One of the coolest things about therapy is that it offers the chance for us mental health professionals to help clients rewrite their own stories. Sometimes this is done by looking back at their past and reframing the way in which they view a big life event. Or transforming a current crisis into the turning point in their life story. Instead of a victim they’re suddenly the author of their very own journey. By viewing tragedy, pain, and disappointment as moments in the stories of our lives, we realize that just as in any good story, these experiences are not going to endure until the end of the book. What more, since we ourselves are the AUTHORS of these stories, we get to determine which direction the story will go when we bump into the unexpected twists and turns. What sort of ending do we want to arrive at when we close the book?
In yesterday’s blog post, I touched on how fragile life is and how tragic deaths can shake us up, doubting everything we once believed and causing us to question the very foundations of who we are. I don’t have any answers as to why life is full of tragedy, but the fact that it is, is undeniable. However, we do have the chance to choose how we respond in the face of the inevitable curve balls that life throws our way. And when this surprising and shocking news is that of someone’s passing, I think we can use it as a chance to ask ourselves, “how do I want to LIVE?”
If you’re struggling with mental illness, this is the time to ask for help. If you’re miserable at your job, find a new one. Unhappy with your relationship? Talk it out or ask yourself if it is time for you two to part ways. Want to travel? Find a way to do it. Want to write a book? Grab a pen and paper, sit down at your computer and get to it! Want to learn a new language? Find someone in your town who wants to improve their English and who is willing to teach you their native language. Not enough time? Stop reading this blog, turn off your computer and get out there!
I’m absolutely not one for the tough love philosophy. I think that making big life changes often involve making a lot of little life changes. But you can start making these little life changes today. Saving money, watching less TV, finding people who’ve done what you want to do and asking them how they did it, reading a book on how to accomplish your future dreams. Or finding a professional (a coach, therapist, etc.) who can help you to determine what would be most helpful for you in order to get to where you want to be.
And what if you don’t yet know where you want to be? What if you only have that vague feeling that you want something to be different, but you’re not quite sure what it might be? Try out one of the following exercises to shed some light onto the sort of story you’d like to live.
- Imagine that you’re eighty years old. Write a letter to yourself now. Tell yourself all about what your life has been like. What things have you accomplished. Where have you traveled to? Where do you live? What things have scared you? What challenges have you overcome? Fill it with as many details as possible and don’t be afraid to write down whatever comes to your mind.
- Imagine that it’s five years in the future. Write a letter to a close friend telling them what you’re doing at the moment. Where are you working? Where do you live? Are you married? Single? Do you have children? How do you spend your free time? What news are you delighted to share with them? Again, don’t edit this as you write. Just let the ideas flow as freely as possible
I’ve done both of these exercises and have been surprised at what I’ve discovered about myself and my own goals. So grab a pen, and have fun getting a sneak peak at where you’re headed!
Want to read more about authoring your own story? Take a look at the following books:
“A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller
“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl