The two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves.

I want to share this TED Talks article with you today. It’s a fantastic piece on the stories we tell ourselves – the interpretation of the experiences we’ve had, and the emotional attachments we place on these stories. Our interpretations can either propel us forward or keep us back. What story do you keep playing in your mind? And if it’s not serving you, are you willing to let that go this year?

©2017 Susie Lee

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“We’ve all created our own personal histories, marked by highs and lows, that we share with the world — and we can shape them to live with more meaning and purpose.

We are all storytellers — all engaged, as the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it, in an “act of creation” of the “composition of our lives.” Yet unlike most stories we’ve heard, our lives don’t follow a predefined arc. Our identities and experiences are constantly shifting, and storytelling is how we make sense of it. By taking the disparate pieces of our lives and placing them together into a narrative, we create a unified whole that allows us to understand our lives as coherent — and coherence, psychologists say, is a key source of meaning.

Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on a concept he calls “narrative identity.” McAdams describes narrative identity as an internalized story you create about yourself — your own personal myth. Like myths, our narrative identity contains heroes and villains that help us or hold us back, major events that determine the plot, challenges overcome and suffering we have endured. When we want people to understand us, we share our story or parts of it with them; when we want to know who another person is, we ask them to share part of their story.

An individual’s life story is not an exhaustive history of everything that has happened. Rather, we make what McAdams calls “narrative choices.” Our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events, good and bad, because those are the experiences we need to make sense of and that shape us. But our interpretations may differ. For one person, for example, a childhood experience like learning how to swim by being thrown into the water by a parent might explain his sense of himself today as a hardy entrepreneur who learns by taking risks. For another, that experience might explain why he hates boats and does not trust authority figures. A third might leave the experience out of his story altogether, deeming it unimportant.

People who believe their lives are meaningful tend to tell stories defined by growth, communion and agency.

McAdams has been studying narrative identity for over 30 years. In his interviews, he asks research subjects to divide their lives into chapters and to recount key scenes, such as a high point, a low point, a turning point or an early memory. He encourages participants to think about their personal beliefs and values. Finally, he asks them to reflect on their story’s central theme. He has discovered interesting patterns in how people living meaningful lives understand and interpret their experiences. People who are driven to contribute to society and to future generations, he found, are more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives, or stories that transition from bad to good. There was the man who grew up in dire poverty but told McAdams that his hard circumstances brought him and his family closer together. There was the woman who told him that caring for a close friend as the friend was dying was a harrowing experience, but one that ultimately renewed her commitment to being a nurse, a career she’d abandoned. These people rate their lives as more meaningful than those who tell stories that have either no or fewer redemptive sequences.

The opposite of a redemptive story is what McAdams calls a “contamination story,” in which people interpret their lives as going from good to bad. One woman told him the story of the birth of her child, a high point, but she ended the story with the death of the baby’s father, who was murdered three years later. The joy over the birth of her child was tainted by that tragedy. People who tell contamination stories, McAdams has found, are less “generative,” or less driven to contribute to society and younger generations. They also tend to be more anxious and depressed, and to feel that their lives are less coherent compared to those who tell redemptive stories.

Redemption and contamination stories are just two kinds of tales we spin. McAdams has found that beyond stories of redemption, people who believe their lives are meaningful tend to tell stories defined by growth, communion and agency. These stories allow individuals to craft a positive identity: they are in control of their lives, they are loved, they are progressing through life and whatever obstacles they have encountered have been redeemed by good outcomes.

Even making smaller story edits to our personal narratives can have a big impact on our lives.

One of the great contributions of psychology and psychotherapy research is the idea that we can edit, revise and interpret the stories we tell about our lives even as we are constrained by the facts. A psychotherapist’s job is to work with patients to rewrite their stories in a more positive way. Through editing and reinterpreting his story with his therapist, the patient may come to realize that he is in control of his life and that some meaning can be gleaned from his hardships. A review of the scientific literature finds that this form of therapy is as effective as antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Even making smaller story edits can have a big impact on our lives. So found Adam Grant and Jane Dutton in a study published in 2012. The researchers asked university call-center fundraisers to keep a journal for four consecutive days. In one condition, the beneficiary condition, the researchers asked the fundraisers to write about the last time a colleague did something for them that inspired gratitude. In the second condition, the benefactor condition, the participants wrote about a time they contributed to others at work.

The researchers wanted to know which type of story would lead the research subjects to be more generous. To find out, they monitored the fundraisers’ call records. Since the fundraisers were paid a fixed hourly rate to call alumni and solicit donations, the researchers reasoned, then the number of calls they made during their shift was a good indicator of prosocial, helping behavior.

After Grant and Dutton analyzed the stories, they found that fundraisers who told a story of themselves as benefactors ultimately made 30 percent more calls to alumni after the experiment than they had before. Those who told stories about being the beneficiary of generosity showed no changes in their behavior.

Grant and Dutton’s study suggests that the ability of a story to create meaning does not end with the crafting of the tale. The stories the benefactors told about themselves ultimately led to meaningful behaviors — giving their time in the service of a larger cause. Even though the fundraisers knew they were only telling their stories as part of a study, they ultimately “lived by” those stories, as McAdams would put it. By subtly reframing their narrative, they adopted a positive identity that led them to live more purposefully.

Excerpted from the new book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Mattersby Emily Esfahani Smith. Published in the United States by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Copyright © 2017 By Emily Esfahani Smith. Reprinted with permission. 

 

45 Life lessons to live by. 

Absolutely love these 45 gems of wisdom! Take these into the new week!

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Emotions are good indicators.

I came across this today and I absolutely love it. Sometimes, it’s hard to decipher how we’re feeling, let alone why. Our emotions aren’t without reason, they’re trying to tell us something – that we need to either let go, make a change, heal, face our fears, or do something.

Let’s use bitterness as an example, how many times have we blamed other people for how they’ve hurt us? Instead of taking the time to look within, we’re quick to punish, take revenge, give the silent treatment, or make them feel guilty. This may cause temporary relief but it’ll never bring true healing. Our bitterness never justifies rude behaviour towards those who have hurt us. And the sooner we acknowledge that we’re responsible for our feelings (despite what has been done to us), the sooner we’ll find healing.

Our emotions are usually good indicators as to what’s going on inside of us – so listen to it and make the necessary changes within. And if reconciliation is needed, then have the courage to reach out to the other person. By no means do I want to simplify the hurt that has been done to us but this ’emotions definition chart’ is a good starting point to identify how/why we’re feeling so we can begin to make positive choices towards living our best.

©2016 Susie Lee

Your emotions are trying to tell you something

 

Keep going or move on?

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It’s a fine line to know whether to keep going or whether to move on – it could be a relationship, goal, or work. I wish there was a formula I could give you but only you can figure that out for yourself. There isn’t a cookie cutter answer because what works for one person might not work for you – since everyone’s in different stages of life with different mindsets, different emotions, and different circumstances.

The thing I would suggest doing is to take the time to do some soul searching. Ask yourself some hard questions and be honest with yourself. This will help you to re-evaluate whether to continue or to move on.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself:

  1. Why did I start this? And does this answer still apply today?
  2. What do I really want? And what am I going to do about it?
  3. Am I just bored and want change?
  4. Am I putting unnecessary pressure on myself?
  5. What are my core beliefs and values? And does it line up with what I’m doing?

Or it may be as simple as that you’re just tired, and that you need to rest rather than to quit. Rest, rejuvenation, and restoration can do wonders to your psyche.

Wherever you are (or going) on your journey, I wish for you peace, joy, and fulfillment.

©2016 Susie Lee

15 ways to feel more powerful.

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Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.

Everyone’s born with a unique gift – some call it a natural born ability, God given talent, or an acquired skill. Unfortunately, many of us don’t utilize our gift to the fullest capacity. Perhaps life, responsibilities, or fear have led us away.

May this video inspire us to live to our fullest potential, and use our gifts for the greater good. It won’t be easy but the pain of regret will be far greater than the pain of discipline. Exercise your gift now. Don’t let the dream die within you. 

©2016 Susie Lee

Expectations = Frustrations

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Expectations. We all have them. We expect someone to do something. We expect something from someone. It’s okay to have them but it’s not okay to impose them on other people. This is unfair and sometimes, very cruel. Of course we’d never admit we impose expectations on others but a sure way to know if we do is when we experience frustration and disappointment when they don’t comply.

Expectations stem from our own needs. Period. It has nothing to do with anyone else fulfilling them or not fulfilling them. Our expectations come from our fears (or insecurities) within us. And overtime, we adopted an unhealthy pattern of looking to others to help us cope with our fears. This pattern of thinking is not only self-destructive but will also destroy relationships. Our expectations will suppress their freedom of speech and choice. They’ll comply to our demands out of fear, and not out of love.

If you’re in this place now, it’s time to do some soul searching. Ask yourself some hard questions: Why do I feel like I have to do this? Why do I feel like they have to do this with me? Why is this important to me? What would happen if I didn’t do it? What am I afraid of? It’s unrealistic to expect others to meet your needs. All you can do is share your need and release any obligation of meeting them. It’s okay to request but never demand. But you have to accept the fact that the answer may be a ‘No’.

May we look for answers within first before we expect it from others.

©2016 Susie Lee