You can change the story of your life

You can change the story of your life

It is easy to get stuck into a negative story about your life and who you are, but it is possible change the narrative

As a writer and reader of fiction, and as a teacher of creative writing, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories. What is a story? What makes a good story? And why are we so bothered about stories anyway?

The essential story form would appear to be etched in our DNA. Hero wants something. Someone or something stops him getting it. He conquers said obstacle, gets what he wants and lives happily ever after. Or doesn’t.

The possibilities of this basic form seem genuinely limitless. In a couple of weeks the Man Booker prize judges will announce which of the latest variations appeals to them the best. Thousands will instantly rush out and buy it. And the appetite for stories is not limited to novels. Television, film, computer games; all spew out a constant stream. On doorsteps, at school gates, around water coolers, anywhere people gather, stories are being exchanged.

But most powerful of all are the stories nobody hears. The stories we tell inside our own heads, attempting to make sense of the world and of our place within it. Seldom consciously articulated, they nonetheless have the profoundest effect on how we feel about our lives and even on how we live them.

So what is a story? An account of what happened? As anyone who has written so much as a postcard will readily tell you: it’s not that simple. A story is inevitably a selection of certain events. And by the same token an exclusion of others. It’s a question of what you focus on. The story of my morning so far could run to hundreds of pages, were I to detail (heaven forbid!) each breath I have drawn, each sip of coffee, each arbitrary, irrelevant thought – and it’s still only 8.33.

I’ve recently been marking novels submitted for a creative writing MA. One of the most common and obvious mistakes committed by apprentice writers (including myself) is to relate conversations, descriptions, scenes, of no relevance to the story. “So why are you telling me this?” you think. “What’s the purpose of it?” “Why do I need to know?”

All of which suggests, of course, that a story is far more than just an account of what took place. A story has a purpose; it seeks, in focusing on the particular, to reflect more general truths. A story, be it fact or fiction, simple or dizzyingly complex, is inevitably a demonstration, a statement that this is the way things are. To put it baldly: a story has an agenda.

Which begs the question: what is my agenda? What kind of story am I living in? (Tragicomic, since you ask.) And, most importantly, who is writing it? The stories that we tell ourselves are influenced by many different factors. The culture into which we are born plays a major part, certainly. When I said that a hero wants something, I used the word advisedly; traditionally it is men who want, women get to be wanted. Family culture is central too; beliefs get handed down through generations as surely as sticking-out ears or a beaky nose. And our own life experience, in particular early experience, often establishes a pattern, a theme if you like, from which it can prove very difficult to break free.

The power of writing

In a recent interview, Tony Blair said he regretted that he’d never had the discipline to keep a diary. He was talking, one assumes, about the kind of brief daily journal that could have helped him write his memoirs (after it had been returned by Scotland Yard, of course). This is as opposed to the kind of diary celebrated in such self-help books as Journaling From The Heart, Embrace Your Life Through Creative Journaling and Inner Journeying Through Art-Journaling – or in the magazine Personal Journaling which is, intolerably, a journal about journaling. It’s hard to imagine any politician keeping this kind of diary, which calls for introspection and self-questioning. At the risk of blinding you with my unrivalled access to Blair’s inner circle, you can take it from me that No 10 doesn’t subscribe to Personal Journaling magazine.

And rightly so. You surely don’t have to be some stiff-upper-lipped British throwback to find the cult of journaling a bit wallowingly self-absorbed. Even so, I was surprised to find agreement from Professor Jamie Pennebaker, the world’s leading scientific authority on the emotional benefits of writing things down. “Oh, yes, you can definitely wallow,” said Pennebaker, an experimental psychologist at the University of Texas. “I’ve noticed how people who journal a lot can seem to tell the same story, over and over again.”

What’s startling, though, are the proven mood-enhancing powers of writing when it’s done in a more focused way. Pennebaker’s research shows that when people who’ve experienced trauma are asked to write about it – for 15 minutes a day for four days, no more – they show rapid improvements in wellbeing compared with those who write about something else. In one extraordinary experiment, by John Weinman at King’s College London, small, identical skin wounds were inflicted on patients, some of whom were then asked to spend a few minutes, for a few days, writing about stressful events. The wounds were monitored with ultrasound, and the skin damage healed faster among those who wrote about their feelings.

Strange things happen when people write in this way. Over several days, their language shifts from being emotional to being more thoughtful; from being dominated by “I” and “me” to “we” and “us”. So it seems writing works not only as catharsis but in a practical way, too, helping us objectify problems, step out of self-absorption, and look to solutions. It isn’t a case of “a problem shared is a problem halved”, either: nobody else need ever see what you write.

“Years ago, my wife and I went through a difficult patch in our marriage,” Pennebaker recalled. “We were in the midst of all sorts of ugly tension, and I just sat down and started […]

The Mental Health Benefits of Writing Your Life Story

The Mental Health Benefits of Writing Your Life Story

There are so many reasons why people document their life stories. Some want to leave a legacy for future generations, while others want to reflect on their journey or reminisce on the highlights they experienced over the years. For some, their life story is so interesting that it simply had to be documented or no one would believe it.

One key element of documenting life stories that is often overlooked is the incredible benefit it can have on your well-being and overall happiness .

The mental health benefits of regular journaling have long been touted by psychologists and mental health professionals as a way to reduce stress , develop a sense of control and regulate mood , among other positive impacts. However, the impact of recording your whole life story is unparalleled.

As the UK’s leading biography-writing service, StoryTerrace has documented thousands of life stories in recent years, connecting everyday people with professional ghostwriters across the world. StoryTerrace’s writers have worked with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and ethnicities, who are at different stages of their life. One key theme that unites almost all of our customers is the mental health benefit they experience from the process of chronicling their tales.

There are four main reasons why the process of documenting your personal story can be transformational:

Understanding yourself better

Recording your journey through life and remembering the challenges and triumphs you faced represents an opportunity to analyse your past and gain incredible insight into who you are today.

Understanding how experiences have influenced the path you chose in your life is paramount in achieving a higher level of self-awareness , security and self-confidence , and can also make you aware of ambitions, viewpoints and dreams that you had not yet realised.

Overcoming unresolved trauma

The process of documenting your life story can be incredibly helpful in overcoming unresolved trauma or sensitive issues which may be weighing heavily on your mind.

Numerous studies have found that writing about upsetting memories and troubling topics can be as effective as undergoing cognitive processing therapy in treating adults with posttraumatic stress disorder .

Whilst the process may seem uncomfortable initially, documenting your life story can go great lengths towards helping you to overcome trauma and strengthen your mental well-being. However, it is important to note that writing your life story doesn’t constitute a replacement for therapy, should you need professional support.

Strengthening personal relationships and rebuilding families

One of the most rewarding aspects of writing your life story in terms of mental well-being and happiness is that it can help you to develop much deeper relationships with those around you.

Many people in the StoryTerrace community report that, by documenting their life stories, they have dramatically improved their relationships with friends, family and even their partners, as it gives those around you a chance to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for who you are and the life choices you made.

Write The Soundtrack of Your Life

When you’re sad, mad, frustrated…, it can be hard to tell what will make you feel better. Maybe you want someone who will just listen without being too nosy, or you might tell yourself distractions like ice cream or TV will soothe, but sometimes, what we really need is time alone to write. This article gives you some tips on how to use writing as a self-care tool.

Throughout my life, I have often used writing as a tool to work through difficulties, make better decisions, and express myself more fully and honestly than I could talking in person.

Shrek was right! People are like onions, covered under layers of expectations, fears, past traumas, pretenses… The act of writing thoughts down is beneficial for a few reasons beyond just getting our thoughts out. When we write our thoughts and feelings down on paper, it gives us a chance to pause and creates the necessary distance to uncover what we are actually feeling, making it easier to identify the root of issues. Logical fallacies and hurried conclusions reveal themselves as we put ink to them.

Many think of writing as a chore—something they struggle to do for school/work—but when you journal-write for yourself, it’s therapeutic, rewarding and insightful. Journaling is a way to get in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and struggles without the fear of judgement.

There is an old saying that says, “you cannot see the world for what it is, only for what you are.” It means that our actions are responses to how we perceive the world. The stories we tell ourselves every day have a huge impact on our lives. These internal dialogues are like what soundtracks are for movies. You might just overlook the soundtracks as unimportant background noises until you find that It’s hard to laugh in even the best comedies when you pair them with suspenseful horror movie soundtracks. When we write, we explore these stories, discover blindspots, and are given the opportunity to start re-writing past wrongs and planning for a different life outcome. What soundtrack does the movie of your life play?

It’s important to pay attention to what is happening in your life and not just keep it all in. Writing about what happened can help you process it better, which is why many psychologists have started recommending journaling as an effective stress relief technique for patients who don’t want to take medication or participate in talk therapy. Journaling demands that you think deeply about your life and experiences. For some, journaling is a way to talk about their anxiety or depression, while for others it is a way to process trauma or abuse they have had in their past. 

The psychological benefits of writing include self-exploration, emotional release, stress reduction, pain distraction, physical healing and much more.  A study was done at Stanford University on patients who were admitted into the hospital for cancer treatments. The studies found that those who wrote every day for two or more hours had better outcomes than those who did not write anything at all. Other research found that writing about traumatic events can lessen the intensity of negative thoughts and feelings about the event in the long term. 

Writing therapy is not only a great way to express your thoughts and feelings, it can also help pinpoint things that you need to work on. Sometimes it can be used as an emotional outlet for memories or feelings too difficult to talk about. People often feel safer when they write about their thoughts and feelings in private, which can make it easier for them to explore their deepest emotions without fear that someone will reject them or judge them negatively.

Journaling is a way to shape your life the way you want it. It gives you a chance to rewrite your life’s story and make it better.  It can help us express ourselves better, process what has happened in our lives more clearly, find inspiration for the future, or unburden ourselves from the things that weigh us down.Journaling is also an opportunity to shift perspective by stepping outside of ourselves. The guided journal prompts from curaFUN help you gain a broader perspective on things you have experienced and open up new ways of thinking about them. It can also help you identify patterns in your life which might not be readily apparent otherwise.

Writing therapy has been clinically proven to improve one’s mental wellbeing. curaFUN’s Quest Depot integrates guided journal, emotional awareness, goal setting, progress tracking and reward/motivation system all in one visual interface that leverages positive social influence, gamification and psychology.  In place of the daunting blank journal page, users selects their current mood emoji and then write or speak (speech to text) their responses to journal prompts.

If you want to start journaling on your own, below are some ideas to get you started.

 The WDEP model

A four-step process that can help you think about what you want to achieve, and how to go about it.

●  Wants. What do you want?

This might be something like “I’d like to start my own business” or “I need more time for myself”.

●  Doing. What are you doing to get what you want?

You can also make a list of things that might help you get closer to your goal. For example, these might include taking on extra work, finding a new job, or hiring an assistant.

●  Evaluate. Is what you are doing helping you get to what you want?

●  Plan. Can you make a more effective plan to get what you want?

Evaluate how successful you are after trying this method and plan accordingly for future obstacles.

ABC model

This is the basis of behavior therapy. It replicates the natural process of learning and understanding of human behavior, which starts with an event or antecedent that leads to a behavior or belief, which in turn leads to a consequence.A: Activating event or antecedent

B: Beliefs and thoughts about this event; what we tell ourselves about it

C: Emotions and subsequent actions that result from this belief system

Though the therapeutic benefits of writing are undeniable, it is important to note that it is not always a replacement for therapy. Journaling can, however, help us become more emotionally aware and process negative events which have happened in our lives. For many, it is a way to help them feel safe in this scary world. 

Writing is always free, private and available.  So start journaling to take care of yourself!

How Writing Competitions Help Children Grow

Writing competitions are important in helping your child grow and develop not only emotionally, but also mentally. Known to create a safe and healthy environment for children to channel their creative ideas, their energy and develop better writing skills.

Here’s why writing competitions are so important for children.

Competitions Discipline Children

Writing competitions encourage discipline in children. To win a prize, they must submit a finished story by the deadline, and the best story wins. This means that children will not only write their story, but they’ll also put a lot of effort into it. It’ll teach them the importance of writing first drafts, checking, editing, and rechecking. Creative writing competitions also require the creation of dramatic plots, characters, and settings. Coming up with original ideas requires a lot of effort, encouraging discipline and self-restraint. Discipline and perseverance is an important skill to develop for future success in academic and other fields of life. Learning self-restraint also allows children to choose and stick with the tasks at hand, giving them the power to overcome demotivation, laziness, and procrastination.

Competitions Encourage Writing

Writing is good for the soul. Writing teaches children to observe their surroundings, making them more and improving their discernment skills. Writing allows children to flex their creative muscles, coming up with solutions and being able to organize their thoughts in a cohesive manner. Children who have a healthy channel through which they can express their feelings are more emotionally intelligent, empathetic, and have fewer behavioral problems.

It Builds Confidence

Writing competitions help increase your child’s confidence by providing them an outlet to channel their hard work into. These competitions create a safe and supportive environment for your child to channel their feelings and express themselves. They also encourage their problem-solving, creative thinking, and analysis skills. With improved confidence, your kids will be able to enjoy not only a better relationship with themselves but also with those around them. Children who have more confidence find it easier to make new friends are happier, and even perform better in academics.

It Challenges Them

Writing competitions are competitions after all. Children benefit from trying out new activities and participating in things that are able to challenge them. This teaches them the spirit of good sportsmanship, shows them the importance of putting in the effort, allowing them to grow and develop emotionally.

Are you looking for a good writing competition to encourage discipline and help your child develop a positive attitude? curaFUN’s Shining Moments Writing Contest is a great competition to enroll your child in to help build up their confidence!

At curaFUN, we also have immersive programs that help in developing the emotional and social skills of children. Our programs not only boost confidence and social development but also problem-solving skills and can help manage behavioral problems for children with ADHD. Our immersive games can also help in managing worry and anxiety for kids, making them more confident and happier.

Contact us for more info.

What old story about yourself are you still believing? Here’s how to find it and change it

Raúl Soria

Raúl Soria

Many of us hold deeply ingrained beliefs about ourselves that are simply not true. You can start to free yourself from them by editing your narrative, says psychiatrist John Sharp.

There are many things in our lives that we have little control over — the news, the weather, the traffic, the soup of the day at our local café. But among the things that we can control, there’s a big one: our story.

This narrative is not the one that contains the objective facts of our lives; instead, it’s “the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are and how everything always plays out,” says psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor John Sharp.

And he adds, “If you want to change your life, it needs a re-edit.”

The problem with this story is that too often, it’s not accurate — writer Marilynne Robinson calls it “a mean little myth.”

Sharp, the author of The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, explains, “Some emotionally difficult scenes are way over-included — just think of all the things you can’t let go of — and other scenes are deleted, such as times when things did go well. The worst part about the false truth … is that it becomes our self-fulfilling prophecy, the basis of what we expect from ourselves in the future.”

To begin revising your narrative, Sharp recommends doing the following:

1. Identify where your narrative diverges from reality.

For Sharp, his parents divorced when he was young, and he says, “the false truth that I held to so dearly was that just … as I couldn’t be effective in keeping my parents together, I probably couldn’t be effective at much of anything else, and this left me feeling very insecure.”

Since you’ve long accepted your false story as the official account, it may not be super-obvious to you. If you’re not sure what it is, try filling in these blanks, says Sharp:
“If I break a promise to myself, I feel ___________.”
“When someone ignores me, I feel _____________.”
“When my partner or best friend and I have a big fight, I feel _____________.”

Why these prompts? Our inaccurate narrative tends to be one that we default to when we’re faced with difficulty or disappointment.

Another way to help you identify your old story is to listen to your self-talk and notice when it includes statements that begin with “I always ______,” “I’m always ______,” or “I never ______.”

After you find your ingrained story, think back to your childhood and try to look for the experiences that helped feed it. And if you end up identifying multiple false stories, choose the one that’s had the most impact on your life. Sharp says, “While I know there are many stories and many possible revisions for all of us, I truly believe that there’s one underlying story that you deserve to identify and rework first.”

2. Question your beliefs.

Let’s say your deep belief is no matter what you do, it’s not enough; perhaps your parents were rarely satisfied with your achievements, even when they were stellar, and fixated on your next report card, exam or accomplishment. So, ask yourself: While that might have been the case when you were younger, is it really true now that what you do is never enough?

“When you view it from an adult perspective, you can see that it’s not fair or just to ourselves,” says Sharp.

Your story doesn’t have to have been caused by your parents, but it’s typically the result of a relationship we had when we were young. Explains Sharp, “It happens at a time before we know the difference between a healthy and and unhealthy reaction to something that really scares us, so we hold on to the wrong conclusion.”

3. Don’t beat yourself up.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged when you realize how long you’ve been telling yourself a false narrative. But know you’re far from alone — many of us walk around with these stories, says Sharp. “We need to be compassionate with ourselves about how this came into being.” Most people come up with them for what he calls “understandable reasons” — the need to maintain a sense of control and the tendency for kids to take specific circumstances and generalize broadly.

4. Introduce positives into your narrative.

Think about all your strengths and talents, and appreciate them. While the situations that led to the false story have made you into who you are today, they’ve probably affected you in positive ways as well. Maybe they’ve made you more resourceful, more responsible, more empathic, or more ambitious. These positives, whether they’re big or small, deserve a place in your story, too.

5. Leave behind the old story.

“Cut away what no longer serves you,” says Sharp. “Identify and gather up all the many exceptions … and accept that it’s safe now to move on. You no longer have to hold on to that false security.”

One of Sharp’s patients was a woman who avoided all challenges and adversity. Upon reflecting about her past, she realized “she suffered from the false truth that when she fell, she couldn’t pick herself up,” says Sharp. “Now she knows she can, and her future looks entirely different and better.”

Sharp is a fervent believer in the power of editing one’s story. “If I hadn’t cut away from my ‘mean little myth,’ then I’m confident now that I wouldn’t be here with you today,” he says in his TEDx talk. “In my 20 years of clinical practice, I’ve seen this kind of transformation over and over again.”


Mary Halton is Assistant Ideas Editor at TED, and a science journalist based in the Pacific Northwest.

This post was originally published on TED Ideas. It’s part of the “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.