Writing a Better Life Story

“And then,” said Giselle, “I stood up and I yelled, ‘That’s enough!’” I turned to my buddy sitting next to me. “That’s not quite how I remember it.” “Yeah,” he said. “Her stories should have a disclaimer: loosely based on actual events.”

“I’m a minor player in my own life story.”

– Tony Wilson, English radio personality and journalist for the BBC

“And then,” said Giselle, “I stood up and I yelled, ‘That’s enough!’”

I turned to my buddy sitting next to me. “That’s not quite how I remember it.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Her stories should have a disclaimer: loosely based on actual events.”

Giselle practised a style of storytelling I call reconstructing the past – changing the people, places and events to make them more in keeping with what she wished had happened. It did make for entertaining storytelling and perhaps for Giselle it also made the past less painful.

We all love a well-told story. It remains one of the best ways to impart information and life lessons. And it’s interesting to note how well we can often relate to each other’s stories. There is power and a connectedness in our shared humanity. In my experience, too many people tell stories infused with negativity, anger or regret. Often the protagonist will make such statements as, “I’m not good enough,” “It’s never good enough,” or “No one will ever love me.”

We have the choice each day of continuing our story as we’ve written it or choosing to alter the plot, to create a story and a life that is more fulfilling and rewarding. I’m not recommending that you deconstruct/reconstruct your story that is already written. There is great benefit in seeing the past with honest, open eyes. It is how the story continues that we might want to alter, perhaps in surprising or unpredictable ways. We are the writer and thus have complete creative control. Acknowledging that we are responsible for our life story – and have the power to change it – can be tremendously empowering and surprisingly freeing.

Granted, changing our life story isn’t easy. If you’ve done any amount of writing, you know that good writing seldom just happens. It takes hard work. Start by drafting an outline of your life story to date. Would it best be described as a success story or a fantasy? Perhaps it’s a drama or a sad, melancholy rendering. Let’s hope it’s not a horror story!

Before you start, take careful note of activities that you found stressful or unhealthy relationships that sapped your energy in earlier chapters. Going forward, you’ll want to stop giving them precious room on your page. In fact, you’ll want to exclude beliefs and perceptions that you no longer want and in their place include more loving and positive experiences, beliefs, perceptions and people.

Your life is driven by the story you create for yourself. Remember, you were meant to be the hero in your story. If you’re not, it’s time for a change. In the past, have you relegated yourself to the role of villain, side-kick or worse yet, a minor character in the crowd? Undoubtedly, others have written aspects of your story and this can be a good or bad thing depending upon the theme. You may wish to simply continue with some of these storylines or drop them altogether. The initial character development may have been started by your parents or siblings – maybe by a teacher or bully at school. The good news is you are not bound by any of these storylines. Remember, when you write the story of your life, don’t let anyone else grab the pen.

Here are five questions that may help you with the editing process.

1. If you couldn’t fail, what new endeavour would your character undertake?

2. If money was not a consideration, what career path would your character choose?

3. For what has he or she received the most compliments and accolades?

4. What has brought your character the most joy and happiness?

5. What would he or she do (or say) if not for fear?

As you begin to edit and rewrite your life story, also keep these points in mind.

First, as your story changes direction, there will be obstacles to overcome. Your new chapter must see you as the hero overcoming these obstacles. Imagine ways to deal with them. I use a technique called bridging the gap. Imagine that you’ve already overcome the obstacles – it’s all in the past and now you’re reflecting back on how you accomplished this remarkable feat.

Second, introduce new characters into your story by building a network of people who can help you on your journey. Most people are happy to help. Fear of asking may hold you back but persist and break through those barriers. After all, it’s what your new character would do.

Third, everything works better when you set a timeline. Set a date for when you’ll be introducing changes and, as each new chapter unfolds, take time to celebrate the achievement.

Fourth, believe that you can change the story of your life. Write a new character with healthy self-esteem and boundless enthusiasm, and be willing to allow your story to take on a life of its own and move in the direction it desires. You might be surprised by where it takes you.

“We are shaped by our thoughts,” said Buddha. “We become what we think.”

I’ve thought a lot about Giselle and her approach to storytelling. For her, life has been difficult and I can see why she might want to pretend certainly aspects of it never happened or happened differently. However, delusion about the past is seldom a healthy approach to living in the moment. Rather than editing your life experiences after they’ve been written, choose instead to draw up a new plot line that leads to a genuinely happy ending.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.