If you want to bust through barriers to becoming your own best self, the path may be no farther in front of you than your own keyboard. Wealth coach for women entrepreneurs Denise Duffield Thomas says, “A lot of us female entrepreneurs hit plateaus at different points in our career.”
What is self authoring?
If you’re frustrated with roadblocks you can’t seem to overcome, you’ll want to know that a number of studies show that writing, and then editing, your own story can have powerfully positive consequences. It can create personal breakthroughs, improve mood disorders, reduce symptoms among cancer patients, and boost memory.
Even better, “narrative self therapy” is also:
- On your own pace
“I managed to recover from a major depression by writing my memoir,” says Susie, who only wants to use her first name. “Two-hundred and twenty pages, which I revised about 15 times. Each version is saved on my computer. That was ten years ago and I haven’t had an episode since. The first version was a rant. With each editing, I saw things I’d missed about my own life. Version after version my story became more nuanced, more understanding and empathetic, not only towards myself but towards those who I’d considered my abusers, the ones who’d ‘brought me down.’ I began to understand their perspective too—and managed to forgive.”
Editing your understanding
What this woman has keyed into naturally is at the heart of research about the power of telling our own stories. It’s not the writing the story, nor the telling of it, that makes the change in our perspective. It’s the editing.
How to start self authoring
There are lots of ways to get started—pulling out your favorite notebook like entrepreneur Mary Spio does, for example. Or, you might open your own personal blog or keep a special notebook in Evernote.
- Write out the worst things that have ever happened to you—your biggest pains. This can take has long as you like. Hours, weeks–or every morning for years. Go back to your earliest memories and move forward.
- Write the circumstances of your present frustrations. Try to be truly honest as you can—the better you can connect your facts with your reality, the better this process works.
- Write how you see yourself in the future—what you what to achieve, who you want to be, how you want to feel.
- Go back after some time and look at how you recount your worst life events, your present struggles, and your future vision of yourself. Ask yourself if there are alternative explanations, other ways to see your path. Do you see patterns of blame? How do you sound to yourself? Which edits suggest themselves to your story? Does it, quite simply, make complete sense to you? How would you like it to read?
- After a few days, try reading your own pages aloud to yourself. Notice anything about you?
“I have been writing personal journals for years, always in the first-person, as a way to deal with the traumas of the past. I experienced a modest amount of success with this, by using my own perspective and keeping it real. In alphabetical-terms, I had progressed from A to perhaps D when it came to insight and understanding.
“But it really wasn’t until I put my own personal narrative down in the less personal, third-person perspective, and wrote my stories in fairy tale form, that I was able to gain some real definitive progress and go from D to perhaps M, or maybe N. It took distancing myself and not keeping it real, for me to begin to see what the real problems might be.”
Sometimes, examining your own story can even sow the seed of a business idea, as it has for Mary Byrne Eigel of Washington, Missouri. “Last year I finished a book that was years in the making, about a secret I had kept for 40 years. After reading the final draft, a medical reviewer pointed out that I had done Narrative Therapy. I confessed I was not familiar with this process but I felt that writing and reexamining my experience allowed me to heal wounds I did not know I was carrying. Since the release of my book I have had the pleasure of presenting numerous ‘Mining your Soul Story’ workshops. It is such good medicine.”
If you try “narrative therapy” as some researchers call it, or “self authoring” as others do, Lisa Rothstein of San Diego says to keep in mind your writing is not the product. It’s just part of the process. “I’ve often resisted writing a journal because, as a writer, I often HATE rereading what I wrote years later (sometimes even the next morning). What I love about this is that it focuses on the act of writing as a process, not a product. While it can be instructive or cringe-worthy to re-read your old journal entries, I see now (and have experienced) the value and clarity that can come just from putting your thoughts on paper and never looking at them again.”
Some resources for self authoring
- If you’re interested in giving this a try, check out the Self Authoring web site for an “academically rigorous” perspective.
- Read Anya’s Kamenetz’s recap of her own experience in self authoring in Oprah Magazine.
- Enjoy this summary of recent research on self authoring by Tara Parker Pope in the Well Blog of the New York Times.