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Re-telling Your Story

by Jane Bailey Bain

The way other people see you is influenced by the stories you tell. Equally, your self image is a direct result of the stories you tell yourself. The tales you tell affect how you feel, both physically and emotionally. They have a real effect on your body, because you are incarnate – literally, made of flesh. As we’ve seen, hearing stories actually affects brain chemistry, evoking physical sensation and emotion. Stories work at the level of the mind, body and spirit.

Changing your story is taking something that you do anyway and altering it for your benefit. Let’s take a practical example. It’s a rainy day, you’re running for the bus but it pulls away just as you reach the door. You’re sure the driver saw you, why wouldn’t he bother to wait? When you arrive in work half an hour late, do you act depressed and victimized – or make up a funny story about the incident? Which will get a better response from colleagues? Which will make you feel better?

Everyone has incidents in their past which they are not happy about. You may have some memories which make you feel guilty or scared. Even if it wasn’t your fault, you feel responsible for what happened. As we’ve seen, your mind automatically tries to make sense of things through a story. Every time you revisit this story, you are reinforcing those links in your brain – even though it is not the only way to interpret events.

Obviously, you can’t change what happened at the start of your story – but you can alter how you interpret it. It’s often difficult to see the turning points in your life: you are too close to view things objectively. The plot of your own story – how one event led to another – is only evident in retrospect. Changing how you tell your tale affects how you move forwards from here: it lets you make a story with a happy ending. Now that you understand this process, you can modify your personal narrative. You can make your story turn out any way you decide.

If you want to influence a child, don’t tell them what to do: give them a story. If you want to change the world, don’t make more rules: tell a better story. And if you want to change your life, start with your own story.

Activity: Reframing Your Story

What happens when you want to change your story? There are five simple steps to reframing your narrative. It’s probably best to write things down, so that you can see your thoughts clearly.

1. What’s your story? Identify a key event or period in your life / career. Where and when did this take place? What actually happened, in detail? Who else was involved?

2. How has this affected you? What message did you take away from that interaction? Do you still believe that message now? How has this affected your choices and behaviour since? How do you feel today about these events and people?

3. Re-cast the players. This is the crux of your new story. Don’t change what happened, but choose a new character for yourself. Identify appropriate roles for everyone else – trickster, witch, supporting cast. (Hint: think about archetypal characters interacting.) Some examples might be: Your mother wasn’t mean, she was just insecure. That teacher wasn’t being kind – he was creepy. The difficult colleague probably felt threatened by your competence. You weren’t weak, you were only young: you did well to survive!

4. Tell your story again, but from your new perspective. You’re not a victim now, but a trickster or a clever girl. How was this incident part of your life journey? Write it down or film yourself talking. It’s important to have a record of your new story. Gather evidence to convince yourself of this stronger role. Evidence might include: Photos that show you having fun. Friends who share memories of good times. Notes from colleagues thanking you for your contribution. Find tangible evidence that will boost your self image and help you feel confident.

5. How will you behave today? Your new character has implications for the future too. If you can, find something iconic to remind you of your new character. Clothes are good: a red jacket, a pair of smart shoes. You’ve changed the trajectory of your life story. Make sure you keep on your new path through the dark woods.

When you reframe your story, you interpret things quite differently. This is a very empowering process. You’ve chosen a new character with a fresh path ahead of you. What happens next is a result of that choice.

Jane Bailey Bain is an author, speaker and creative coach. She studied Psychology (BA) at Oxford University and Social Anthropology (MSc) at the London School of Economics. She has lived and traveled around the world, including time in America and Australia. Jane trained as a consultant with IBM. For several years, she worked on development programs in Africa and Asia. This involved planning and evaluating projects in terms of their practical impact on people's lives. During this time she became interested in stories and how we use them to make sense of our lives. Jane's work provides a unique combination of psychological and anthropological approaches to the study of stories. She holds a PGCE and Certificate in Counselling Skills. Jane runs workshops and courses in Geneva and London.

Website: http://janebaileybain.wordpress.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LifeWorks1

Twitter: @janebaileybain

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