Take Control Of Your Personal Narrative

Paths in a forest by Jens Lelie

We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves. And when we aren’t saying them aloud, they often dictate the running commentary in our heads. It’s important for us to take charge of our own narratives because our stories have the power to change us. 

According to some psychologists, the stories people tell about their life experiences are the most powerful force for shaping identity. But while it sometimes feels like these stories control us, we are in control of them. 

How Our Story Forms

Every day a new piece of our story gets formed. The events we experience and the decisions we make at any given moment influence the direction our story takes. These life events-turned-stories then become part of our personality. 

As we use these stories to make sense of the world around us, we often use a procedure that researchers call “autobiographical reasoning” to flush out our stories. As Dan McAdams and Erika Manczak explain in a chapter for the APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology highlighted in The Atlantic Monthly, this is a process of:

“Identifying lessons learned or insights gained in life experiences, marking development or growth through sequences of scenes, and showing how specific life episodes illustrate enduring truths about the self.”

In other words, we connect past and our present self. We create the meaning of the different experiences we face by putting them into stories showing cause and effect. 

We may not even realize how much these personal narratives sway us. But they become the running commentary we tell ourselves that not only shapes the decisions we make but what we tell other people about ourselves. 

It does not matter if what we believe about ourselves is true or not.  The biggest tool to shaping your story isn’t having a realistic or unrealistic view of the world and your own abilities—it’s taking control of the stories that want to control you. 

Shaping Our Personal Story

Our mindset matters. It shapes the narrative in our heads. And what is in our heads makes a difference in how we live our lives. 

Our mindset should be in complete alignment with what we want to do. When it isn’t, the bridge between what we want and our ability to attain what we want becomes disconnected. 

Science backs this up. 

In 1975, researchers studied the personal attitudes toward aging among a group of 660 men and women aged 50 and above, and studied how their answers about aging influenced their lifespan 23 years later. They found that having a positive view about getting older affected the respondents’ longevity of life. Specifically, even when controlling for any other factor that could contribute to the outcome, the researchers concluded that those adults who had more positive self-perceptions of aging lived seven and a half years longer than those who had a negative view of growing older. 

When it comes to the stories we tell ourselves, attitude shapes how our story goes—and can even help determine how it ends. Our mindset can either help or hinder us. 

The right mindset enables us to feel competent and capable. It allows us to be open to new experiences even if we are not confident we will succeed at them. We can recognize that when we fail, we set ourselves up for future success by learning where our work is most needed. 

Rewriting Our Personal Story 

If you look up and realize you don’t like the direction your story is heading, change it. 

There is always time to rewrite the next chapter if you decide to act now. Take a step back and look at your life from a 1,000-foot view and write your story. Write down all the events that were formative in your life and continue writing down the cause and effect it’s had on your journey up to this point. 

With your story in hand, examine it and ask yourself three questions: 

  1. Where do I want this story to end?  
  2. What do I believe about myself right now that is preventing me from making that ending a reality? 
  3. What do I need to change about myself to accomplish that goal? 

Now that you know where you want to go, edit your story to make it a possibility.  

Think ahead in your personal narrative to where you want to see yourself. Then, work backward to determine what needs to be accomplished every step of the way until you are looking at what needs to be done today, in this moment, to help you reach your ultimate goal.

If you walk away from reading this post with only one thing in mind, let it be that, as you look toward the chapters of life ahead of you, you should always be aware that you are the one in control of the story being written. You control the behavior, the mindset, and how the outcomes are handled. Now go make it a page-turner! 



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