Who doesn’t love a good story? Some of my earliest memories are of listening to stories being read at bedtime. And, when I had children of my own, I started reading books to them when they were infants – long before they could even comprehend a story. Even now, I love to curl up with a good book. Stories, whether spoken, written, or filmed, not only captivate us but also connect us to one another.
We especially love stories of triumph and redemption. We root for the underdog. We want the guy to get the girl. We crave happily ever after.
Stories transport us to a world of imagination, and they form a bridge that connects the past, to the present, and then to the future. We share stories about family history and community history. When our loved ones are no longer with us, they live through the stories we tell. Others come to know them by our words and memories. Like rich fiction enlivens our imaginations, anecdotes bring our loved ones back to life, highlighting positive attributes because we want others to love them as much as we do. When negative traits can’t be edited out of the stories, we polish things up a bit with a favorable spin. The “stubborn” become “determined.” The “impulsive” become “laid-back.” The “bossy” become “natural leaders.”
Stories don’t just connect the past to the present. Stories about our own realities – our losses and triumphs, despairs and hopes, and weaknesses and strengths – are ever present in our daily lives, rolling on a continuous loop. We become the stories we tell ourselves.
Whether we are reminiscing about a beloved family member or in a closed-door meeting with our internal editors – we choose the stories we tell. Yet, too often the stories we share in those closed-door meetings differ drastically from the ones we share about others. The “stubborn” become “opinionated” and “unyielding.” The “laid-back” become “lazy” and “selfish.” The “bossy” become “controlling” and “overbearing.”
In case you glossed over it the first time – we choose the stories we tell. Not just the stories that we recount about others, but the ones that we tell ourselves as well.
Our stories deserve our full attention. Like airy anecdotes that breathe new life into days gone by, these stories – our stories – either breathe life into us or suck it right out of us. Our stories define who we are and where we are headed, tying our pasts and present into our futures.
Where is your story taking you? Where do you want it to take you?
We can choose stories that pull us into darkness. We can choose stories that lead us toward hope. But don’t take my word for it, plenty of experts are saying the same thing. Instead of “choice,” experts speak about “reframing.” Perspective or how we “frame” an event or story has a direct impact on satisfaction with and happiness about life. “Reframing” is a technique whereby we strive to change or “reframe” our perspective regarding negative, challenging, and traumatic events.
Have you ever had a picture or piece of art with an outdated or broken frame? The ugly, broken frame detracts from the beauty of the picture. Changing the frame, changes the way we see the picture. We choose our frames. We choose our stories. This is what “reframing” is all about.
Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter someone seeped in grief or facing loss who refuses to believe that there are any choices in life, much less that choices might lead toward hope. Life certainly can feel that way. Despair becomes the exception that swallows the hope.
Choosing to weave a jolly yarn when all the threads are shades of black is a challenge. No. “Challenge” doesn’t do it justice. Overwhelming. Daunting. Crushing. And, so much more.
To make matters worse, we have those pesky internal editors – the ghosts of tales past – with whom to contend. They are constantly thwarting our efforts to pen a tale of triumph where the underdog prevails, the guy gets the girl, and everyone lives happily ever after. With the flourish of a seventh-grade English teacher, your internal editor takes their red pencil to the margins suggesting that we incorporate more despair, more weakness, and more defeat. Make the story more believable.
Stories of weakness, despair, and defeat are more believable because that’s
who we are who I am. Scrapping the upbeat draft and starting over is easier because it comes more naturally. The words of loss and destruction and weakness and despair slip off our souls like butter off a stack of hotcakes. What should feel unnatural and cold to us, feels warm and homey. We snuggle up to gloom and swaddle ourselves in sorrow.
But is this who we really are? Or is this just who we’ve come to believe we are after years of losing the battle to the internal editors? We repeat the same old script until we not only know it by heart, we start to believe it is our heart.
And here is where we have a choice – recycle the same old story or rewrite the script. The choice is obvious, yes? Easy? No, but the story won’t “rewrite” itself.
The only way that I know to tackle this project is the same way I tackle writing projects. When it comes time to edit a piece of writing, I force myself to step back and to read the piece through “fresh eyes.” With legal briefs, I might ask how opposing counsel or the judge might view it. With research papers for class, I consider how the grader will read it.
When it comes to battling the internal editors, it helps to flip the script a little. Pretend that you are someone else – someone that you love and care deeply about. Now, tell your stories about yourself, your circumstances, and your choices. Don’t tell them differently but hear them differently – as if the person you love so deeply told them to you about themselves, their circumstances, and their choices.
My guess is that your mind was flooded with positive changes, edits, and “reframes.” How’s that? Same story. The difference? Now the underdog has a name. We know the face of the guy chasing the girl. We ache for their happily ever after. They deserve triumph, love, and hope.
So, do we. We are the underdogs. We are the guy trying to win the girl. We are seeking a happily ever after. Hope is the fresh plot line that forges a path forward.
What stories do you tell yourself that need rewritten? If your best friend kept retelling the same story, how would you reframe it? What’s restraining you from taking a red pencil to the old draft?
We have to rewrite the story. It won’t rewrite itself