The end of the year is a great time to take stock of our successes and failures over the past 365 days. Were we happy with ourselves? Are there improvements we want to make? New Year’s resolutions are fine for changing a habit or two, but simply deciding to exercise more or lose a bit of weight or read more books won’t really alter anyone’s life story.
We all have a narrative running in our minds of every aspect of our lives, from our past to our anticipated future, and of every person, place and situation in between. This is the fabric from which our life stories are cut, and it enables us to make sense of events and determine what actions to take.
Unfortunately, some of these stories are negative: the loss of a loved one, illness, trauma. Even small things can leave us feeling anxious and depressed. Think about the last time someone criticized you. It was probably all you could think about the next day, even if the criticism was constructive and well-deserved. And it’s possible that you’ve replayed the event again and again in your mind until it’s taken on exaggerated importance. Events like these affect how we deal with people and circumstances in our daily lives.
Of course, many of our stories are connected to good things. Positive chapters such as a happy childhood, a successful career trajectory, or a fulfilling relationship impact our personal stories in inspiring and uplifting ways. They make us kinder, give us a more positive outlook, and even improve our self-esteem.
How can we transform our life stories?
Dr. Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, suggests “story editing,” a way to alter our stories by rewriting the path we’re on. “Our experience of the world is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and our interpretations of it, and these stories can often become so distorted and destructive that they completely hinder our ability to live balanced, purposeful, happy lives. So the key to personal transformation is story transformation,” he says.
Here are three steps you can take to begin rewriting your story.
Figure out what’s making you unhappy.
Sit back and assess yourself. What is the area in your life that you’re unhappy with? Is it your relationship with your spouse or a colleague? Your job? Do you feel insecure about your appearance? There may be more than one area that needs rewriting, because stories have a way of spilling over into all aspects of our lives.
Begin to write your future story.
Chances are you’re used to telling your story a certain way, often putting the negative aspects in the foreground. But you can change that. Imagine the story you’d want to tell to a friend who hasn’t seen you in years. Wouldn’t that story highlight your proudest achievements and downplay your negative moments? If you rewrite your story by highlighting the obstacles you’ve overcome, you’ll begin to see changes not only in the way you feel and act, but in the way those around you see you.
Revise and edit your story often.
In rewriting your story, regularly remind yourself that you can always take steps to change your behaviors, your path and even your life. When we forget we have this power, we tend to feel stuck. When we remember that we have the power to change the trajectory of our narrative, we feel strong, hopeful and happier overall.
The wonderful thing about rewriting your story is that as you begin to own it, it will gradually become integrated with your sense of self. Your identity is an evolving story, and in transforming it, you’ll find coherence with your past, present and future.