You’re meeting someone for the first time. You only have a few minutes to make an impression. What would you say about yourself? What details would you include? What details would you leave out?
Or imagine this.
You’re waiting for the train. You see that the CEO of a major company is standing next to you on the platform. To pass the time before the next train arrives, they engage you in conversation. “Tell me about yourself,” they ask. How would you communicate the essence of who you are in such a short amount of time?
Now take the next five minutes to actually answer the question for yourself.
Who are you?
Write down anything that comes to mind.
Okay…the reality is that only a few of you will actually stop and do the exercise. In doing so, you are communicating something about yourself. This simple behavior suggests that you are serious about getting the most out of this article. You are motivated. You are willing to invest some time and energy into understanding yourself. That’s part of your story—and it says something about the kind of person you are.
Others of you, however, are more likely to keep on reading. Maybe you consider yourself to be too busy or haven’t yet decided if this article warrants your full attention. Perhaps you believe yourself to be smarter than others or think that you can take a shortcut and still get the gist of the message. That’s part of your story—and it says something about the kind of person you are.
Within every one of us, there is an invisible force that guides us through our lives. All of our decisions and behaviors are driven by the stories we tell about ourselves. It is our personal story—our narrative.
Despite the large impact our narrative has on the way we live our lives, seldom do we stop and take note of the messages we are transmitting to others about ourselves. This lack of awareness is dangerous, especially because many of us have unconsciously adopted narratives that are unhealthy and counterproductive to our overall goals and well being.
Is your narrative outdated? Are you acting out issues and stories that originated in your childhood? When the stories we have no longer match the current realities and circumstances of our lives, we feel frustrated, exhausted and bored.
Are you a victim? Do you believe that others are responsible for the things that happen to you? People who adopt this story become passive observers rather than active creators in their own lives. Instead of taking responsibility for the way things are, they point to others’ actions and place blame.
Does your story convey a sense of narcissism or selfishness? Is everything always about you…even when it’s really not even about you at all? Narcissistic storytellers don’t consider other people’s perspectives. Who do you think will be attracted to people who tell narcissistic stories?
Are you self-depreciating or dismissive? Do you downplay who you are out of fear or lack of confidence? This can be very subtle. You might qualify your statements with phrases like, “It probably made no difference but…” or “This is not important but…”
Is your story inconsistent or incoherent? Are there holes in your story? Do the inconsistencies cause others to question your credibility? Perhaps you say you value one thing and engage in activities that would cause doubt.
All of these are examples of unhealthy narratives; personal stories that can hold us back, cause us to attract the wrong people into our lives and sabotage our true potential.
The Good News
The good news is that our personal narratives are alive and able to be altered. At any point, we can make the conscious decision to change the personal story we communicate to the world and consciously create stories that empower us. By creating healthier narratives, we shift our identity from that of passive recorder to active author.
We go from being a historian to a novelist and reclaim the power to create our own life story.
What is a Healthy Narrative?
Healthy narratives are both integrated and integrative.
A personal narrative that is integrated is one that incorporates all aspects of the self into one cohesive story. Integration is not about presenting a sanitized image of oneself, and it’s not the same as affirmations. On the contrary, integration requires the full acknowledgement of limitations, weaknesses as well as resources and strengths.
A healthy narrative is also integrative. As we change our personal stories, we are actually also altering the structures of our brains. This increased functionality expands our capabilities and our resiliency. For more information about the integrated brain, click here.
What story will you choose to tell?
For those you who were too busy to complete the five minute exercise, congratulations! You made it all the way to the end! Now go back and do your homework! J
Alana Mbanza is the Content Editor of Green Psychology, a site dedicated to effective communication skills, healthy relationships and personal development. Connect with Green Psychology on Facebook or follow on Twitter @GreenPsychology.
Photo credit: ‘Strength‘ by Big Stock