I recently listened to a great episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, where I learned a little about narrative psychology. This field explores the value of storytelling and how it lends meaning to our experiences. See, the stories we tell about our lives reveal how we look back on the past, reflect how we understand the present, and even project how we’ll engage in future events. It turns out we all tell stories about ourselves, sometimes without even realizing it! But there’s value to getting intentional here, because how we frame our stories can literally change the shape of our lives. So, how are you telling the story of your life?

telling the story of your life

It’s all about the connections we make.

The shape of our story changes dramatically depending on where and how we draw connections. It’s about how we draw connections between cause and effect… between negative and positive. In fact, our story may be completely transformed by where we choose to end a paragraph or turn the page.

Is the story of your life one of redemption or contamination?

In the podcast, Jonathan Adler defines two types of stories: 1) Redemption narratives start off badly but end well, while 2) Contamination sequences start off well but end badly. He notes that the people who see a redemptive story in their lives are more positive, experience less stress, and approach life with more optimism. To this point, Adler shares about how participants in a recovering alcoholics group tell their stories. And those who found redemptive story arcs in their lives were more likely to stay sober.

Seeing life positively, telling a redemptive story

Isn’t that interesting?

It’s not that the facts are any different… rather, it’s about how you interpret the story and where you draw a line, or insert a chapter break. This makes me think of that Taoist parable of the farmer. In the story, a farmer owns a horse that pulls his cart and the neighbors tell him he’s lucky. Then the horse runs away and the neighbors come round to commiserate. Later, the horse returns with another horse and the neighbors celebrate! And on it goes…

Tao story of the farmer

What can we learn from the story of the farmer’s life?

  1. It’s not about what happens to us, it’s about how we view see the connections between things and where we draw the lines in our story. Draw the line at one point and he’s lucky. But draw it at a different point, and he’s unlucky.
  2. In fact, maybe there isn’t a line at all, and life is purely cyclical. What if we dispelled the narratives altogether and simply experienced events to flow in and around us?

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header image credit, storytelling woman image created on starryai, optimistic eye visual (Harry is only 14 years old!) Tao farmer image,