What stories do you tell yourself?
Are they empowering, uplifting tales that motivate you…
Or do you routinely cast yourself in a minor role?
The truth is that stories are immensely powerful. And from a primal standpoint, we’re wired to respond to them.
From our cavemen days spent listening to tales of adventure, we crave what Joseph Campbell called The Hero’s Journey.
So how might you change your story to improve your life?
Let’s take a look…
We use stories to convey ideas that fail to deliver the same impact when used alone, the narratives acting as a vehicle for deeper messages and hidden truths.
From our earliest ancestors, stories have allowed us to disseminate wisdom and insight to subsequent generations, allowing humanity to build on its foundational knowledge, our progress becoming cumulative rather than repetitive.
And although the medium of storytelling may have changed, the content itself hasn’t.
Just look at our obsession with Netflix and how we devour entire box sets in the space of a few evenings. (guiltily face).
These stories allow us to share emotions and develop deep empathy with memorable characters. Whereas Aristotle posited that plot was of greater importance than character, new research shows that we actually relate more to character-led tales.
Just think back to some of your own favourite books and protagonists. I still remember Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye or Jack London’s expert character progressions.
And here’s the crux…
Not only can we tap into their entertainment value of stories, but perhaps we can apply them to our own lives.
Which Role Will You Play?
If you were the protagonist in your own story, how would you want to frame your adventure? What kind of character would you choose to embody? How would that person act in certain situations?
Let’s face it.
We can become so embroiled in our own drama, that it can be hard to gain perspective.
But the good news?
Our identity isn’t fixed.
By reframing our life as a story, we can easily detach enough to view our lives as a cohesive narrative, choosing an adventure before constructing a plot and living out our personal hero’s journey.
By using the power of stories, we can dream bigger.
In our current role as extras, we naturally place limitations on our abilities due to the evidence collected from our objective circumstances.
After all, if we’re currently unemployed or single it can seem unimaginable to make more money or meet someone likeminded.
By using storytelling to reframe our reality, these no longer seem like constraints. The hero in our journey can always find a way, overcoming any and all obstacles.
Would the main character in your favourite story mope around the house, feeling like a victim, or would they take the initiative and engage in constructive action?
Living the narrative and changing your story simply requires engaging your imagination and getting creative.
But is it really so easy, or safe?
The Narrative Fallacy
The reality we create is much like a story. Due to the cacophony of noise in the world, compiling information into more digestible storylines is a natural solution.
The fact is, we love to identify cause and effect.
Just think about any rags to riches story you’ve ever heard, the narrative of a tough upbringing resulting in a greater desire for success.
Sure, that may definitely play a part, but not be entirely responsible for the outcome.
Such tropes are so ingrained in our culture that they’ve become literary devices in themselves.
We assume that the information from such narratives is accurate, but increasingly, research shows that our minds are skilled invention machines, artificially creating a seamless mental experience of the outside world.
Often, we’re encouraged to question these narrative fallacies due to their potential for providing misleading information and poor decision-making.
Certainly, the narrative fallacy has shown that we don’t have such an objective grasp on reality as we’d like to think.
So, if stories are such powerful human drivers, but can’t always be trusted, what’s the answer?
There might be two ways of approaching this.
Firstly, you question all stories – the ones you hear (let’s call them external) and the ones you tell yourself (let’s call them internal).
On an external level, if you’re about to invest in a startup, it’s unwise to think that just because you’ve made savvy investments before, you’re a one-of-a-kind unicorn-hunter, everything you touch turning to gold.
Just by telling yourself a cause and effect story doesn’t make it accurate and might result in poor decision-making.
Conversely, on an internal level, this might mean undoing all the negative storylines you tell yourself by declaring that all stories are unhelpful and inaccurate.
But is this throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, participants are taught to unpick their unhelpful stories with logic, to show that they might not actually be grounded in fact.
However, go too far into this zone (which I’ve tried btw), and you risk entering a kind of psychological ice age. If everything is random chaos, it’s easy to become overly nihilistic.
It’s the kind of attitude that says, “What’s the point if it’s all random anyway?”
So is it possible to harness the power of storytelling while avoiding the potential pitfalls of the narrative fallacy?
I think it is.
After all, as long as you recognise the potential for narrative fallacy, dipping into the power of authoring a more subjective reality should be a much safer exercise.
Not to mention the benefits of authoring a more positive outlook to change your story.
The Benefits of Positive Storytelling
Firstly, by authoring a different narrative, you’re far more emboldened to take positive action.
Imagine yourself as Neo in the Matrix. You wake up to reality, and after being thrust into the story once more, realise that you have the power to manipulate your environment.
Let’s face it, our thoughts are powerful agents of change. Just look at the placebo effect and its effect on physical symptoms through expectancy alone.
Creating a new story for yourself as a vehicle for empowering thoughts can be just what you need to start changing your circumstances.
On a practical level, this might mean calling some friends to meet up instead of sitting at home wondering why you’ve had no messages or arranging a date for the weekend.
Ultimately, it means using the power of storytelling as a mental model and the basis to change your daily behaviours.
Secondly, it causes you to become more optimistic. This might happen in direct relation to creating a more positive story for yourself but will undoubtedly occur simply by taking more positive action.
Positive behaviours snowball into greater success, confidence and ultimately, optimism.
Furthermore, research has demonstrated the advantages that optimistic people experience in everyday life.
Thirdly, authoring a more empowering narrative allows you to reframe negative or challenging events in your life.
It gives you the mental space to view those situations as training grounds, that through discomfort, allow you to grow and thrive.
On a personal level, I believe such benefits are well worth the extra risk of risky decision-making due to narrative fallacy.
How to Change Your Story
Begin by checking out this video outlining the following steps:
- Be compassionate with ourselves about the story we’ve created
- Detach from false truth
- Install a new narrative built from a place of strength and vision
1. Tell yourself your current story and identify any false truths. This is called narrative therapy.
2. Apply more of your strengths to your story (as they’re likely under-represented) by utilising positive psychology.
3. Use controlled mastery to re-edit and cut away the mean myths you’ve been living out through your old stories.
So, how else can you change your story?
Frequently, authors begin with the end in mind.
In the same way that you can gain clarity from imagining your epitaph, by starting on the denouement of your story you can work backwards.
Figuring out how your hero would behave on their journey to the last page of your life book is a good start.
Also, consider the world of gaming. We have no problem suspending our disbelief to enter the game world and inhabit its subjective reality temporarily.
You don’t worry about the actions of your character working through the narrative, enabling you to act without inhibition.
In real life, just ensure you make decisions and take actions that aren’t irreversible while you experiment with your new mental model.
As you tweak your story and gain experience, you’ll become more adept at knowing when to tune into the powerful narrative your brain wants to create or switching to a more logical frame of reference.
But above all, this process should be actionable. It’s all very well creating the fiction, but if you don’t take the necessary steps in real life, it will remain just that – fictional.
So pick one thing you can do today to progress your story to the next chapter…
And then act it out.