How you interpret your experiences sets the tone for your life story. But you can change your interpretation of life events at any time. Here's how.
"We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences, be they positive or negative, make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow."
Everyone has a story. Your story consists of various chapters that span the course of your lifetime. Those chapters run the gamut from happy to sad, traumatic to transformational, and everything in between. Your stories are what make up who you think you are and it's what determines how you show up in this world.
Telling your story is something you do every day. You continually tell yourself the story in your own mind and other times you tell the story to others. Every conversation you have is, in some way, a reflection of a past experience. Your internal dialogue is infused with memories of things that happened before, and you’re either moving toward or away from recreating another version of that experience with nearly every thought you have, every word you say, and every action you take.
How You Create Your Stories
Everything you experience comes first through sensory perception—taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell—and generates some sort of feeling. The feeling then triggers a thought, which is subsequently identified as an emotion, labeling the experience as good or bad, right or wrong, happy or sad. In a sense, emotions are thoughts that you associate with feelings or physical sensations. At this point you begin to assign meaning to your life experiences: "My parents gave me away so that must mean there is something wrong with me".
The various meanings that you make about your experiences become the threads that weave each chapter of your life into the fabric of your story. When you interpret your life experiences as being negative or disempowering, you form limiting beliefs about yourself. These limiting beliefs might sound like this:
- “I'm not good enough,"
- "I could never do that,"
- "I'm stupid,"
- "I'll never have enough," or
- "I don't deserve happiness.”
As a result of these limiting beliefs, fear, pain, and suffering move to the forefront of your awareness; you consciously strive to avoid anyone or anything that might cause you to re-experience those emotions.
The Negative Loop
Can you recall a time when you listened to the voice of fear and robbed yourself of your ability to move powerfully forward toward your vision or a goal? Have you ever complained to a friend or co-worker and found yourself in a downward spiral as you cited everything you could possibly find that was wrong with another person or your situation?
These behaviors of self-sabotage are, in part, an attempt to unconsciously protect yourself from having another experience that would reinforce the story of why you aren't able to be, do, or have what you want in life. These unconscious drivers are what we call unresolved emotions. They have been repressed from earlier experiences, and they are what create unconscious limiting decisions that keep you stuck in the same old story, month after month, year after year.
How to Rewrite Your Story
The good news is that you are the author of your story. You are the one walking your path and navigating the terrain of your journey. You are the one who writes the story and you have the ability to change the narrative at any time. But where do you begin when you have a lifetime of imprinted memories (Sanskaras) and repressed emotions that drive your every thought, word, and action?
You can start by looking at how you interpreted your past experiences.
There are two types of interpretations—those that empower you and those that disempower you. As an example, there’s a story of two sisters who were both routinely abused by their father growing up. One of the sisters eventually turned to drugs, didn't finish school, became homeless, and went from one abusive relationship to another. The other sister went on to college, had a successful career, and was in a loving relationship with someone who cherished her. Both girls were interviewed on national television, and when asked the question "How did you end up where you are today?" their response was the same: "After everything I went through, after everything I endured, how could I have turned out any differently?"
Frame Your Future in the Positive
The moral of this story is that you always have a choice in how you interpret events, circumstances, and interactions with others. You can choose to focus on the negative by looking at all that is wrong, which leads to more pain and suffering, or you can choose to look for what's right—to find the gifts or the opportunities—which leads to more potential, and more joy, happiness, and fulfillment.
Rewriting your story requires that you take an honest look at where you blame other people or circumstances for the way your life has turned out. Do you hold a grudge for a promotion you didn’t get at work? Are you still bitter about a relationship that didn’t work out? If you find that you’re harboring resentment, ask yourself what you learned from that person or situation. Frame the story in the positive. Think about what gifts have manifested in your life as a result of you not having had your needs or wants met at that time.
As you become more adept at finding the opportunities in every challenge, you will begin to look on past experiences in a new light, and you will begin to rewrite your story. Everyone’s been denied something they wanted at one time or another, only to realize that hindsight is 20/20. Had you gotten what you thought was needed at the time, you may not have the gifts that you have today.