to my lazy side and perhaps yours.
1. Take at one photo everyday and post it on Flickr or other place you can see your growing collection.
3. Keep a casual scrapbook – pasting in things you collect and captioning them.
4. Read at least part of a magazine, book or newspaper that outside your usual realm of interest.
5. Interview someone for 20 minutes and observe the direction of your questions.
6. Collect something
7. Each week sit in a café or other public place for 30 minutes or an hour and listen to other people’s conversations. Take notes.
8. Each week write 50 words about something that stuck in your mind – a movie, building, sculpture, song, etc.
9. Make something and put it where you can see it or give it to the right person.