We all tell ourselves stories – positive and negative, conscious and subconscious. Our stories may be a single episode, a relationship, a season, a year, or our entire tenure on this planet.
Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which otherwise might seem like a fairly colorless sequence of facts. Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them. For example, you lose your wallet. But the meaning or significance you give to the fact of the lost wallet is the theme of your story. You tell yourself, "I’m a careless person" or "Bad things happen to me" or "I get into trouble but I usually end up okay." A story is our creation of reality and it matters more than what actually happens.
Your body tells a story. The smile or frown on your face, your shoulders thrust back in confidence or slumped roundly in despair, the liveliness or fatigue in your gait, the sparkle in your eyes or the blank stare, your fitness, the size of your gut, the strength of your physical being, and your overall appearance are all part of your story, one that’s apparent to everyone else. What’s your story about your physical self? Does it truly work for you? Can it take you where you want to go now and in the future?
Telling ourselves stories helps us navigate our way through life. Stories provide structure and direction. The stories we tell ourselves about our lives are road maps that guide our attitude and decisions. The most important story we will ever tell is the story about ourselves that we tell to ourselves. This story determines the way we gather and spend our energy.
You can evaluate the rightness of your personal story by the dynamics of your energy. If you’re telling and living the story you want, the premise of your story will be the purpose of your life and you will be the hero. If you’re feeling defeated and worn out, you may be able to heal by changing your story about yourself.
Our stories create our reality. Our stories may or may not conform to the real world. They may or may not inspire us to take hope-filled action to better our lives. They may or may not take us where we ultimately want to go. Because our destiny follows our stories, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to create healing stories.
Often we can’t sense the full impact of our negative storytelling. "It’s not all that bad," we conclude. Our marriage is "okay." Our job is "not terrible." Whether we sense it or not, the energy we repeatedly give to stories actually reconfigures our neural architecture. The cumulative effect of our damaging stories will have tragic consequences on our health, happiness, engagement and performance. Because we can’t instantly see the damage our defective storytelling is wreaking, we disregard it, or veto our gut reactions to make a change. Then one day we awaken to the reality that we’ve become cynical, negative and angry. We never quite saw it coming, yet that’s now our personal story.
What will be the story around your death? Will you die senselessly? "Senseless death" means that it didn’t have to happen when it happened; it means your story didn’t have to end the way it ended. Perhaps you drank too much and failed to buckle your seat belt and were thrown from your car, or you died from colon cancer because you refused to undergo an embarrassing colonoscopy years before when the disease was treatable. Or after years of bad nutrition, very little exercise and abuse of your body you suffered a fatal heart attack at age 49. Think about the effect the story of your death might have on your family and those you care about who you’re leaving behind. How would that story impact their life stories?
A healing story has purpose, self-empowerment, and leads to hope-filled action. You can discover if you have a healing story by telling it to a listener, hearing it back, and then asking yourself some questions:
Am I following my deepest values and beliefs?
What is my motive? Is my purpose noble?
Do my actions align with my ultimate purpose?
Does my story inspire hope and determination that move me to act?
You have the power to rewrite your story. You can make it a healing story both for you and for those with whom you interact.