“When faced with a challenge... happy people just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship.” - Bruce Feiler
Imagine this . . . you’re at a dinner party with a new-ish set of friends and they ask, “So, what’s your story? Where have you come from and where are you going?”
There will no doubt be a pause as you marvel at the nature of such a question and then what? What will you say?
Susan Cain, author of Quiet Revolution, discusses the intricacy and importance of Narrative Psychology in this Psychology Today article, Why Your Life Story Matters. Narrative Psychology is the study of (or theory that) the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and the world, help define our well being.
As you think back and through your own life story and project it into your future, what patterns do you notice? How do you tell the story of challenges? Are they hurdles to scale and circumvent or roadblocks that close down a pathway?
While it might be tempting to think of this as a matter of self esteem or positive thinking, it’s not really about the platitudes on posters. You cannot just start telling the story of your awesomeness when you don’t believe it in hopes it changes your outlook and future.
This Harvard Business Review Article, To Succeed, Forget Self Esteem highlights the deceptive nature of the pop psychology boilerplate called “self esteem.” The problem lies in how it’s defined. It fails us every time if it is an expression of inflated ego, denial of weaknesses or deceptive positive affirmations.
In the article, Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD and associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School, says the real key to a positive life story and positive outcome is self compassion, not self esteem. And by self compassion, she means a mindset in which weakness and failure is acknowledged, forgiven and regarded as changeable.
So, it’s honesty and self forgiveness that works as the basis for a well crafted, hopeful life story. And Dr. Colleen Georges encourages people to consider the possibility of re-scripting that inner voice, regularly, to help influence their own futures and daily behaviors.
Like Dr. Halvorson, she acknowledges that it is not about glossing over the bad parts or leaving weakness and failure out of your narrative script. However, it is about changing your mindset about said weaknesses and failures.
Here in her TED Talk, Dr. Georges explains that the flaws and weakness must not be given the power to define you. She says, “Don’t let your insecurities script your life story.” She instead recommends seeing the gifts within your imperfections and embracing them as a necessary part of positive story dynamics. Everyone has strengths and she encourages us to find them, actively, and write them down. Because strengths can as easily frame your life story as weaknesses.
For example, the story of having an eating disorder can be the story of a chronic condition. It can be a narrative of a continued, obsessive struggle with food and body image - a never ending journey of worry about feared setbacks. Or it could be a story of obsession and passion misdirected and now realigned. A story of an ongoing game of balance between forces that desire perfection and forces that require self compassion.
The first narrative has the same facts as the second -- an ongoing challenge. Neither sugar coats the realities of what’s behind an eating disorder and yet the second narrative embeds a positive energy and hopeful projection -- passion (a positive, which can be reapplied) has a dark side (obsession, which can be balanced).
So what is your story and how do you, or can you, tell it so that it is as inspiring as it should be?