I am sure you have told a story about your life. Maybe you made people laugh, or maybe it was a story of loss. Maybe it was a quick anecdote or a story that took all afternoon. I am sure you have told many stories, some again and again, and some in just one telling. But have you ever considered writing this story down?
When asked to write about ourselves, many of us ask,
“Why would I write about myself? My stories aren’t that important.”
In fact, there are countless invaluable gains to be made from writing your story, both for yourself and for the ones you share your writings with.
Early last year, the New York Times published a piece called “Writing Your Way to Happiness,” centered on the idea that writing down your narrative can lead to behavioral and emotional shifts. The author, Tara Parker-Pope, writes, “the concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right.” She continues to lay out many studies that show that by writing and rewriting our stories, we can change our outlooks, and our lives.
From struggling college students to married couples, the evidence is there: by taking a more hands-on (or fingers-on, I suppose since most of us are typing) approach to our own stories, we can change ourselves.
As Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, says, “when you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change.”
I want to return to what Jack Groppel says, about what matters to you. When you sit down to write your story, inevitably something important will emerge from the back of your mind, even if it doesn’t feel important. That day you spent at the beach 30 years ago with your high school girlfriend may seem insignificant, but when you take the time to write the words out you may find the meaning hiding in the corners of the memory — was this the day you learned about how to listen to someone you loved, or that you realized how important nature was to you? You might not be able to distill the importance of your memories until you are 500 words in, seeing the day, as you remember it, laid out in front of you.
Writing also helps us move on from painful experiences.
Roberta Temes, PhD, says, “many clinical trials have proved that when you put your memories into words, particularly memories of emotional significance, you improve your mental health.”
Writing is a way of pulling memories that clutter and haunt your mind and sort through them. Putting these memories on paper may help you understand the past, and maybe even embrace it.
Take 30 minutes to focus in on one memory, one piece of your story. Write down what you remember, see what you discover.
Click here to get a list of questions to ask your family and prompts to write your story.
Interested in learning more about the power of storytelling to develop a life of resilience, connection, and meaning? Check out my Write Into Joy workshops to learn how to build resilience and joy through journaling & reflecting. Click here to see a list of upcoming workshops.