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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jill Muehrcke's guest post

What’s Your Story? How to Become the Hero of Your Own Life

            One of my greatest ah-ha moments came when I realized I was telling myself and others outdated stories about who I was. I wasn’t the same person I was as a child, but I hadn’t revised the messages I was giving myself. I was no longer the helpless little girl who had no choice but to quietly suffer. I was now an adult and didn’t need to see myself as a victim any more. Instead, I could be the hero of my story.
            My archaic, confining stories were, I realized, based on irrational messages I had incorporated into my deepest self. I needed to root them out and replace them with rational statements.
            It sounds simple, but when you have a lifetime of illogical messages to undo, its harder than it seems. For me, the toughest part was recognizing the ideas crowding my head as irrational in the first place. My brain was a kaleidoscope of crazy thoughts, mostly in my mother’s voice, such as “You should always do things the right way.”
            It was a big step for me to realize, first, that “should” statements weren’t rational and, second, that there was no simple “right” or “wrong,” just a plethora of different perspectives in a complex, nuanced world.
            I could see that changing my thoughts could change my emotions, which could alter my behavior. And if I changed my behavior, I could transform my world.
            But making that switch required practice. I was still working on it one day in October when, on the way home from work, it started snowing so hard I had to turn the windshield wipers and defroster on high and still could barely see.
            I felt anger and depression wash over me. A rush of furious thoughts poured through my brain.
            It shouldn’t be snowing like this so early in the season!  Why does the beautiful autumn have to end? I despise those crushingly short winter days. I can’t stand shivering in the bitter cold! I loathe the icy roads and sidewalks that make it dangerous to even go outside! I hate winter!
            By this time I was nearly crying as my thoughts spiraled downward.
            Then I reminded myself to think differently. First I told myself I shouldn’t feel so bad about the snow, that it was beautiful, and I should enjoy it. Then I realized I was using “should” statements. So, instead, I told myself, “I would feel better if I let myself see the good things about snow and winter.”
            I started listing those positive things in my mind. I pictured cozy days, snuggled in a quilt with a good book, a pot of soup simmering on the stove, while fat, feathery flakes floated by my window. I remembered mornings when the sun reflecting off the snow was so bright it lifted the heart in a way nothing else could do. I recalled ice storms that turned the world into a shimmering fairyland that made me gasp at its beauty. I reminded myself that the cold kills off the mosquitoes and other disgusting bugs, while the snow cleanses the world of filth and grime. And if I wanted to spend some quiet time reflecting, dreaming, and making plans for the future, winter was the perfect time.
            Instantly, I could feel my energy shift and become more positive.
            I was taking control of my thoughts, and that seemed like the most powerful thing I’d ever done.
            I tell this story in my new book, WAKING UP HAPPY: A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE. The book includes my own memoir along with the stories of 30 other people. All of us learned the same lesson: To change our lives, we needed to pinpoint negative, hurtful messages we received growing up and replace them with ones that affirmed and bolstered us. Here are a few examples:
            * Message from my childhood: There is only success or failure, and failure is unacceptable. What I replaced it with: The best way to prevail is by making mistakes and learning from them.
            * Message from my childhood: People grow by focusing on what they’re doing wrong. What I replaced it with: People grow by immersing themselves in what they’re great at doing.
            * Message from my childhood: Having fun is frivolous. What I replaced it with: Play as often as possible; it’s what makes life worthwhile.
            * Message from my childhood: I need to control everything and everyone around me, including myself and my emotions. What I replaced it with: A happy life is all about letting go. It’s about giving up the desire to control events and people. It’s about feeling emotions fully and then releasing them, rather than trying to maintain strict possession of them. It’s about surrendering to those things that can’t be changed.
            What messages did you receive as a child? Do they enhance your life? If not, what can you tell yourself instead? Is your life story one of empowerment or limitation?
            Write down some of the stories you’ve told about yourself recently, and explore what they say about you. Do they cast you as a victim, or do they put forward a positive message? Are they narratives of  blaming others and making excuses for your problems -- or of taking responsibility and stepping up to meet the challenges? Are they accounts of catastrophe, anger, and misery -- or of resilience, gratitude,  and empathy?
            What shifts could you make to become the hero of your narrative? Remember that you’re the one who creates your story, so you can make of it whatever you want. You can revolutionize your life by changing the tales you tell.
            WAKING UP HAPPY is filled with exercises like this. Each time one of the storytellers learns lessons in their life, I add exercises that you can do yourself to create those same changes in your own life. Give this exercise a try, and let me know if it provides new perspectives for you. Share your insights at my website,
            I look forward to hearing from you!

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