We Live and Die By Our Stories

There is a method of therapy called “Narrative Therapy” and I find it incredibly useful in my own life. It is the process of taking the raw facts of our lives and creating uplifting narratives can re-frame setback and trauma in a new constructive light. It is claiming our power as thinking creatures to own the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives.

Narrative Therapy comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of the “Morning Pages” that Julia Cameron popularized in her book “The Artists Way”. She used it as a form of mind dump stream of consciousness thought that gets everything in your mind out of your mind. If you do three pages a day for one month of hand written writing about whatever is on your mind I promise you you’ll see big changes in your mood. It’s like a release valve, getting everything that’s bouncing around in your mind out of your mind. It’s a tip I’ve seen many places: Think on paper. This is what writing was invented for people! Our brains can’t store all this stuff and make sense of it.

Another form of Narrative Therapy is making a list of “Top Five Most Impactful Memories” and trying to re-write a story that connects them all. You re-frame everything in a more helpful way. For example, say you struggled a lot with poverty as a child. You might have a lot of negative memories of going to sleep with an empty stomach or going without a trip to the movies. What you can do is using the rest of your life, draw different conclusions from these events. Perhaps you learned how to fend for yourself. Or perhaps you learned the value of a dollar. In any case, we take our pain and make something constructive with it.

Another form of Narrative Therapy is the “Letter to _____”. This exercise is a letter to the hot button issue in our minds. Whatever is front and center in our worries. We write a letter to it. You might write “A Letter to my Fat” or “A letter to my Perfectionism” or “A letter to the boy who dumped me in 7th grade.” You write as much as you need to to get all your thoughts out of you. Often times we are writing these imaginary letters anyways so might as well get them out. I’m always amazed when I pick a random troublesome topic to write a letter to how mixed my feelings are. Sometimes I’m grateful for the struggle and other times I’m indignant. But no matter what a letter to the the offending topic is always very helpful.

The last and most effective one is a gratitude journal. Pick 3 things your grateful for each day and watch after just a few weeks as the world takes on a nicer tone. Our brains are hardwired to find the negative so when we consciously go against that and think positive it does massive good for our minds.

The point of all of these exercises is to bring back to mind something we often forget: We chose our stories to live by. We are the authors of our every day experience. We are the “Captains of our fate” so to speak. And often times a great way to change the world is by changing the story you’re giving it.

Thanks for reading.

Jonathan

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