We make sense of our lives by telling stories about them.
Some of these stories we tell only to ourselves. Our thoughts are the continuous internal voice-over about what’s happening to us and why. This narration allows us to organize our thoughts, identify meaningful patterns, reflect upon what’s important to us, and shape who we believe ourselves to be.
Some stories we tell to other people. When we do this, it moves that internal voice-over to the outside and gives other people the opportunity to better understand the things that have happened to us and how we dealt with them. Hopefully, it also helps them to better understand us as a person. When they, in turn, share their stories, we can overlay our own perspectives and expand the way we experience our world.
Star and Narrator
In the story of our lives, we play two roles: we’re both the star of the show and the narrator. We don’t have control of how every plot detail unfolds, but we do have control of the language we use to talk about that plot. The way that we narrate our life to ourselves determines the “script” that we then act out as the main character. So...how can you improve the scripts that you’ll use to guide the way you live your life?
- Pay attention to your “story prompts.” Are you framing the experiences of your life in ways that are self-defeating or supportive? When you’re feeling down, look for ways to flip the narrative and offer yourself encouragement.
- Approach difficult people and situations as necessary to your character development. Every hero needs challenges to grow into their power. When we think of difficult times or people as teachers meant to spur our evolution, it can be easier to choose helpful reactions. Experiment with asking yourself, “If this was a movie, how would I want my character to respond? What would I learn from that response?”
- Observe yourself as a character. When you’re caught up in the action of playing the main character, you can sometimes lose perspective. Shifting into narrator mode allows you space to calm down, detach a little bit, and think objectively. Referring to yourself as another person can make this easier. (ex. Bill needs to take a break, go for a walk, and recharge.)
- Write about a hard time and how it connected with your past, relationships, and work. This helps with reframing, finding meaning in difficult events, and feeling your way into the future.
- Connect with other people. Opening our hearts, and then listening deeply when someone opens theirs, is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to another person. As we come to understand ourselves and each other better, deeper connections can be forged.
Calming our Bodies, Engaging our Minds
We are hardwired to benefit from the connections created by sharing our stories. When we discuss our experiences with someone who is kind and willing to bear witness to what we’re communicating, things shift in our bodies. Stress hormones begin to dissipate, and the stress responses that they cause begin to calm down. The high-intensity response of “Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faint” relaxes, and “Rest and Repair” can begin.
When we listen to a story, our brain begins to synchronize with that of the storyteller. The activity in our two individual brains soon mirrors one another. This enables us to better understand point of view and to empathize with them. Whether they’re factual or fiction, we can learn lessons from the stories that we’re told - lessons that have the power to improve our lives.
In reality, we’re not limited to knowing only about the things that we can personally see, hear, taste, touch, or feel. When we share our stories, a whole new world becomes available to us.