Friday Findings

Can We Change Our Life by Changing Our Story?

“This is the dramatic question that I am exploring in my next book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life, which I am currently writing,” says Jen Grisanti.

What made me want to examine this idea of changing our life by changing our story? I am a story/career consultant and I have analyzed stories for 20 years now — including 12 years as a studio executive. I have probably seen a protagonist change in over 5,000 stories at this point in my career. I see that in stories (in film, television, novels, etc.) we can create and manipulate the idea of change. We have the control to do it because we can write whatever outcome illustrates the idea of change.

So, if we can do it in the stories we write and the stories we tell, why can’t we also do it in our own life stories? . . . What if we could learn to be the heroes in our own stories and move through our obstacles knowing that, in time, the growth will move us into a greater awareness?

What Grisanti is talking about here is narrative therapy, and there’s a whole body of scientific material about it.

But don’t let the word therapy scare you. This kind of personal change doesn’t require an advanced degree or a special therapist. In addition to the body of scientific literature, there are also a lot of books about this process written for a general reader. Here are two that I have found particularly helpful:

  • Michael White and David Epston, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (Norton, 1990)
  • Daniel Taylor, Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories (Bog Walk Press, 2001)

In fact, the discovery of Taylor’s book was what sent me back to graduate school a few years ago for a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis on narrative identity theory and life stories.

So I look forward to the future publication of Grisanti’s book. Perhaps it will be a good addition to this list.

How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay

Also on the subject of life stories comes this from the New York Times Magazine:

The “Lives” essay has been running in our magazine nearly every week since 1996. For those who don’t know, it is a place for true personal stories, running about 800 words long, and in the print edition, it’s the last bit of editorial content, right inside the back cover. Though we do solicit professional writers, it is open to anyone with a good tale to tell, and we try as best we can to keep up with the steady torrent of submissions. At the risk of making our jobs utterly impossible, I want to encourage even more writers to take the plunge — because the more stories we get, the higher the quality of what ends up on the page. In doing this, it is not our intention to set people up for failure. The truth is, while getting published is a wonderful achievement, the process of writing a story is itself a rewarding experience. You won’t be sorry for having tried.

This blog entry offers several suggestions for writing one’s own life, even for someone who is not intending to submit a life story for publication. In addition to the writing advice, this piece links to an index of the “Lives” essays, which offer good examples of how to craft an effective life story.

Why Interacting with a Woman Can Leave Men “Cognitively Impaired”

Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman. In many cases, the potential suitor ends up acting foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly and according to new findings, it may not be.

Scientific American reports on a couple of new studies undertaken to explore further “the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women” suggested by earlier investigations:

A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even when men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

What delightful news!

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Von Schönwerth spent decades collecting these stories by “asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth.”

These tales aren’t just for children: “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.” Fairytales and other stories (e.g., fables and legends) are often a method for obliquely passing on a given culture’s values, beliefs, and directives.

You can read one of these fairytales, The Turnip Princess, through a link at the top of this article.