Like many others, I’ve been reaching out by phone and virtual platforms to maintain social connection with coaching clients, friends and family from whom I am physically distanced during this pandemic. I’m finding that the conversations that usually begin with a question like “How are you doing?” “What have you been up to?” reveal far more than the mere description of activities or conscious awareness of one’s current state of mind or emotions. These narratives can reveal deep insights for both the listener and the teller about how they are experiencing the present and influence how they react to it, how they will remember and interpret it in the future, and what the longer term effects will be.
A friend, Chaim Lauer, recently noted:
How we tell a story can make a real difference during an event, in how we remember it, and what we take forward from it. It is not just the story, but how we tell it, on what we focus, or to whom we tell it – and why- that create an immediate and long-term effect.
What we focus on, what we emphasize, the kind of language we use, how we connect the present events to the past and future all affect how we experience and perceive “our story” which turn affects our attitude, mindset and mood. For example, at the beginning of one call, a friend focused on the deprivation, isolation, disappointments, deep uncertainty and the challenges of her current situation. She was worried about how she’d be able to keep herself together for the anticipated month of social isolation to come. When asked about what she had been doing thus far to get her through, and to tell about what she liked to do on her one (when social isolation was not imposed), she raised her own awareness and began to tell a very different story of resilience and creativity and hopefulness.
Which is not to say that we should self-edit our stories to be Pollyanna-ish fairy tales. On the contrary, it is important to face our challenges honestly and at the same time to recognize the internal characteristics and traits that we can mobilize or develop in order to succeed.
Seeing ourselves as the “hero” of our life story (a la Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey) can be a helpful way to make meaning of our experiences, recognize the keys to solving our challenges that we have or can attain, and use the experience to grow and thrive. According to Campbell, a hero ventures forth into the unknown where s/he faces tasks or trials, either alone or with the assistance of helpers. The hero eventually reaches “the innermost cave” or the central crisis where s/he must undergo “the ordeal” and overcome the main obstacle or enemy. In doing so, s/he gains a reward or treasure. The hero must then return to the ordinary world with this reward, which s/he may now use. The hero is transformed by the adventure and gains wisdom or spiritual power over the known and unknown worlds.
Telling our stories helps us to organically transform by integrating and attending to how our stories are coming together. Our stories (and how we tell them) contain the clues to who we really are, what we are trying to achieve, and how this can come together in the most meaningful way.
Sometimes, it is helpful to tell these stories to a coach, who can ask powerful questions and make observations (based on our external behaviors) that creates greater awareness and enables us to progress on our journeys. Paying attention to our stories and the way we tell them can help us:
- Become more aware of our own implicit and explicit stories
- Recognize how these stories shape our identity and behavior at both the conscious and unconscious levels
- Understand that our stories are personally and socially constructed and
- Tell our stories in ways that authentically express a new way of being in the world.
How we see ourselves and how we project ourselves in the world are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Our perceptions influence how we tell our stories; how we tell our stories influences how we see ourselves (and how others see us). Telling our story can bring awareness of what is important, what the point of our story is (our goal), and can shine a light on what enabled us to reach our goal, so that we can celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and move forward on our journeys.
So, what’s your story – and how can you connect to it for continued growth?