I'm learning to tell better stories. I've been practicing - writing my stories, over and over. I've also been reading A LOT. And as I read, I pay attention to the way that words are used and sentences are put together. I notice how the author conveys thoughts or ideas or emotions. I'm learning a lot by these observations. What works and what doesn't. What is most effective. What makes me cry, or laugh, or just feel. Those are the kinds of things that I have always taken for granted in good writing. But now I'm paying attention, and I'm learning that there is a fine art to storytelling. I want to learn that art.
We could all benefit from being better storytellers. Our lives are made up of the stories that we tell ourselves and each other. We assign stories to events and feelings and relationships in order to make sense of things, and to help us relate to others. So what if the key to happiness lies in the way that we tell these stories?
I'm working to Re-Frame some of my stories. For example, rather than tell the story of how hard my work is sometimes and how I feel overwhelmed and lost; I tell the story of how I am so blessed to have the opportunity to grow at work, and I am learning so much!
Or instead of the story that my husband works such long hours so he must care more about his work than he does about me; I tell the story of how my husband cares SO much for our family that he will do whatever it takes to provide for us, even if it means working long hours on night shift.
What if I stop telling myself a story about fear every time that I feel a bit nervous or anxious, and instead tell a story of excitement and adrenaline. What if I could learn to re-frame nervousness and anxiety as simply productive energy. What if I replaced the concept of being "overwhelmed" with being "vibrant or alive". That would not change those feelings, but it would allow me to associate them with something positive.
Isn't that amazing. Without changing a single fact about my stories, I am able to look at them in a whole new way, in a positive way that allows me to be happy. I believe that most situations have a positive and a negative side, so why not choose to focus on the positive? Why not turn that thing around, so that all you can see is the bright shiny side.
Years ago, when I was going through one of the lowest points in my life, desperately seeking direction and purpose, I did this exact same exercise. It made me wake up and realize, for the first time, how my negativity was shaping my reality. I was wallowing in self pity and self doubt, completely unable to see the light. This exercise was deeply moving for me. Here's what I wrote in my journal on July 19, 2008:
My outdated and negative story:
“Haley has had a hard life. She has always been painfully shy and quiet, always listening to other people’s problems and opinions and never voicing her own. She was raised in an authoritarian household where she learned not to speak unless spoken to. She has terrible luck with men. It seems that no one ever wants to date her. She has constantly questioned her value and talents, especially during her miserable time in graduate school. She now has a career but is constantly questioning whether it is what she is meant to do. She has already changed jobs three times. She feels restless and bored at times and completely overwhelmed at other times.”
And the new and improved version of my story:
“Haley has been very fortunate. She grew up in a stable household with a family who loved her very much. She excelled in school and college and got into her graduate school of choice on the first try. She has a small circle of lifelong friends who adore her. She is kind, compassionate and a great listener. Her trials have increased her strength and independence. She has been in a few serious relationships, but ended each of them when she realized that they would hold her back from her true potential. She hasn’t met “the One” yet, but she knows it will happen when the time is right. She has just begun her career in which several positions have fallen into her lap. She loves her job most of the time and finds it very challenging and rewarding.
What a difference our stories can make.
What about you? Do you have a few stories that could use a little editing and polishing and re-framing? Why not give it a try, what have you got to lose?
Till next time,
© Haley McManigal 2015
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