Episode 84: What’s the Story of your Life?

There is ‘what happened’.  And then there is ‘the story we tell’ about what happened.  Over time, our propensity to narrate events into a story that means something creates something much larger… our own story of our life.  A story of how we became who we are, and who we are becoming.

But which events do we choose to remember? Which events to we mark out as significant in our Life Story? And how does the version of the story we tell impact our own self-perception and what life we think we’re living into?

This week Clay and Sarah discuss narrative identity, the significant way we construct stories about our life.

In this episode we discuss:

* what event we might choose to start the Story of our Life

* Do all life stories have a narrative arc with a beginning, middle & end?

* the way we weave facts and events into a story to make meaning

* the way our life story impacts our identity and our future

* stories other people tell us

* macro and micro stories within our great Life Story (our career, romance, family, spiritual narratives)

“The stories we tell ourselves, whether they be false or true, are always real.  We act out of these stories,” say Maria Popova in her article Hope, Cynacism and the Stories we tell Ourselves.

The importance of the way we interpret and then retell the stories of events in our lives is emphasised by narrative psychologists.

“In the realm of narrative psychology, a person’s life story is not a Wikipedia biography of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a person integrates those facts and events internally—picks them apart and weaves them back together to make meaning. This narrative becomes a form of identity, in which the things someone chooses to include in the story, and the way she tells it, can both reflect and shape who she is,” explains Julie Beck in her article “The Story of Your Life”  in The Atlantic.

Neuroscientists have also gotten involved in researching the power of story on our brains. And according to psychologist Dan McAdams, our personal ‘cognitive script’ is an important layer of our personality, that sits alongside our basic character (determined by our genes and environment) and our values and goals.

Importantly McAdams points out that, ”By understanding how we create these stories and how they are structured, we can alter our own stories and rewrite our own script in ways that improve our lives.”

Narrative psychologists have listed six principles of our life stories:

(1) they are constantly evolving (both according to our age as well as our current mindset)

(2) our present emotions colour our entire narrative

(3) they take the structure of a novel (episodic with beginning, middle and end)

(4) successful people’s stories contain themes of redemption (i.e. failure, tragedy, set-back that ends on a positive or redemptive note)

(5) they are dictated by social and cultural norms

(6) you can take control of your own stories

And the good news for us contemplative types! — “Asking the big questions about who we are and what our purpose in life might be…are also important to shaping narrative identity and taking the time to ask them can help us take control over our own Life Stories.”