Choose your thoughts wisely.
I recently read Timothy D. Wilson’s book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By. In it, Wilson explores the importance of redirecting negative ‘stories’ we tell ourselves about our lives, in order to motivate us to change for the better, rather than simply becoming discouraged by setbacks in life. To illustrate how this works, he uses the example of first year college students failing an early exam. The students who interpret that feedback in a resilient way — such as ‘I should study harder or read the materials more carefully next time’ — are much more likely to go on to succeed in their college courses. Their attitude and resilience prepares them for more difficult and challenging work. In contrast, students who interpret their failure of that one exam as testimony that they ‘are not college material,’ often do not bounce back. They may even give up and quit college all together.
The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what are capable of color the way we see ourselves. If we believe we’re destined to fail, it’s likely we will.
“We all have personal stories about who we are and what the world is like. These stories aren’t necessarily conscious, but they are the narratives by which we live our lives. Many of us have healthy, optimistic stories that serve us well. But sometimes, people develop pessimistic stories and get caught in self-defeating thinking cycles, whereby they assume the worst and, as a result, cope poorly. The question then becomes how to help people revise their negative stories.” ― Timothy D. Wilson, Source
What’s Your Story?
“Just as we possess a potent physical immune system that protects us from threats to our physical well-being, so do we possess a potent psychological immune system that protects us from threats to our psychological well-being. When it comes to maintaining a sense of well-being, each of us is the ultimate spin doctor.” ― Timothy D. Wilson
If we are our own ‘spin doctors’ as Wilson postulates, how can we change the narrative? How can we edit and rethink our stories?
Redirect focuses on helping people learn how to improve their lives through a process he calls, ‘story editing.’
Why Writing Can Help You Heal.
Each of us tends to have a certain ‘set point’ when it comes to reflecting about our capabilities. Unless we learn to redirect our thoughts to a more supportive, reflective stance, we can completely derail our ability to move forward. In fact, telling ourselves sad or negative stories encourages us to make choices that actively stop our growth.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas in Austin has studied the effect of personal writing on overall well-being for the past twenty years. He encourages his students to write for just twenty minutes a day for four days to unpack a difficult emotional experience haunting them.
“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker explains. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.” Source
His writing assignment is simple.
- Write for four consecutive days for fifteen or twenty minutes, reflecting on the experience you want to process.
- Write without editing or worrying about grammar.
- Write about the emotional upheaval without censoring yourself in order to let it go.
- Tie that experience to other areas of your life (job, relationships, etc.) if you feel there is a connection.
His healing writing prompt is what I call a vomit draft.
The point is to get the residual feelings out.
To let it rip. To use your pen as a weapon of emotional emancipation.
To dump everything on paper.
It doesn’t matter if anyone other than you ever reads what you’ve written.
You can burn it afterward if you don’t want to leave a trace.
The point is, let it go.
“People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” ―Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Writing to Heal.
The value of releasing our emotional baggage, and/or editing/spinning it into a story about how we rose from the ashes of loss and went on to do bigger and better things, is one which resonates with me.
I’ve done it. Over and over.
I’ve seen how much my life changed as I got the guck out.
No matter how sad or lost or heartbroken I felt, writing about it made me feel better.
Framing my experience positively, framing it as spiritual growth, framing it as an opportunity to stretch myself and develop grit, made me see myself and my life in a new way.
I highly recommend it.
© 2015 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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