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Change Your Story, Change Your Life

Everyone has a story. Our personal narrative plays a role in how we approach situations in life, other people and our own self-concept. Our story contains countless pieces of information, some random and insignificant, others full of meaning. Although the facts of our history are immutable, the way we react to them and weave them into our personal narrative is not. When we feel a need to make changes in our lives, we can rewrite or revise our story any time we like. It is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to start over, and to behave in new and different ways.

The start of a new year is a great time to think about rewriting your story by looking at your past, and deciding what changes to make for the future. Often our stories are connected to events from our past. Positive chapters such as a happy childhood, successful career trajectory or healthy relationship can impact our personal stories in an inspiring and uplifting way. These happy events can make us more kind, provide us a more positive outlook, and even improve our self-esteem.

On the other hand, negative life events such as trauma, addiction, illness, divorce, etc., can impact our story in a negative way. These often leave us feeling isolated, depressed and anxious. They affect how we deal with people and circumstances later in life. Challenging and painful chapters can make it harder for us to rewrite our story because we feel stuck in the past, powerless or even unable to make a change.

You can transform your story.

Timothy Wilson, Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, is an expert in what he calls “story editing,” a way to edit our stories by rewriting the path we are taking. “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.  

1.       Assess who you are.

The first step in rewriting your story is to assess who you are, how you have been feeling and behaving, and what circumstances have impacted your life. Ask yourself, “What is my story and what would I like to change about it?” Take time to truly figure out who you are, what is missing, what needs to be improved and how you want to be in the future. An important part of this step is to realize that you can be resilient and rise above challenging times, and a challenging past, by taking steps toward positive change.

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2.       Identify what changes you want to make.

The second step is to begin to work on the changes needed to rewrite your story. I have a client who I will call Lisa. She is an intelligent woman who balances working and raising a family. She is responsible, educated and kind-hearted. However, due to a troubled childhood, Lisa has always been the type of person who gets very wrapped up in her own life. Only her husband and children are included in her circle. As a result of this, her co-workers and friends feel they cannot count on Lisa for guidance or support. Lisa is the "fun friend,” but not someone her pals can rely on.

While she has enjoyed being known for a good laugh, this has always bothered her. After serious contemplation, she decided to rewrite her story and make a more concerted effort to be what she calls a “heart friend” along with being a fun friend. A “heart friend” checks in on friends when they were going through a tough time, makes offers to help in times of need, and listens to people's stories of pain and struggle. It has taken some time, but Lisa has succeeded and is now not only an attentive friend, but she also feels more balanced in life and more able to reach out for support when she needs it.

3.       Continue to revise as you go along.

Finally, in rewriting your story, take time out on a regular basis to 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.

Read more: 10 Steps to Become a Fully Loaded Grown-Up

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Stacy Kaiser is a Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know and editor at large for Live Happy. As a former weekly advice columnist for USA Today with more than 100 appearances on major networks, including CNN, FOX and NBC, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insights to a wide range of topics.

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