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Our Stories Can Help Us, Too

My reflection on the past year and setting objectives for the year ahead happens on my birthday.  (Since my birthday occurs late in November, it’s close enough to New Year’s Day to keep me in step with those around me.)

If you scan the internet, you’ll find no end of advice on how to keep true to the resolutions that you make.  This advice often comes with statistics about how soon New Year’s resolutions are broken after being made, so you may want to skip those to avoid initial discouragement.

Maintaining resolutions often involves forming new habits.  There is some evidence that suggests this means that you are literally forming new neural pathways in your brain…and, yes, it takes approximately 21-days for the new pathways to become the primary pathways.

Three weeks can be a long time to maintain a consistent pattern when your own mental processes are at odds with the new program.  It’s no different for me.

I have found a method that has helped me achieve a high success rate for the more difficult objectives.  Yes, it involves storytelling.

Here is the process:

When a change is very important to me, I write out a very short story (about a page or so) that describes the problem and how I overcame it.  (Notice that I didn’t say how I will overcome it.  In my story, I have been successful.)  I also write how life is different for me now that the problem is behind me, and how the improvements have had a positive impact.

Next, I put the story through a couple of revisions.  I never change the “facts” in them.  My focus is in adding descriptive passages that make the key points come alive.

For instance, achieving my objective may make me “happy” in the first draft.  In subsequent drafts, I describe what being happy means to me.  In a story from last year, achieving my objective meant that I went to bed at night filled with peace of mind.  My relationships with those around me were more satisfying because the gift of peace gave me quiet time to listen to what they were truly saying, and I appreciated how fortunate I was to have them nearby.

Throughout the story, I provided more and more specific details of the pain that had been felt and the relief that had been achieved.  In the end, I had the perfect story of an aspect of my life that gave me great pleasure.

The third step was to do an audio recording of me reading the story that I’d written.  This also took me through some revisions, both written and on the performance side.  I’ve learned that the written phrase can sound much different when it is heard.  What seemed impressive on paper can sound stilted when read.

When the story is where it needs to be, I pay attention to adding appropriate inflections to highlight key points.  If the story tells me that I’m excited, then my vocal delivery must reflect being excited.  “They all lived happily ever after” doesn’t have quite the same impact when the voice suggests that I’d rather be taking a nap.

Once the recording is complete, I set aside a time each day to listen to it.  The best time for me is right before I step into the shower.  The running time is around 2-minutes…just long enough to assure that the water is nice and warm. 

While I’m showering, I determine the one thing that I’m going to do today to bring me closer to my objective.  I think of it as my daily personal development plan.

Eventually, I no longer need the story.  It is a part of me.  The “success image” is firmly planted in my mind, and I can easily recall it whenever I want it.

That’s it.  As you can see, there are possibilities for many different variations.  The main ingredient is to have a positive emotional involvement with my objective, and stories are a direct highway to the emotions.

Thank you for reading.