A cartoon character named Pogo made the observation, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Entire books have been written about this topic and how our own thoughts and actions can sabotage forward progress. This is as true at age 60 or 70 as it is for someone in their 20’s or 30’s. This is why it is helpful for you to write your own story in a way that serves you best.
Do you know people who are quick to tell the story (in excruciating detail) of how people or circumstances have conspired to hold them down? They may not use these words, but that’s the implication. Their story is one of lack, misfortune and bad luck. Sometimes, they live in a nice house, have a good family and seem to be in great health. Yet their story is about what they are lacking, not all the good stuff they have.
It’s funny how individuals can go through exactly the same circumstances but tell the story in a completely different way. One person has a negative experience and carries it with them as an example of why they never fulfilled their dreams. Another person takes even the most unfortunate of circumstances and rewrites their story in such a way that it serves as rocket fuel to propel them to success and happiness.
A great example of the latter type of person is John O’Leary, author of the highly-rated On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. John has the unique distinction of having been burned over 100 percent of his body in a house fire he accidentally started as a child. Yet, you will not hear a more positive and forward-thinking individual. I do recommend John O’Leary’s book because it truly has the potential to change your life.
Here are seven tips to write your own story in a way that is empowering and compelling.
1. Be the director. In his comedy, As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” If this is correct, then you don’t want to be just a player/actor in your life story – you want to be the director. As a director, you are not a victim, because you have control over the script. And if you don’t like the way a script is going for your character, you edit the script or write a new one.
2. Embrace the failure. If your existing story involves failure of some type, join a very large club. In fact, almost all great successes faced some type of early failure. Here is an article about how six extremely successful people dealt with big failure earlier in life. As one example, Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Obviously, Mr. Disney did not accept what his editor said and wrote his own story – a good example of being the director, not just the actor.
3. Shift your focus. One of the problems with a “woe is me” type of story is that it focuses on what is missing, what you lack, and the unfortunate circumstances you have been faced with. Life is so much better when we all realize that is more important to “Want what you have” and not “Have what you want”. As this graphic shows, you can expect the best but do not be attached to a specific outcome.
4. Practice selective memory. Famed psychologist Carl Jung made the observation, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” If you recycle bad memories, they will grow and possibly consume you. For example, if someone wounded you along the way (ex-spouse, boss or friend) and you constantly talk about this or replay the injustices – they will become magnified and impact you in negative ways that you can’t even imagine. Surely there were some good things that happened along the way…remember those, talk about those, and let the bad stuff fade into the recesses of your memory.
5. Choose the positive option. Isn’t it true that much of what happens to us can be looked on retrospectively as having some benefit? You lose a job and find a better one. Your partner breaks up with you and you find your soulmate. You suffer childhood trauma and use that experience to propel you to be a better parent and role model. The list goes on and the point is that when given a choice of whether to adopt the negative or positive view of a situation, the positive choice is often more accurate and productive.
6. Realize that your past is not your future. As Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” People worry that their past dictates their future and the truth is, the more you dwell on the past, the more likely this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, many people achieve great things even from dire circumstances.
7. Be kind to yourself. Perhaps the best reason to write a new story is because that is the nice thing to do. You deserve to feel good about yourself and present your best self to others. And yes, you deserve it.
Just to be clear, when I suggest that you write your own story, I don’t mean that you make a bunch of stuff up or create a fictionalized fantasy of your life. Rather, I urge you to minimize the negative, accentuate the positive, and whenever possible, view your actions and circumstances in the best possible light.
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