One of the fastest ways to make a better day is to change the story we are telling ourselves.
So often, how we talk about our experience is rife with drama and complaint . All that stuff might be true, of course. You may actually be deeply unhappy AND THEN your food is served late and cold AND the server gave you the wrong drink (you asked for cola, not coffee) and nothing ever goes your way. You can hang onto that story, that rotten truth, adding details to the drama in each retelling. Or you can go looking for the other details in the plot line.
Life is never just one thing. If you are looking at your experience through a narrow lens, zoomed in on the challenge, then you are missing the rest of the picture, the part that about the server bringing you a new, hot and delicious meal and then comping the lunch.
When we slow down long enough to stop complaining, we see there is more to the story. Then, we can change the one we tell so that we feel a bit better.
This isn’t hard. Life is mostly open to interpretation
Editing the Story
When we change the way we interpret our life events, our lives change, says researcher Timothy Wilson. He studied the impact of rewriting those life stories on paper. He calls the practice “story editing.”
In one study Wilson asked college students who were having a hard time in school to write about their experiences. Some in the experiment were given the information that many people struggle in college before finding success. The other study participants were told nothing.
Those who kept to the view that they were bad at school, continued to struggle. Yet, those who took in the new information, that many successful people struggle at times, used it to reinterpret their own experience.
Those who edited their story to include the interpretation that “everyone fails at first” were much more likely to improve and persist in school.
In the end, the story we tell about our struggle determines how successful we’ll be in dealing with it.
Ready to rewrite and reframe your own perspectives?
Here’s how to do it:
Pick a challenge or an event that has got you down.
Write about it.
Now, reinterpret those circumstances and rewrite a new ending to this story.
Spend 20 minutes rewriting this story from different angles, wading through the details. Researchers recommend doing this 20-minute writing exercise for three or four days. And in the end, you’ll discover a more positive, and usually more accurate, interpretation of events.
I’ve done this in my own life. When my first book was rejected a dozen times, and I was feeling beaten and frustrated, I began to rewrite the story of rejection.
Instead of seeing it as one of you’ll-never-publish-a-book failure, which at times I did and can surely be one ending, my edited version actually described rejection as a part of the publishing process. After all, many now successful writers, including Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert had been rejected many times before ultimately hitting the bestseller lists.
Another tale I told during that time was about how my own story of rejection could became material for a new book where I helped others cope with similar setbacks. That research is now included in How to Live an Awesome Life.
I began to see the rejections as part of the writing life instead of my own weakness and failure, and that belief kept me going until I did, finally, sell my book.
No matter what is happening in your life, small shifts in the story you tell will set you up for success rather than struggle.