Clarify Narratives Values Interests Dreams Strengths Impact Align: Experimentation

What are narratives?

Eric is 33 and feels like he has “failed to launch.” He has pursued a few different careers and nothing has stuck or felt especially fulfilling. He’s starting to think that because he hasn’t found something more motivating and engaging at this point in his life that he probably never will.

Fatima has been pursuing a career in the military because many people in her family have had military careers and were highly respected for the service they offered their country. It seemed like the perfect avenue for making a difference and honoring a family tradition. Sometimes she wonders about what other kinds of life she could have lived.

Narratives come up regularly throughout the purpose section (and this website overall), but just in case you need a reminder or you’ve stumbled on this page before any others, narratives are our “stories” about life and they cover every part of our experience. You have stories about who you are, how the world works, the “right” and “wrong” ways to be, why you are the way you are, and on ad nauseam. Narrative Psychology sits at the crux of modern therapy, coaching, educational theory, and centuries of philosophy and presents a vital takeaway: our beliefs influence our experience and behaviors.

When we want to maximize our potential for meaning and fulfillment in life, examining and choosing beliefs that increase our aptitude for such things becomes paramount.

Some narratives are more limiting than others. Think about Eric and Fatima from above for example. How do their stories about purpose impact their experience of it and potential for crafting it? Like believing you’re not capable of skiing leading to you not trying to ski and thus preventing you from learning how to do it; Eric’s belief that he can’t experience more from life may result in him having exactly that experience. Similarly, Fatima’s beliefs have narrowed the range of possible avenues to purpose for her. Our beliefs shape what is possible for us. Believing someone is inconsiderate and stuck up can lead to you being cold towards them, which may inspire them to be cold towards you, thus perpetuating your interpretation of their character (whereas, perhaps, if you were warm towards them and open to them being different, you might receive a different response).

You can go down the rabbit hole of narratives and how they can change your life in the Your Storied Life section of the site!

Narratives Exercises

Some narratives are more impactful than others on purpose. How we think the world works, the point of life, our beliefs about the nature of work, and our thoughts about who we are and what we’re capable of carry the biggest punch. These narratives are heavily influenced by the context of our lives- the cultures we grew up in, the groups we ascribe to, our spiritual beliefs, and various experiences we’ve had.

Identifying our narratives and acknowledging their influence on our behaviors and feelings can create more possibilities for us on our purpose journeys by illuminating which ones are serving us and which are blocking us from achieving what we desire.

It’s valuable to untangle our narratives from our sense of self by identifying where they came from. We often didn’t pick them out consciously in the first place- we more or less inherited them. Detaching from them momentarily empowers us to consciously elect different stories on our own terms and set ourselves up for greater possibility.

Below you’ll discover a series of reflections and exercises for teasing out and potentially revising important narratives that influence purpose cultivation. Many of these exercises are repeated throughout the purpose section in a few other forms and have been condensed or offered slightly differently here. If you come across something you’ve already done, don’t feel the need to re-do it (unless you think something may have shifted!).

You’ll focus on your primary narratives about how life works, your mindset, and finally fears masking as beliefs. After you’ve identified narratives that limit you from experiencing more purpose or other things you want in your life, you can try the Disputing Narratives exercise to explore ways to create more possibility in your life.

Get access to ALL the narrative exercises in The Purpose Workbook

The Purpose Workbook has 5 beautifully designed resources dedicated to narratives. Print out the Purpose Workbook to use as you read along.

If you only do two exercise, do these two:

This exercise is designed to help you unearth essential narratives that are influencing your purpose journey. Spend some time contemplating the stories you have about purpose, where they came from, and how they impact the choices you make.

Your mindset can connect you to opportunity or block you from it. Try this exercise to help identify if your mindset is limiting you or empowering you.

Why X 5

Exploring where a belief came from and why it’s important to us can inform whether or not we want to continue giving it our attention and energy. Use this exercise to better understand how you came to believe something.

To do this exercise:

  • Access it through the Purpose Workbook
  • Use the summary below to make up your own version

Here’s the gist of the exercise: 
Choose a narrative about life, purpose, or work, or how the world works. Ask yourself why you believe that. Then ask why you believe the answer you came up with (or simply ask why of the answer if that applies better). Do this five times and see what insight you gain. The intention is to ask why in a nested way- rather than come up with 5 independent whys.

Fear Fallacies

Pursuing what we want can be challenging. Our reasons for not taking action have a wide range. Underneath a great many “reasons”* exists a playground of fears holding us back from taking action or considering more deeply what is possible. “Fear narratives” are our beliefs about ourselves, the world around us, how that world works, and even other people that are often based in fear and limit our options.

This exercise will help you examine your beliefs and the fears that likely correspond with them, empowering you to dispute them and create more possibilities for cultivating purpose.

To do this exercise:

  • Access it through the Purpose Workbook
  • Or learn more about and find exercises for Fear Fallacies here
  • Use the summary below to make up your own version

Here’s the gist of the exercise: 

Choose a dream or desire that you have not started (or at least feel a bit stuck on or haven’t made progress on in a while). Force yourself to actively work on (note: not dreaming about but literally doing things that move it forward) pursuing your dream for an entire hour (or even half an hour). Note all the reasons that pop into your head about why it won’t work or you can’t do it. Do your best to translate your reasons to a core fear about yourself or the way the world works. Do you notice any patterns?

*Some ‘reasons’ are legitimate threats to our well-being and can have dire consequences when overridden. Read more about allowing some fears to influence you on this page under the heading of “Fear Caveats: Let Fear Factor Into Your Decisions”.

The Disputation and Distraction Process

Disputing a thought or belief is essentially arguing against it by weighing its validity and accounting for how it affects your feelings and choices.  When you recognize a belief about something is unserving, you can challenge it with evidence to the contrary or other possibilities. This exercise can be more effective when done with the support of a friend, mentor (or even coach/counselor if you have access to that).

As a printable exercise here (in the context of Hope)

Exploring how context influences our purpose narratives

The contexts of our lives impact the narratives we tell ourselves and what we believe to be true about the world. You can read all about contexts for purpose on the Context pages, and below you’ll find guidance to a few relevant exercises you can explore.

For an exercise on how age affects your sense of purpose, go to this Age Context page and scroll down a little to the “Try This: Chart your Purpose Journey as you age” exercise.

Clarify Narratives Values Interests Dreams Strengths Impact Align: Experimentation

Purpose The Gist of Purpose Parts of Purpose Purpose Fundamentals Purpose in Context Purpose as your Work Should You Quit Your Job Purpose Myths Hindrances to Purpose Benefits of Purpose Passion The Purpose Journey Clarify your Purpose Align with your Purpose Support your Purpose Purpose Practice and Exercises Purpose Resources