Stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, help determine the course of our lives; and we can change the stories for the better

I have spent a good part of my life dealing with storytelling, self-talk, and power of imagination.


By self-talk, I refer to stories that we tell ourselves. In July 1987 and for several years that followed, I felt a need to change my own self-talk. This project, which anybody can learn about at this website and elsewhere if they do a search for my name, turned out well. I learned (among other key things I learned at that time) how to systematically change my self-talk.

Here’s how it worked. A bothersome feeling, often related to some speaking task, would come along. I would have an index card, or sheet of paper, with a line down the middle. On the right-hand side, I would write down the negative thought – the negative self-talk – that accompanied the negative feeling whatever it was.

Then on the left-hand side of the page, I would write a positive version of self-talk – a statement of one kind or another – that stood in opposition to the negative version. Then each time the bothersome thought would come up, I would repeat the positive version of the self-talk. In time I learned to deal with most negative self-talk automatically, without a need to write things down.

I began following this procedure because I was aware, from reading of research literature about such things, that such an approach toward changing self-talk was effective. It worked well for me.

In one case I did have a particularly bothersome thought, each time I was engaged in public speaking before a large audience. In that case, because the thought was disturbing, in a way that was a multiple, many times over, of a standard negative thought, it did not occur to me to use the routine procedure, that I had used to alter other forms of self-talk.

Instead, one day I described what had been happening, each time I had been making a big presentation, to a friend (who happened to be a speech therapist) who had experience with such matters. My friend, knowledgeable about self-talk in all its variations, explained what this most irksome of thoughts was actually telling me. After his explanation, this particular thought, when making a presentation, never bothered me again.

In more recent years, I’ve occasionally encountered a deluge of insistent negative self-talk, dealing with particular situations encountered in the past. This kind off self-talk used to disturb my peace of mind. In this case, I chose a particular variation of positive self-talk, in the form of an all-encompassing affirmation, that I would repeat whenever the disturbing self-talk emerged.

The affirmation has served to short-circuit this particular line of self-talk, thereby enhancing my peace of mind.

As with strength training, self-talk benefits from good instruction and insights that may arise from years of practice.

Along with getting first-rate instruction in practice of mindfulness meditation years ago, learning practical skills related to self-talk has enabled my journey to proceed more smoothly, than would have been the case if I had not learned such helpful skills.

Storytelling and life stories

With regard to storytelling: Everybody has an interest in storytelling. Each of us is, I believe,  an expert in this realm.

Although on occasion I’ve encountered someone who disagrees, it’s my belief that each of us is a formidable expert in storytelling. We all know how to tell entertaining and engaging stories.

The current post is prompted by a May 27, 2019 BBC article entitled: “The transformational power of how you talk about your life.”

The subtitle reads: “How you talk about the major events of your life has a profound impact on your personality. If you change your life story, could you become a healthier, happier person?”

The gist of the BBC article is that how we interpret our life, and tell our own life story, has profound effects on what kind of person we become, and that “our personal narratives reflect a stable aspect of our personalities.”

The article underlines that if we remember the positives that came out of a particular episode in the past, we’ll enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction.

As well, the article notes that “People who tell more positive stories and stories with more elements of redemption … tend to enjoy greater wellbeing.”

I like how the photos in the article have been altered, with a stagger-effect that puts a bit of action – which encourages emotional involvement by the viewer – into each of the images.

This is an enjoyable and inspiring article; it makes for a fun read. It adds to my understanding of how stories work – in particular, how our own life stories can be constructed, with an aim to making our lives more satisfying and enjoyable.

We are social beings

An indistinct boundary separates a person from the social context within which a person is embedded.

In referring to self-talk and storytelling, I am speaking in the context of the larger social setting in which we live. My narrative is not about individualism; it’s concerned, instead, with our status – which in my view warrants celebration – as social beings.

A good overview regarding this point is a May 25, 2019 Globe and Mail article entitled: “Put down the self-help books. Resilience is not a DIY endeavour.”

A note in passing: I cancelled my subscription to the Globe years ago because I find a particular columnist irksome. The columnist in question is widely read by Globe readers, as I understand. We still buy a print copy of the paper on Fridays, as we like to read the Real Estate pages that day and the column in question is usually thankfully absent on Fridays.

How a given person views things is part of each person’s own (but not necessarily entirely unique) approach to storytelling.

With regard to the distinction between the role of the individual, on the one hand, and the society within which the individual is embedded, on the other, a previous post addresses the topic of innovation in technology; the post is entitled:

Brian Arthur argues innovation in technology is not a matter of individual genius, but instead the product of a process akin to evolution

A related concept concerns the distinction (or lack of it) between body and mind; a previous post that addresses this topic is entitled:

In his 2017 study, Antonio Damasio, whose celebrated 1994 book argues Descartes got it wrong, addresses our long lineage that begins with single living cells

A further related concept, which I find of interest, concerns the concept of the embodied mind, which is highlighted at a previous post entitled:

Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reason (2017) addresses how the body shapes the mind

Individuals can play such a central role in life, in so many ways. The achievements of Jim Tovey, Tom Patterson, and Jane Jacobs among others, whose contributions have been highlighted at previous posts, come to mind. Such achievements occur within a social context, a fact that warrants underlining and celebrating. Such individuals are key players in a network of contacts, events, and circumstances that have extended, and continue to extend, far beyond their individual selves.

Live drama

I very much enjoy seeing Shakespearean plays performed at the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. From my own vantage point, live drama performed by first-rate actors, directed by a first-rate director, on a stage specifically designed for Shakespearean performances, is an ideal way to access storytelling at its very finest.

Below is a video of a fanfare performed on the evening of May 27, 2019 just before the opening performance of Othello. It was absolutely wonderful to feel the energy in the air, as the performance was about to get underway. We much enjoyed a preview performance of Othello on May 7, 2019 at the theatre. It was all, in my estimation, that great theatre should be.

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