Debunk your Funk! 3 Steps to Change Your Personal Story
My funks are directly proportional to the transitions and uncertainties in my life. Right now, my son is one summer away from leaving our snuggly four-person family system and entering the wide-open spaces of college. The day we brought him home wrapped tightly in too many blankets, stuffed like a turkey in his car seat in the back of our four-door sedan blaring classical music in the tape cassette is one of the happiest days of my life. In kind, I imagine the day we pack up the tee-shirts and boxer shorts littered on his bedroom floor and bring him to his cramped dorm room will be one of the saddest of my life. The preparation for this change is pervasive in unsteadying the flow of our family and leaves me feeling worried and unsettled.
The story of my son leaving for college is framed in my fear and anxiety. The personal story I tell myself, and ultimately what I believe, is creating my reality. My intuitive writing teacher Rox Sadovsky recently taught me a little exercise she calls “mindful writing” to alleviate the anxieties I feel by imagining myself six months from wherever I am in my funk. I write from this future place of insight and I create my own new ending to my story.
The first time I tried writing my new story ending, the story dwindles on about how I can’t imagine our home without our six foot two inch son draped over our couch with four of his friends piling their plates from my pots of fettuccine. My story stays rooted in my fear. The day our writing group shared our new endings, the light bulb went on as I listened to my writing friend Dawn read her story of how her job-hunting son lands an amazing gig replete with the wealth of fulfillment and the riches of a new home. Dawn’s story teaches me I can envision my outcome of uncertainty any way I desire!
After I figured out how to use this story strategy, I started thinking about the steps involved in debunking and the research behind why changing my own ending to my story adds clarity around my intentions and focuses both my vision and my actions to go with making a healthy story ending come true. This is what I discovered.
1. Ignore your old story. In order to debunk your funk and begin to tell yourself a new story, a believable story that becomes your reality, you have to ignore your old story of fear. As Nifoler Merchant states in her recent article in Oprah Your Secret Skill That is About to Change the World, “the thing about any of our aspirations or dreams is that they are always-as of yet-unproven.” This means we have to ignore any previous stories or evidence that won’t help us create our new vision and story outcome.
A new body of scientific research called Epigenetics supports the idea of ignoring your old stories to create new meaningful outcomes and experiences. Genes and DNA do not control our biology as previously thought. Instead, DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our thoughts. Cells get information from things such as our sense of smell and our consciousness and the information changes the way the cells behave.
This means the stories we tell ourselves actually change the chemical makeup in our bodies. Ignoring stories of fear and anxiety stops the cells in our bodies from making cortisol – the stress-inducing, mess-with-your-head substance produced by fear. Ignoring your old story isn’t easy,. For me, I couldn’t even do it the first time I tried. However, the ignoring phase of debunking sets you up for the creating a new story outcome step in the personal story strategy.
2. Create your new vision. Your new story outcome. Why a story? Why not a list? The vulnerability research of Brene Brown, author of Dare Greatly, indicates stories engage us at the core of our beings. Debunking means changing our core beliefs and, therefore, a list just won’t do the trick. Vision stories are the most difficult to create and yet, the most important to our future lives. Why the most difficult? Mainly because we don’t take the time to create the vision and tell ourselves this new story..
Additionally, there is science behind why stories engage us differently than lists or bullet points. An enormous body of research confirms stories not only activate the language processing parts of our brains, but other areas in our brain that we would use when experiencing actual events. If we are told a story about the pulpy, tart juice of a lemon dripping over the edge of a cutting board, our sensory cortex lights up. If someone tells a story about running through the open breezes of a soft meadow, scans reveal brain activity in the motor cortex.
This means stories activate our minds in ways that make us feel like we are having actual visual, tactile and kinetic experiences. Each of remembers a time when a story walloped us right in the heart with both the physical heft and swagger of authentic meaning and connection. These are the types of stories that allow us to debunk our funk and create our new reality.
How do you create this story? I am a writer so writing my story out is the best way for me to create my new story. I created my new outcome to the scared-off-my-rocker-son-is-graduating story. My new story describes specific summer moments filled with sun setting evenings on the patio sharing closeness with our son and the effortless and smooth day we have together as he moves his bedroom quilt into his dorm.
What if you aren’t a writer? Don’t worry! There are many other ways to create your new story. If you like digital pictures and word images, the Oprah website has an amazing vision board tool. If you like to draw, you can sketch your story in your favorite medium. If you like to orally create stories, you can record your new story by downloading an audio recording app on your phone or tablet. Each of these story-creating methods can be shared with others, the last step in the changing your personal story.
3. Share your vision with others. The final step in the personal story strategy to debunk your funk is sharing it with others. Sharing for me meant that I read my story ending to every person in my family. As I read the story of moments dining on barbeque and laughing under the stars with my son, his face softens and he says, “I like that story, mom.” He sees my vision of how our summer and fall months will play out in action, so together, we participate in creating our story ending.
Really, though, why share your new story? The point of the new story is to use your vulnerability to fulfill our basic human need of love and belonging. Close-knit human bonds are vital for physical and mental health at any age. Biologically, connectedness and meaning increases oxytocin and reduces cortisol. Stories with truth and authenticity create shared meaning and connectedness and are the central way we share our human experiences. The three step personal story strategy is the most compelling way to improve your life and make the world a better place.
Finally, what if your story doesn’t end the way you’ve told it? The probability of the story ending exactly the way you’ve created it isn’t very likely. The summer I’ve imagined in my story with my son is still in the works. Yet, the exact outcome of my son leaving for college doesn’t really matter. We are all behaving in the way to create our experiences as close to the story ending as possible. Living our story in the vulnerability of connectedness will make our journey more meaningful than living a story of fear.