Much like the way we have a built-in capacity for language, I believe that we humans have a built-in capacity for storytelling. Stories have been an integral part of human existence as seen by the fact that the earliest of human arts are of images that represent stories of hunting. In the ancient times, poems and songs were all based on stories people shared with others. Mythologies, too, are stories with characters and symbolisms that represent human nature. Religions maintain their belief through the ages by using parables, and the Bible is one of the most enduring collection of stories. Human history have been paved by men who believed in the story of their own destiny. Nations have gone through revolutions and wars based on the narratives about people’s collective identity. In fact, any sort of cultural or national identity can only be maintained by passing down the story that keeps the flame of identity alive. History itself is a story of people as a group.
Although much more can be said about the power of stories in groups, for this article, I want to focus on their influence over an individual’s life.
Within an individual is a story that he follows. These stories may have come from others or they may have been developed from within, but either way, they endure and they are potent. They may also transform and mutate with new experiences and new knowledge. Do all people have stories? Is there anyone without one? It’s hard to say, but you can only expect someone who lives the simplest of life to be completely void of stories.
The story that a man tells himself sets the tone for his life and guides his thoughts, feelings, and actions. It also instills preconceived ideas about the world that shapes his interpretation of the world around him. Think of these stories as music in the background. Music has the power to change our energy level, and depending on the type of music that is heard, it can excite us to a point where we are exploding with energy and jumping wildly. Or, it can calm us down to a point of relaxation with peace and contentment. Music also has the power to change our emotional state; it can inspire feelings of love, pride, fear, or sadness. It can make us happy by giving us joy and pleasure and it can also vex us to a point of torture when we find it distasteful or unpleasant to our ears. The stories of our minds operate the same way by influencing our entire being.
What kind of story do you tell for yourself?
Like many things in life, the story that people tell themselves can be divided into two spheres: positive and negative. Positive stories have a theme of gratitude, abundance, peace, and optimism while negative stories run on the theme of victimhood, loss, danger, and pessimism. Whatever story a person plays in his head, he will think, feel, and behave accordingly with either the positive or negative energy. It will even dictate his political opinions and how he interacts with others.
Stories can also tell you about who you are. Do you see yourself as a fighter who overcomes challenges, or a loser who is constantly being pushed around by others? Do you identify yourself under a certain category by thinking to yourself: “I am ______”? Do you identify yourself by associating yourself with a certain job, belief, or a culture? Do you ever identify yourself with the subjective experience of how you feel, as opposed to who you really are? You must beware of the stories you tell yourself as they can often deceive you. When you start to become attached to the torrent of thoughts, you will become as feckless as a leaf in a storm. You must be the master of your story.
Although much of the stories you tell yourself are the subconscious result of your past experiences, you can make the conscious effort to mold your story the way you see fit so that it is beneficial to you. If you think of your life as a never-ending sorrow without a hope, then that is exactly the kind of life that you will live. You must stop playing that sort of defeatist story in your head and start devising a new story for yourself. So instead, start telling yourself that you are resilient and unconquerable, and that you will fight to the end for your existence. Change your story as a first step to shed your past and start all over.
Take control of your life by living the story that you want to live. You are limited only by your own imagination.