Louise Thompson: How storytelling empowers us

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Humans are natural storytellers. Photo / Getty Images
Humans are natural storytellers. Photo / Getty Images

Humans are natural storytellers. We understand how we fit in the world through the power of story. The stories we tell each other define how and where we sit in the world. The stories we tell ourselves define our sense of self and how we approach life in general.

We can take our life circumstances and tell a story in which we are the victim of what happened to us. We can also explain the exact same circumstances but portray ourselves as a strong individual who came through the storm, and didn't buckle and break. We can tell the story that we never earn enough or people take advantage of our good nature, or we can tell a story of how our boundaries are getting stronger and cleaner all the time. We can talk about how things never go our way, or we can tell a story of how things are always working out for us.

The story we choose to continually repeat (in our mind and out loud) will come to shape our experience of the world. If we continually repeat the story that we never have enough, no matter what comes to us we will always perceive it as not enough.

If our narrative is one of fear and threat then no matter the abundance of material or emotional support we will only see what is lacking. If our story is that we are lucky in love or money then that is what we will keep finding evidence for in terms of dollars or relationships flowing into our experience.

In my group coaching programme, Wellbeing Warriors, I have my members practising two different stories as they move through their day as a practical experiment of the power of storytelling on our happiness:

Story A: "What's the worst that can happen?" Interestingly this one is so easy to define. We have usually worried and stewed endlessly over worst-case scenarios to the point where it's an almost habitual response. The traffic will be bad. We will never get a park. She will be late again. The client will cancel. We'll never get the appointment. We will run out of time. And so on. Repeat to fade.

Asking Story B: "What's the best that can happen?" Is challenging the brain a whole lot more, because it's not our default. It's more work. But it's more rewarding. Maybe the park will be easy. Perhaps we will pick up a cancellation at the perfect time. The meeting might be productive and run to time. Wouldn't it be great if it all got signed off today? We could find the perfect thing in the first store we try. Things are always working out for me.

We are always going to be spinning a story of some sort in our heads. We can't stop that. Our brains are formidable story creating machines with no off switch. We can, however, change the polarity of the story we choose to repeat over and over. We can make it a worst-case scenario. Or we can make it a best-case scenario. Neither is "true". A story is just a story, it's not "truth" (this is really important). But one feels a whole lot better than the other.

You are going to spin stories in your mind all day, it's unavoidable. You might as well spin the ones that make you feel good. You choose.

What's the best thing that could happen to you today?

• Through her online Happiness programme “Wellbeing Warriors”, life coach Louise Thompson helps people unlock their happiest and healthiest life. Sign up at louisethompson.com and find more from Louise at bite.co.nz/wellbeing.

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