“We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’ve heard the quote “there’s always a silver lining” or “look on the bright side” – the sentiment being that if we see things in a ‘positive’ way, we’ll have a ‘positive’ experience. Yet when we find ourselves directionless in life, isolated from community, and in a day-to-day grind of a job we dislike, where’s the “bright side”?
While positive framing is a piece of the domain of Your Storied Life (‘YSL’), the implications and possibilities go much deeper. In this page, we’ll explore – with videos, true stories, scenarios, and examples – the fundamental ideas of Your Storied Life, and the many implications and possibilities that open when we develop a healthy relationship with it.
What Is Your Storied Life?
Your Storied Life is the simultaneously simple yet incredibly rich and impactful distinction of ‘What Happened’ and our ‘Story’ / ‘Interpretation’ of it. Our ‘Life’ (our reality) is a mixture of the two.
This page explores the core concepts and implications of this framework – on our agency, unique power, and possibilities – and maps out the deeper dive that will take place throughout this chapter.
Part 1: Introduction to YSL – Awareness
This introductory whiteboard video offers the framework, some key terms and distinctions, and some examples in action.
1. Stories are interpretations of the world as a way of making sense of the world and meeting our needs.
E.g., I see (observation / “what happened”) and I think, “That’s broccoli. It’s a healthy, nutritious green vegetable.” (stories)
2. We utilize stories in each moment to understand and predict the world around us, including ‘us’ – an identity. They operate as a lens and filter for new experiences.
E.g., Seeing our self as a ‘healthy’ person and eating broccoli as healthy, we get excited by a new broccoli recipe. Conversely, we may label other things as unhealthy – and disassociate with it.
3. Believing and actioning stories strengthens the neural pathways – making them more likely. They become narratives – ‘wired’ in our brains. “What fires together wires together.”
E.g., Thinking of ourselves as ‘healthy,’ we are more likely to make ‘healthy’ choices. We might buy more vegetables from the store or read a book about health.
4. Some stories/narratives have serving effects on our lives, and others have limiting effects (‘Limiting Narratives’ – a.k.a. LIMNs). ‘Serving’ and ‘limiting’ are subjective, specific to a person and their personal desires in life, and may even change from one year to the next.
E.g., Eating a ‘healthy’ amount of vegetables provides needed nutrients to our bodies and minds. On the contrary, the belief of ‘I can eat anything I want’ – while it may be true – is likely associated with effects ranging from lethargy to serious health risks. This may be known and acceptable (your choice!), or unknown. And, ‘healthy’ diets also vary based on our biology, lifestyle, and goals (e.g., a marathon runner vs. a monk).
5. By building awareness of our stories and believing in our agency over our stories, we habituate an increased response-ability (ability to respond consciously) which can improve our well-being.
E.g., We realize that diets high in refined sugar and low in vegetables leave us feeling lethargic and suffering from physical symptoms.
Here are some common ways Limiting Narratives present themselves:
- “I can’t learn”_________________ (Names, computers, math, driving stickshift…)
- “I’m different when”_________________ (I’m with these people, I’m doing x, I’m in this place…)
- “I’d be happier if”_________________ (I had more money, I looked like, I did this…)
- “I’d love you if”_________________ (You did this, you didn’t do that…)
- “They (I) should have”_________________ (Done x, not done y, been this way, not been that way..)
- “You are”_________________ (Boring, mean, untrustworthy, wrong, bad…)
- “That’s just the way I am”_________________ (Shy, unhappy, mean, unpopular, critical…)
- “Life is”_________________ (Sucky, hard, unfair, harsh, crappy, depressing…)
Stories like these can begin consciously or subconsciously. Either way, they become strengthened with repetition (neural wiring) and have a direct impact on our lives. With wiring/reinforcement, they can quickly become narratives that we make into familiar habits and ‘personalities’ (which are changeable).
|What Happened||Story||Life Experience|
|It’s raining||I hate it when it rains, ugh!||Depressed, sad, unhappy|
|Cut off in traffic||Stupid driver!||Pissed off|
|Breasts are a given size||“They’re too big!” (Brazil) / “They’re too small!” (US)||“I am not loveable” /
“I am not loveable.”
|Someone yells at you||“Jerk!” /
“What are they needing?”
|Pissed off /
Compassion and Empathy
|A dog||A loveable pet /
Something to eat
|While playing as a child, they fell from a tree and got injured||Climbing is dangerous||“Don’t climb trees.”
“Don’t let my children ever climb trees.”
Notice how our story often impacts our experience (life), and how the same happenings can be experienced in a variety of ways.
Again, stories come from our unique personal experiences. They arise through and with others – in the context of family, friends, culture, the world, and the environment. In this way, stories can be ‘taught’ and ‘inherited.’ And culture to culture, stories are not necessarily everyone’s interpretation of an event. On a drastic scale (simply to show variance), consider…
“an amazing victory and glorious day”
“Tragic destruction and loss of life”
“Enemies are being punished by God”
“Cleansing of the human race; a great service”
Both sides are rooted in story and identity.
While many shared stories form cultures, political structures, nations, and more, each person comprises a rich diversity of large scale and small scale culture. Our views on the world – our lens – are different from one person to the next. NOBODY sees the world fully the same.
Or, for a full feature-length film that aspires to capture “deeply personal and emotional accounts of topics that unite us all”, from love, to womanhood, to work and poverty, consider watching Human.
Part 2: Understanding the Implications of Story
“Our Lens becomes our Life.” The narratives we hold of the past can influence the stories we make in the present. And they don’t have to. The second whiteboard video offers a more in-depth look at this:
1. Our experience of the world is subjectively ‘real’ (within us) but not objectively ‘real’ (measurable outside us). No two people experience the world in the same way. Instead, everyone has a unique story-lens with which they filter their experience of What Happened. This lens creates profound differences in how individuals experience objective reality.
E.g., One person – say in Mexico – may experience rain as a refreshing and welcome event and feel energized and grateful for the rain. Another person living a block away might view it as a nuisance and inconvenience and might feel depressed or annoyed by it.
2. Our existing narratives make specific responses more or less likely, which prompt self-reinforcing habits. This is the basis for self-fulfilling prophecies.
E.g., Having a ‘bad’ / ‘annoying’ rain experience (blaming the rain), we are likely to avoid the rain, or experience it with resistance (causing stress). We start to link our mood and activities to the weather.
3. LIMNs are barriers to action; they cut off possibilities. In clearing LIMNs, we open ourselves up to new possibilities.
E.g., Holding narratives of “the rain is a nuisance” vs. “the rain is refreshing and natural” vs. “the rain doesn’t bother me either way” affects how I respond to rain. Rain might affect my desire to go outside, see friends, go camping, etc. We let it affect our mood and mindset.
4. With a mindset of possibility, we regain agency in action and thought. We can consciously connect to what we want to pursue in our life.
E.g., Driven by our longing for connection, and realizing how our story of rain has limited our connection thus far, we may consider other ways to connect when it’s raining, from online board games to movie theaters to a wet run followed by a hot bath.
5. Goals – specific, measurable, and concrete tasks – offer us direction towards pursuing specific desires. Possibilities – ways of being that can be chosen in each moment of life – embody how we want to live as we get there.
E.g., I have the goal of going for a walk outside five times this week, rain or shine. I will be grateful and present in my walk.
What’s Possible? Joy
What are you physically capable of? Are you going to flap your arms real fast and fly? No.
Especially without our ingenious creations, we are limited. You probably know that the US has a huge depressed population and a similar amount taking drugs for it¹. People in developing countries often report being happy and not depressed (except for the starving and injured). In India, many people living in their go-cart (rickshaw) and making $3-$5 a day report being very happy ².
A critical difference in our well-being lies within our story/interpretation in the moment, and our comparison of that interpretation with how we ‘can be’ or ‘should be.’
- Check yourself; what are you capable of?
- How does it feel?
- Your belief in your own limitations affects your behavior. They come from you.
- Some are absolutely true. And some are stories.
- What limitations are you willing to argue for?
- One more time: what limitations are you willing to argue for?
The idea is not to blame yourself or others. The idea is not to downplay or avoid very challenging past or current circumstances. The idea is to foster the mindset that where you put your energy now – physically and mentally – is the foundation of your future, and that more is possible than we tend to realize.
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” – William James
Positive and Negative – Serving and Limiting
We take on and construct our own notions of positive and negative, moral and amoral, good and bad, etc. through our life experience. These notions show up as values: what we want to live in to. A positive / serving story is one that cultivates the qualities of life that we value. A negative/limiting story cultivates qualities of life that we don’t value (though often they attract us with a spike of momentary ‘value’ – e.g., domination/rightness). Ultimately, limiting stories foster powerlessness; a belief in them brings about our restriction.
Goals can also be limiting to us as they come with expectations of getting our needs met. However, they partner well with more far-reaching possibilities.
There is nothing inherently wrong with stories – some are life-serving, and some are life-sucking. But there are ALWAYS stories. Choose where you want to be.
Reasonable and Unreasonable: Actioning YSL
YSL is at its most potent place within you – as a way of understanding your own feelings and making choices that work for you.
Not everyone can be an astronaut or a world-record holder. There are physical, biological, circumstantial, cultural contexts that impact reality; believing something is possible does not make it so. However, believing something is impossible can undoubtedly contribute to it not happening, and frequently, our ‘ceilings’ are much higher than we think possible. Our stories and narratives play a profound role in creating our ceilings and our experience of life.
“Some prisons don’t require bars to keep people locked inside. All it takes is their perception that they belong there.” – Lisa TerKeurst
The Possibility of Serving Stories – Reasonable and Unreasonable Actions in Circumstances
|Circumstance||Reasonable Life||Unreasonable Life|
||Aron Ralston survived five days with his arm trapped under a rock.||To lose hope and to die.||Overcome the circumstances…
Aron eventually broke bones to cut off his arm and climbed out of a canyon to safety. He remains an avid outdoorsman and has become a motivational speaker.
|Lori Deschene||Lori Deschene started drinking at age 15, struggled with eating disorders, and was seriously depressed. She felt vindictive about her life.||To continue in the corporate world, experiencing tumultuous levels of stress and anxiety.||To create an inspiring community of people geared towards simple wisdom…
Lori started writing and developing a blog on ‘simple wisdom for a complex life.’ It now has over 5 million followers, online courses, and books.
||Liz Murray was born in the Bronx to poor, drug-addicted, HIV-infected parents. She became homeless at 15 when her mother died and her father was placed in a homeless shelter.||To remain homeless and to become addicted to drugs herself.||To fight for a different life, work hard and achieve it…
Liz graduated Harvard in 2009 with a degree in Psychology. She lovingly cared for her ailing father till his death, and has since gone on to publish a book, become a motivational speaker, and found and direct a company: Manifest Living.
Takeaway: Circumstances exist, and many of their implications are created within us (stories). We get to say what our circumstances mean for our lives.
Stories – from Self to the World
Consider some of the ways, contexts, and scales in which stories already show up in your life.
Stories Of Self
This scene from Avatar the Last Airbender shows the unique identities we craft with stories, and how those show up in our lives.
- What moments define your life? And how?
- Who are we? What does it mean to be someone or something?
- Who are you?
- What’s a story that you’ve told yourself today?
- What narrative did it feed?
- What’s one thing your narratives have held you back from in life? In the past week?
- What have your narratives fueled you towards?
Stories Of/With Others
Jane Elliot – a teacher & anti-racism activist – devised an experiential activity with 3rd graders about racism. Full video
- What do you believe about humanity in general? Are they generally Good? Bad? Smart? Dumb?
- What is a relationship that has suffered in your life? What stories do you believe?
- What biases and enemy images do you hold?
- How do your stories of others affect your behavior towards them?
- Where did those stories come from?
Stories Of Society & the World
David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” commencement speech highlights the role of stories in the day to day life.
- What stories are running through your head right now? How are they affecting your mood, energy level, etc.?
- How have your stories shown up in your daily life?
- How do they affect your attitude? Disposition? Motivation?
- How do they contribute or sap joy?
Stories are the foundation not only of ourselves but of our world. Not only of our present but of our past and future. Not only of what we do, but what we don’t do.
Stories are the medium through which meaning is written.
Part 3: Application to Our Lives
As with all enablers of meaning, the impact comes with an application to our own lives. It is not enough to know that life can be different; taking action brings story to life. This final video offers a lens on the journey of applying.
1. Born into a body and a context (family, culture, environment, etc.), we take on stories and make narratives as a way of understanding and predicting the world around us.
E.g., Gender norms are exceedingly common, though vary broadly among cultures. Thus, our biological sex and culture shape our identity. The patterns of our culture (e.g., gender norms) help us to understand and predict how we and others ‘should’ behave.
2. Identity is dynamic – not static. It is an active creation of our reconstructed past, perceived present, and imagined future, and changes throughout our life.
E.g., After joining a sports team, we might call ourselves an ‘athlete.’ This might stop if we stop playing sports. Identities are complex narratives of who we are and ‘were’ – “Artist” … “Buddhist” … “Dad” … “Nerd” … “Goofball”… etc.
3. Our Narratives are indicators and predictors of our well-being. Narratives of Agency, Communion, and Redemption predict higher well-being.⁴ ⁵
E.g., Having an internal narrative of becoming closer to one’s team (communion), more resilient through the adversity of challenge (redemption), and responsible for those happenings through how we showed up and made friends (agency) is associated with higher well-being.
4. With mindful awareness of our narratives and their effects on our life, we can consciously and mindfully choose which stories to reinforce and which to change.
E.g., Realizing that we are not speaking up with co-workers because of a belief in our “shyness” or “incompetence” and that this belief is limiting our expression, connection, and meaning, we might endeavor to change that limiting narrative.
5. We can powerfully shift our narratives by connecting to inspiring Possibilities, which brings internal motivation towards new Actions that foster more serving and desired narratives.
E.g., Inspired to push oneself in the workplace, we commit to sharing an idea with our boss and at a work meeting.
6. Identity = “repeated beingness.” Through action and intentional stories, we shift our habits and our identity over time. Each moment, we live into who we are and what we are committed to. Over time, we curate the garden and author the memoir we want to live.
E.g., Committing to speaking up in every meeting, we soon build an identity of a ‘contributor’ and a ‘strong voice’ in our work-place.
Metaphors of YSL: The Garden and the Author
Taking agency for our lives starts with the story and the belief that we have agency in our lives – that we can be 100% Responsible for our lives. Below are two metaphors that embody living into YSL.
Imagine life as a garden… We are born with a certain size and quality of soil, but otherwise, it is empty. Our first years are spent understanding this garden with care and wonder. Over time seeds – stories – land in our garden. ‘You’re so smart / funny / loud / polite’… ‘that’s dangerous / fun / important’ … ‘you have to do xyz.’ We have little to no discretion or conscious choice as to the seeds that land; we’re too young. They come from family, friends, and culture. After the seed has landed, each time we repeat/revisit it, it is like watering it. Some of these seeds/stories started to sprout and grow, forming narratives – fully sustainable plants that we see repeatedly. Narratives are ‘wired’ beliefs and ways of thinking that we hold.
In the early days… our narratives were still relatively small, and significant moments could have big shifts on our narratives – uprooting or weakening some and planting others. ‘A parent forgetting about picking us up’… ‘a coach celebrating our deep effort.’ As we grew, we enjoyed the quality of some plants – narratives – over others and, with newfound independence, visited/watered them more often. They became habit. Likewise, we stopped visiting/watering others, and they withered.
As we grow older… The size of plants in our garden varies based on how often we water and care for them; we take on a diversity of plants – trees, shrubs, small plants, saplings, weeds, etc. We also discover more and become increasingly capable of independence and complex thought. With this, we learn and understand the concept of gardening and our capacity to direct our garden.
Our consciousness becomes the gardener. Using conscious and intentional thought, we can find more discretion in which seeds we plant and which plants we water; we like some more than others. When not in conscious choice (subconsciously), we will most likely continue to relive our habituated way. As we action/water our narratives more and more, they become more substantial, deeper in our past, and often even unconscious habit. Due to their repetition, we associate them with our sense of self – our ‘personality’ and ‘identity.’
With time, we establish our garden… Throughout the many states and changes in our garden, we likely start to yearning for a sense of continuity and stability. Strong, rooted plants bring us ease – they provide a sense of self / identity. Familiarity. While it is never ‘too late’ to change our garden, the effort to clear old narratives and plant and water new ones increases. We settle into a routine of being.
In each moment… the plants that we visit can serve us in achieving a desired quality and well-being in life – or limit us from it. Plants that are repeatedly limiting – our Limiting Narratives (LIMNs) – show up as Lemon trees and can grow quickly. They are vibrant, appealing, and easy to grow and root deep and wide, preventing other growth. The fruit – what they produce in our life – is souring, as are their effects on the soil. Sometimes we make short attempts to prevent Lemon / LIMN trees from growing – like breaking branches – but if we continue watering them, they grow back. Significant change, thus, is more rare.
Our garden is unique to us… and the plants in it reflect the quality of our life – each with its qualities/ways of contributing to our needs. Some nourish with joy and vitality; others protect from storms and dangers. Some are colorful/soft/fragrant and bring comfort, while others are massive and inspiring. Each plays a unique role. LIMNs and weeds also populate our garden,
And the world is full of gardens… a rich diversity of gardeners, with their unique desires of plants. While nearby neighboring gardens might share many plants (cultural patterns), and seeds (cultural influence), no two gardens are the same. The diversity of plants and gardens is infinite.
What does your Garden look like now? And what will it look like?
Garden Representations: Recap
- Garden – Our unique set of stories and narratives of being.
- Soil – Our unconscious personal (biological and mental) and extrapersonal landscapes (culture, relationships) that impact growth.
- Seeds – New stories that we make up or are given to us.
- Watering – Believing and acting into a story/narrative – strengthening it.
- Plants – Narratives that we have watered and have grown. We live these out.
- Diversity of Plants – The varied and unique ways that each story shows up in our lives.
- Weeds – Specific, small, [often] momentary stories that pop up in our garden.
- Trees – Our strongest core narratives of ourselves and the world
- Shade under Trees – Trees provide stability and security in relation to our identity. And, they also prevent new growth.
- Lemon Trees – Limiting narratives; easy to grow and vibrant, but has a souring effect on life.
- Fruits / Flowers – What the narrative produces/provides in our life
- Underground / Roots – The unconscious aspects of our stories
- Uprooting – Letting go of or clearing a belief on a conscious and unconscious level.
- Breaking a Branch – Intention to hurt/hinder the strength of a narrative on a conscious level.
- Trails – Commonly accessed pathways – making it easier to access some plants than others.
- Gardener – Agency and impact. Our conscious discretion / choice of what is planted and watered.
- Experience / Qualities of the Garden – On an overarching scale, this is your Life / Lived Experience.
YSL Garden Tour: Life in the Garden
Take a tour of these gardens to see the metaphor in action. What is life like in these gardens?
‘Your Plot of Land’
We are born ‘a sponge’ of learning and developing. We come to understand the world based on what we sense and experience. This ‘understanding’ is based on stories – seeds – which land in our soil. These come from our life experiences.
E.g. “You’re Kim,” “Good job!,” “This is a train,” “Don’t touch that! It’s dangerous,” “That tasted great,” “You’re smart,” “You can’t do that”…
Through experience, we learn what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and also develop our capacity to predict. If a story ‘serves us’ then we start to use it (e.g. If I cry, I will get attention). This is like watering that story and it ‘grows’, strengthening a neural connection. And, at this stage in life, we are still very malleable; our stories are small and easy to change, and we have little complex discretion about our stories.
E.g. “If I cry, I will get attention (comfort),” “If I eat my vegetables, I get cake (reward),” “If I fall down, I should cry (support/affection),” “Mommy said that is bad, so I shouldn’t do it (connection/belonging)…
Even the well-watered, strong narratives – though bigger and harder to change – can still be uprooted; storms happen in life. Thunderstorms and lightning destroy plants, or they simply grow old and die. Other plants outcompete or overgrow other plants. Stories and narratives die.
E.g. Heartbreak of divorce or separation… an accident causes paralysis for the rest of your life… You are fired from your job of 12 years… you move to another city with no social group/community.
The quality of our soil – its health, fertility, and crops – can be changed. Plants or additives fertilize the soil, rocks are removed, water is added. With awareness, learning, and intention as to how to alter our lives, our landscape can change in lasting ways (e.g. permaculture). This can happen unconsciously (our system sparks this realization) or consciously (we realize our potential to affect our lives – we learn to garden!).
E.g. Lasting effects of psychotherapy… a change to health – sleep, diet, exercise, movement, etc… practicing intentional planning and life design, like habits… processing a traumatic event
This garden – like many – is full of whatever is commonly found around it. It has little personal intentionality and agency, and varies widely based on the common stories of culture, peers, media, and events happening around them.
E.g. My political views align with my family… we listen to the same news sources daily… my friend told me that… everybody has a lawn.
Intentional and cared for, this garden takes conscious planning and effort to foster a consistent vibe of order and individuality. It aims to inspire a sense of inner tranquility and order. The caring and planning buffers it from storms, and when storms rock it, it is calmly rebuilt.
E.g. “I want to cultivate a life that is peaceful and calm,” “I chose these types of trees because of their fragrance,” “I value presence”
Emphasizing the diversity of life and the possibility of intentional effort, this botanic garden contains a wide variety of plants, each with their own sections and climates. The wild and humid jungle plants, calm and arid desert plants, fragrant and nourishing garden plants, and more. Creation and care for a garden like this requires intentionality, gardening skills, and consistent effort.
E.g. “I hold a variety of relationships and ways of being in my life,” “My social network is intentional and diverse,” “I have a wide variety of hobbies,” “I can affect where I go and what I do”
‘The Established Garden’
For years and years the same trails have been walked, the same choices made, the same narratives watered, and the same systems developed and strengthened. This garden represents the common nature of ‘identity’ – we create it and then reinforce it with our actions. Being a system of such routine and order, significant change would take much more effort.
E.g. I always walk this trail in the morning… It took many years to develop this land… I like to stop here and sit…
The gardens above illustrate the diversity of stories/narratives, phases of life, and circumstances. Each of our gardens is a unique, botanic mixture that draws on all aspects of some – fertile undeveloped land in some areas, and deeply rooted routines in others. You might be largely zen in work life, routine in daily tasks, stormy in relationships, restoring family traumas, and well-established in hobbies. You may be a mix of forest, beach, desert, tundra, etc. This metaphor offers a lens of awareness as to what your life is and can be (with some intentional gardening). So, what’s your garden like now?
Activity: Your Botanic Life
Visualize and draw your life as a garden! Consider what’s there, the domains of life, and more. Share it with a partner. Then consider your dream garden, and how to tend your current garden to become more like your dream. 🙂
A fuller description/write-up of this exercise can be found here:
“The words we attach to our experience become our experience.” – Anthony Robbins
Imagine the act of telling someone your life story right now… what would you say? Or, perhaps given the task to capture it in a memoir… what would you write?
Our life is – in many ways – a memoir: a collection of stories from us – the author. We will not be able to write about every event that happened, every memory that we have, or every thought we thought along the way. Rather, we create a coherent narrative and message, one sentence at a time. Let’s call this book – this memoir – ‘The Story of Our Life’.
These messages started when we were very young and had very few stories. While we learned some of them ourselves (e.g., hot stoves hurt), we also took on many of them from others (e.g., “you’re so smart/dumb/beautiful/ugly/etc.”).
We also learned about what was worth writing about – what constitutes a ‘good story’ worth telling. While these social and cultural influences have been called ‘co-authors’ of our life story and continue to have a significant impact on our development as authors, we are also capable of developing our conscious choice and response-ability. These skills increase the agency that we have as the authors.
In each present moment, our ‘author-selves’ write the stories of our life – taking in sensory inputs about ‘what is happening’ and filtering them through our story-lens – how we see and make sense of the world. We consciously – or subconsciously – choose words to label/describe the people, places, things, behaviors, etc. around us. We create characters with specific attributes (e.g., my mom is a caring nurturer) and a plot that is likely to follow a particular arc or destination (e.g., I am not as social or capable as I used to be). The most crucial character in our memoir – of course – is our self. Who are we, and how have we become such? Our answer is our story of identity.
Though we write these stories in the present moment, they link together the past, present, and future – often emphasizing continuity and coherence. This provides us not only with an understanding of the past but also a prediction of our future. Like readers might predict what might come next based on what came before, so too do we assume and predict this, and often follow the story-arc and play the ‘character’ we have written for ourselves. When we have moments of clarity/autonomy where we realize that we have the power to influence these characters and this plot with our writing, we become empowered to do so (if we wish).
Which brings us to the core of the author metaphor: we do have that power. We are not only the author but the editor as well. As the editor, we can change the stories that we have written – to re-story it.
Think – for example – about an experience in life where your current view of it is very different now than in looking back. Perhaps a ‘hard’ teacher, relationship ex, things our parents ‘made’ us do, learning a skill we didn’t want to learn, etc. New experiences can stimulate conscious or subconscious shifts towards seeing old experiences in new ways – perhaps as learning or growth opportunities. In circumstances like this, we can revisit and rewrite past stories of characters.
Despite life’s circumstances, we can assume the role of the author in our life and see each blank page – each moment unlived – as a moment of possibility, on which we can write any story that we would most want to live out. We can even revisit already-written pages that we’ve taken for granted, shifting the plotline from deterministic to full of possibility.
Author Representations: Recap
- Book / Memoir – Our Life Story. How we make sense of ‘us’ and our experiences.Genre – The overall feel and nature of the book. What emotions does it elicit? What messages does it promote?
- Author – Others can share their stories, but others can not write ours. We write and curate the story of our lives.
- Co-Authors – We write our stories alongside others; cultural stories, social norms, and relationships invariably affect our story.
- Characters – The words we use to describe others depicts people in a certain way.
- Present – The stories that we are writing/thinking at this very moment. This may be a new story, a repeat story, or a revision/re-storying of an old into a new.
- Story-Lens – How we interpret the world to fit into the current story we have written. (e.g. interpreting someone’s actions based on stories you already have of them)
- Blank Page – The future may be planned but is yet to be written. We hold a choice.
- Editor – We can change our stories and our narratives by editing, re-storying, and re-emphasizing our past experiences, and by planning a new future. Like a pencil with an eraser.
- Plot / Story-Arc – The sequence of events where each happening affects the next one through the principle of cause-and-effect.
Some Famous Memoirs that give insight into the stories and experience of their lives…
“Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try.” – Fran Lebowitz
YSL Memoir Shelf – Same Story, Different Authorship
After a life full of challenges, personal discoveries, and individual perspectives, Gene has decided to write a memoir. Consider Gene’s life as it might have been from these fictitious titles and reviews, and how any of these genres could exist in the same circumstances.
The Calamity of Life: troubled times in the modern era: “Gene’s tragic hardships resonate with poignant familiarity. This heart-wrenching tale of trying to endure and find happiness in life is one that resonates too commonly within our modern world.”
- Hidden Gifts: a book of hope and enduring optimism: “Through uncommon challenge and hardship, Gene remains an inspiration of attitude and disposition, highlighting the beautiful impacts of living in the silver linings of life.”
- Fighting Crazy with Crazy: a humorous depiction of life’s challenges: “When life gives you crazy, join the circus; that’s the disposition Gene brings to a life of uncommon hardship, which has inspired me to laugh at life and revel in the crazy.”
- The Moments that Make Us Us: short stories of turning points in life: “What moments make you you? For Gene, these five formative moments were the foundation of their identity. A provocative consideration of the course our lives take, and the moments that define them.”
- Lessons in Spirituality: belief in turbulent times: “Gene’s perspective on God’s presence in the trials of life leave me with a fuller heart and deeper trust in my own life. Lessons of spirituality are truly engrained in the everyday happenings,”
- My Place in the Pyramid: a common life story: “Insightful, educational, and eye-opening – Gene’s book paints a vividly raw picture of a growing population that has left me better informed and more impassioned for change than ever before.”
“Sometimes I feel like relationships consist of telling your same life stories to different people until someone finally appreciates them.” ― Kate Rockland, Falling Is Like This
Activity: Your Life Story
The process of considering, writing, and reviewing our life story can be powerful, thoughtful, connecting, and motivating. If you were asked to share the story of your life, what would you share? What stories would be heard and taken away? And how would those reflect – truthfully – your experience of life.
What’s your story and the story you want to write?
A fuller step-by-step/write-up of this exercise can be found here:
Reinventing Your Identity
The Gardener metaphor offers imagery to the rich diversity inside us and the agency we have in shifting our identity over time. The Author metaphor offers imagery to the intentionality and agency of each moment, the literary arc of our life, and the many roles we play in writing it.
You are both.
And, when we acknowledge that, we open up a new realm of possibility. Just like we can go outside and do gardening work or focus on writing a short story, we can put in the conscious effort to create a life that we want to. YSL is a way to change our identity and, thus, our lives.
James Clear offers a simple definition for Identity based on its Latin roots:
Identity = “Repeated Beingness”
Each watering is a strengthening of our identity. Over time, we became who we ‘are’ through our thoughts and actions in each moment. To shift identity – to reinvent ourselves – takes three steps:
- Awareness – Of our stories and narratives – where they came from, how we ‘water’ them, and their implications on our life/identity.
- Possibility – Consciously connecting to what we desire in facets of our lives (e.g., inner peace among conflict, passion in a relationship, patience in parenting) as a way of inspiring motivation and clear goals.
- Action – Restorying our existing narratives to desired ones, then repeatedly actioning the desired narratives and not-actioning undesired ones.
What YSL IS and is NOT
|YSL is NOT||YSL IS|
|Denying Truth. Living in Fantasy.||Owning our lens, while acknowledging concrete circumstances. Attentive and concerned with the line between objective reality (What Happened) and subjective reality (our Story) and considering our capacity to shift the latter.
E.g., I can choose differently from holding anger and blame. I can take responsibility for my thoughts & actions and empathize.
|Individualism / Relativism / “All stories are equal!”||Understanding our stories and narratives and how they developed over time. Then, acknowledging how they color our understanding of the world. ‘Truth’ is found at the intersection of many stories and perspectives, and a more informed picture of ‘What Happened’ takes those into account.
E.g., Our disagreement around what is ‘respectful’ is a product of our circumstances/past. Through sharing stories and perspectives, we can broaden our understanding of a topic and take into account varied experiences.
|Immediate Change||Recognizing stories and narratives that are and are not in service to our lives. Approaching these with curiosity and a mindset of possibility—that they can change over time, being reinforced and habituated with repetition. We have the power to story and re-story our lives.
E.g., Narrative Therapy aims to bring the subconscious stories and narratives that shape our reality to consciousness, so we can intentionally choose more serving stories in the moment, and then repeat those to shift our identity over time.
|Trying to rid ourselves of stories – only living into ‘What Happened.’||Everyone has stories. It is impossible not to. Stories are not good or bad (even LIMNs ‘serve’ us in a way). Stories are our basis for bringing understanding, directionality and meaning to our life.
E.g., Consider powerful stories that underlie our sense of self and purposefulness in life, such as: “I can choose peace and compassion with all people,” “I have an impact on the environment / my family dynamic/systems,” and “Failure is an opportunity to grow.”
YSL can be a tool for crafting a serving identity and life; how we use them determines their impact.
Going Forward: The Map of the YSL Chapter
We have broken the YSL section down into 3 parts, each with an overarching video below.
1) Awareness of stories in our world and the difference between What Happened and Story.
Isaac Lidsky: What reality are you creating for yourself?
2) Connecting to the Possibility we have in changing our Story and the implications it can have.
Lori Gottleib: How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life
3) Applying these concepts to open up possibility and increase meaning and joy.
John Sharp M.D.: Change your Story, Transform Your Life
Part 1: Awareness
The Landscape of Stories – What, where, why, how, and since when did stories exist? We explore the profound impact that Stories have had on humanity – and the world – allowing unprecedented, biologically-defying evolution and innovation to take place. We explore where our stories come from, why they are there, and some of the ways they show up in our life.
Part 2: Agency and Possibility for Change
Reality & Identity – What is real, and true, and me? We explore the concepts of pain, placebo, perspective, language, and emotion that ask us to reconsider what we really ‘know’ about what we ‘know’. Then, we use that lens to inquire to ourselves… who are we? And why?
Possibility: Shifting Identity – What stories and narratives do I hold right now, and how are they limiting or serving towards the life I want to live? We consider how to find direction and clarity along this journey of life, how to uproot narratives that limit meaning and plant narratives that afford it. We look at case studies and share tools of how YSL can inform shifting identity.
Part 3: Application
Reinventing Your Life – How can we apply these? Together we consider – and practice – applying these concepts to ourselves, our relationships, and the world. With examples, tools, and exercises, we bring awareness and intentionality to our life, our identity, and our meaning. We transform.
Choose your own adventure. Choose your own life.
¹Qato DM, Ozenberger K, Olfson M. Prevalence of Prescription Medications With Depression as a Potential Adverse Effect Among Adults in the United States. JAMA. 2018;319(22):2289–2298. http://www.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.6741
²PBS, (2009) This Emotional Life. PBS, US https://www.pbs.org/show/this-emotional-life/
³By Michael Alvarez, Aron Ralston – Collection of Aron Ralston, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11623179
⁴McAdams, D. P., & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative Identity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(3), 233–238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721413475622
⁵Adler JM, Lodi-Smith J, Philippe FL, Houle I. The Incremental Validity of Narrative Identity in Predicting Well-Being: A Review of the Field and Recommendations for the Future. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2016;20(2):142-175. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868315585068