On the importance of how you tell your story

It’s a miserable, wet afternoon in late October, and as the light starts to fade and the day draws to a close, I’m sat at my desk with the uncomfortable feeling that I haven’t had a particularly productive day. I know there are things I ‘should’ be doing to progress my business, but today I’ve struggled to motivate myself to get on and do them. Looking back at how little I appear to have achieved, I can feel myself starting to drift into a rather negative state of mind.


It's at this point that I’m reminded of the ‘story reframing’ exercise described by the speaker/coach/author Simon Tyler in a post on his website, in which he provides a great illustration of the impact that the way you chose to tell your story has on your emotional responses. The post dates from the start of 2021, when we were living under pandemic restrictions. In it, he shares two versions of his story, both of which are ostensibly ‘true’, but differ significantly in terms of their mood and the emotional responses they elicit in the reader. 

The power of story, and its ability to create visual images and trigger emotional responses in the listener/reader, has been well documented. An upbeat story will elicit positive emotions – a negative one will do the opposite. So how we tell our personal story – both to ourselves and to others, matters – particularly as the brain will naturally seek confirmatory evidence to support your story – and make you believe that it’s true. So, by telling yourself a negative story, you risk leaving yourself stuck in a negative frame of mind, with limited ability to move forward.

I first came across this post in May 2022, at around the time I was returning to work after burning out a couple of months earlier. At the time, I had little by way of certainty about what the future would look like for me workwise – I just knew that I’d reached the point at which ‘enough was enough’ and things needed to change. It would have been easy for me to write my story from a very negative perspective, but instead, I consciously chose to adopt a more positive approach:

22 May 2022

I’ve relished the time and space to think that burnout created for me - the opportunity to reflect on what truly energises me and to re-engage with the health and wellness practices which I know are so essential to my mental and physical wellbeing. I’m in the early stages of an exciting journey, as I start to explore how I can bring my gifts and talents to the world in a way which really nurtures me. I’ve realised how important it is for my work to be consistent with my values of creativity and authenticity - for me to be in control of my story and of my work, so I have the space to continue to iterate and explore. Engaging with the world from a place of curiosity, freeing myself from expectations, and accepting the need to let go have all been deeply liberating. I’m excited about figuring out what exactly my new working identity will look like and starting to take the first steps to making it a reality.

Reading through what I’d written left me feeling emotionally uplifted, energised, hopeful and excited for the future and the beginning of a new chapter. I went back and revisited my story a month or so later and injected it with a further boost of positivity and more clarity and definition.

Going through this exercise made me realise just how much agency I had around how I told my story and the impact this could have on my mood, my self-confidence and how comfortable and committed I felt towards progressing with my new career ideas. Given the high levels of uncertainty which are part and parcel of any career change process, this felt both empowering and motivating. It also gave me a reference point to come back to and re-read on those difficult days when things felt challenging.

It's easy to let difficult times translate into negative stories – stories which drag us down rather than lift us up. Reframing them to focus on the positives in our situation and allowing those to inform our mood and emotional responses can be truly transformational. What are the empathetic responses you’d like people to experience when you tell your story? How would you like your story to make you feel? Are there aspects of it that would benefit from a positive reframe?

This approach can also be effective when thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and others around particular events, relationships, or periods of time in our lives.

And so, back to the end of that wet October afternoon… to help me end the day in a more positive frame of mind, I re-wrote the story of my day, to create a greater sense of acceptance and celebrate what I had been able to achieve, even if it didn’t directly relate to the ‘to do’ list for my business. In so doing, I felt a sense of acceptance, lightness, and a readiness to move on and enjoy the evening ahead - rather than allowing my mood to be dragged down by dwelling on what I’d failed to get done.

I’m grateful for having had the opportunity today to spend time with my daughter and to reflect on where she is with her career and the generational similarities and differences between her experience and approach to work and my own, and to take time to read content relevant to my coaching practice and think more about where, and on what topics, I want my voice to be heard. I now have more clarity around the steps I need to take to improve the visibility of my business and have committed to action in the coming weeks. I end the day with a sense of acceptance that whilst I may not have achieved all I set out to do today, I have still made progress – and I end the day a little further forward than I was at the beginning of it. 

If you’re struggling to reframe your story or elements of it, then I’d be very happy to help you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12
Written by Anne Melbourne, Work-focused change coach
Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12

Anne Melbourne is a transformational coach specialising in work-focused change for those in mid-life and beyond.

Anne helps mid-lifers re-imagine work to create sustainable lives they love - changing the work they’re doing or the way they’re working, so it’s more meaningful, more sustainable and better supports their longevity and wellbeing.

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