Recently, I heard two different people explain how they
used their personal narrative to change their reality. They designed new
narratives that changed the way they and others thought about them.
How They Did It
One of the women had suffered a serious brain
injury. During the healing process, she would wake up unable to remember what
she needed to do to get ready for the day.
She found that developing a metaphor around what
she had to do and then adding more words gave her a starting point. She developed
a narrative to help her through the healing process.
The second woman suffers from a mental illness, but she decided that she wasn’t her diagnosis. Concentrating her narrative on what she is and what she wanted to accomplish relegated the illness to a condition that needed to be managed.
She concentrated on being a singer, a performer,
and a writer who also manages a chronic condition. This new narrative gave her
the confidence to begin singing publicly and produce programs talking about her
experience with mental illness.
The Problem with Our Narrative
Our lens on the world and ourselves often is
influenced by our narrative about how and what we are experiencing. If the
narrative is negative:
- I am too old to [fill
in the blank];
- I am not important
- I am ignored
because of my age;
- I am [this disease],
then the person becomes that narrative. The brain
is a fearsome machine. It follows your thoughts and makes them come true.
Your narrative becomes your reality. You feel that
you are too old, not important, ignored, and ill. That is a very difficult and
depressing state and can lead to other problems.
The Possibilities Are Endless
But what would happen if the narrative was
different? Consider these statements:
- I am going to learn [fill in the blank];
- I am experienced, wise, and have much to share;
- I will interact with people of all ages;
- I have a chronic condition, but I manage it and exercise appropriately.
In this narrative, you are learning new things,
finding ways to help others, participating in social interactions, and
exercising. These are the main elements for remaining healthy physically and
mentally as you get older.
The brain understands these thoughts and uses or
designs pathways to make these things happen. Your narrative becomes your reality.
Others’ opinions can also affect our internal
narrative. One of the benefits of aging is, I believe, less reliance on others’
opinions. The public narrative, however, is pervasive; older adults’ stories
are often only about their illnesses, care needs, and death.
Under these circumstances it can be difficult to
maintain a positive narrative, especially if society at large only emphasises
the problems with aging and not the contribution older people make on the
This attitude towards seniors seems to be an aspect
of Western society only, where emphasis is placed on the young.
Having travelled to Japan, I am aware of a subtle but noticeable difference in the local people’s attitude towards older members of their community (and older tourists like myself). There was a responsibility to help and support an older person because of their innate worth.
How Do You Establish a Positive Narrative?
The first step to establishing a positive narrative
for yourself is awareness of your internal story. What are you saying about
yourself and your situation? How are you interpreting others’ actions and
words? Are your thoughts negative or positive?
If you are negative about yourself or your
condition, consciously stopping yourself from making negative judgements is the
For a while, I wore a rubber band on my wrist. Every
time I noticed a negative thought pop in my mind about a certain topic, I
snapped the rubber band. Within a short period of time, I taught myself to stop
thinking of that topic when it tried to occupy my mind.
Replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts
is the second step. As an example, instead of saying that you are too old to
exercise, say, “I will find a class that is appropriate for me and meet some
new people there.” Our reality is how we think about ourselves and our
Building a positive life narrative has benefits. Concentrating on the positive will result in a better quality of life and a better physical and emotional health. We are all aging, every day. Adopting a positive narrative can make it a better experience.
What is your narrative? Do you have positive or negative thoughts about yourself? How do you communicate that to people around you? Have you consciously tried to change your narrative? What was the result? Please share your thoughts and experiences with our community!