The story you tell yourself about your life and your behavior matters more than you probably realize. It could be a Trojan Horse—sneaking in an enemy that keeps you stuck. Wouldn’t you like to know how to get that enemy to switch sides?
It’s important to realize that the way we remember past events is NOT like a video camera. In other words, the way we organize the past into a story isn’t objective like a photo or video. Our personal stories are not based on the “truth.” That story we call our identity or personality can be changed!
So many people tell themselves a story about their life that’s negative and impoverishing. Or perhaps they do it with just some parts of their life, yet those memories and events become too powerful and a person can’t stop thinking of them (as we often see with traumatic events).
If you change the way you organize your past and present, your mind cannot tell the difference between what’s “true” and “false” because it already created it’s own version of the truth, anyway–and, like I said, that’s not some sort of objective truth like a video or bunch of facts just sitting out there waiting to be discovered such as 2 + 2 = 4, the earth revolves around the sun, Donald Trump is a dork, etc.
Even those high falutin’ personality tests psychologists and popular magazines are so fond of aren’t really worth much:
Human beings are far too complex, too mysterious and too interesting to be defined by the banal categories of personality tests. (Annie Murphy Paul)
When I was 32, I started graduate school to become a psychologist. I was married and had a 3 year old, and we had 2 more children before I graduated. My wife worked full time, I worked full time and then part time, and I completed 3 internship experiences. You might say I was a little stressed. In fact, I had a nervous breakdown.
Now, that could have continued to be the way I wrote my story: “I had a nervous breakdown.” But two factors changed the story and I’m convinced changed my life: my mentor’s influence and support and a book I came across that included a different way to label the experience.
I was full of anxiety about success in school and keeping all those balls in the air. I started having panic attacks. I went to the doctor and they did a full battery of tests to determine if the heavy, lingering pain in my shoulders and chest (my heart, especially) was a medical problem. Nope, “you’re healthy as a horse,” he said. (I had been and still am a lifelong fan of regular exercise and a healthy diet, and I had quit excessive use of drugs and alcohol in my early 20s.) He then got out his prescription pad and offered some anti-anxiety medication. I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” It was tempting, I admit, because I wasn’t sleeping well and I had many nights of tossing and turning, some crying my eyes out, sobbing heavier than I knew was possible. I had anxiety attacks at work and just walking around doing nothing in particular.
But I was lucky. I had already come across alternative explanations and frames of reference for what was going on with me. I was beginning to consider my spiritual life (actually, I didn’t have one up until that point). I reached out to a few people I trusted and who dropped everything to help and support me. It wasn’t easy, but I began to trust a new title to that chapter of my life: I was having a “Spiritual Emergency.”
That changed everything–I was no longer “mentally ill” or weak…and there was really nothing wrong with me! My mentor, a true healer if there ever was one, performed spiritual ritual and sacred hands-on healing. The pain lifted immediately. As a human being in challenging situations, I still had anxiety, but nothing like before.
I then had a dream where what I’ll term “a spirit” visited me and healed me some more–at least, I’ll call it a dream for now. To this day, I’m really not sure–it seemed like I was awake at the time. I was lying in bed and I was screaming as the spirit healed me, but my wife didn’t wake up. I woke her up and told her what happened and went to my office to try to understand it.
I had other similar experiences during that time that defy rational explanation. I don’t need you to believe any of it: the main thing is that I changed my story and I changed my life without traditional, Western approaches…despite the fact that I was studying to be a psychologist! I didn’t use medication to mask my symptoms or dull my senses. In other words, I didn’t just rely on the medicine derived from Western science. I was offered something else. But that doesn’t mean I threw out the baby with the bathwater. I combined what the academic and professional fields such as psychology and philosophy had to offer with the resourcefulness of traditional wisdom and healing traditions…with a pinch of what I created on my own sprinkled on top! I’d like to assist you to do the same.
Thirty years ago I put myself in a drug and alcohol treatment facility, and to this day it’s the single most important decision I have ever made.
Treatment was very difficult for me, not because of the more obvious reasons, but because it was difficult for me to buy into what I was witnessing. Although I do realize that the 12 Steps have helped many to arrest their addictions, for me, traditional substance abuse treatment was very disturbing. It was disturbing because I had a hard time with their methods of shame, blame, and guilt.
I’ve always have been a firm believer that those of us who have battled with our demons that manifest with addiction are not bad people who need to be good, but sick people who need to be well. I’m not really sure where I first heard this statement, but I do know that it helped me to know my truth. I can vividly remember sitting in groups while in so-called “treatment” and listening repeatedly to the professional counselors go around the group and tell each of us what miserable people we were and how toxic we all were. I would be sitting there feeling like I was about to snap. Although I did accept the fact that our addictions have played a role in our attitudes and behaviors, I couldn’t sit a second longer and listen to the counselor degrade us.
One reason that I couldn’t accept a lot of what I was hearing is because of what I learned in Sunday school: We have all fallen short in one way or another, but there is a way back.
One particular morning in group, the counselor tore into a girl so unforgivingly that later that day we were all called into a community meeting and told that the very same young lady who was ripped apart by the counselor had gone back to her room and tried to hang herself. It was at that moment that I started to get emotionally charged up, especially when I heard the counselor make the statement that this is the result of our drug and alcohol use when I knew in my heart that it was directly related to how the counselor made her feel about herself. I remember looking around the room and noticing as plain as day the fear on the faces of my fellow clients. It was as if we had heard first hand that we were all doomed to despair. I noticed those feelings were starting to embrace my whole being and I stood up told the group, “This is all bullshit!,” and walked back to my room.
I knew that they would be asking me to leave the program, so I started talking to God and asking that I be given some insight. At that moment I reached over to the side table beside my bed where there was a Bible–I’m sure each of us had one in our rooms but I had never noticed it until that very moment. I asked to please be shown what I needed to know in that moment. I opened the Bible and I started to read the first thing I saw. I read how Jesus was being asked about the greatest law of all and he replied “Love.”
From that moment on, I felt confident about what I was meant to do in my life. I also knew I needed to begin by loving myself. I knew I needed to make some changes about how I had been living my life and how I felt about it–the story I told myself.
The next moment there was a knock at my door. It was the lead counselor explaining to me that I would need to go back to group and apologize for how I walked out. Of course I refused, at the same time taking away the only threat she could use: I told her that I would leave before apologizing for what I believed to be true: they were full of bullshit!
Even though I never apologized, I was never asked to leave–instead, I was made a peer counselor!
What I learned that day has served me well: I learned that, for me, it would never be a recovery program, but instead a discovery program. I knew that I would never be able to recover the time or money I had wasted, but I did discover that I was a worthy person deserving of good things in this life. I also discovered at that time that none of us will make it if we couldn’t first feel that in our hearts and minds we are worthy people deserving positive change.
From that point on, treatment became a place where I would spend my time being inspired, motivated, and empowered by anything and everything I could get my hands on such as lots of self-help books and a lot of autobiographies of some well-known men and women who have done well. I have to admit I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that they all had to overcome some trying times in their lives. From that time on my constant mantra was “I am Worthy” and before long I had all the other clients saying and believing the same about themselves. The changes that occurred were amazing: the attitudes, and behaviors of just about everyone were a lot more positive and hopeful. The badges of shame, blame, and guilt started to fade from our faces, and those long days that once were filled rooms of gloom, turned into rooms filled with laughter and good times. We even starting buying and flying kites in our free time which was a blast.
The single most important lesson I discovered while in treatment was, regardless of who you are, it is imperative that you think and believe that you are worthy of goodness and change or else you will never have it. I am also very happy to say that treatment gave me a lifelong friend. He had been through a number of treatments before we met, and today he will tell you that he couldn’t make any positive changes in his life until he started to think and believe he was worthy of positive change. Today I am very pleased to say that my friend went on to become a doctor. It was after this period in my life that I started to create motivational programs including giving lectures in schools, community programs, and anywhere else that I would be of service. For example, I created a program called “Chapter Two: A Mo-Betta Life.” Chapter Two was created to Inspire, Motivate, and Empower individuals to think and feel they are worthy!
So where does that leave us?! How do we “re-author” our lives in ways that are more resourceful?
Self Esteem Can’t Grow Without a Positive Story
One thing that’s pretty obvious is that the results of research in the social sciences are not enough to foster the changes needed in our world today. Whether scientific insight into human behavior, personality, or social interaction is accurate or not, its ability to promote significant change in individuals or groups of people is quite limited.
Why? Well, for one thing, it often leaves out political and moral implications. It can be dry and boring and fail to inspire or motivate people to actually DO something different or take risks with their life. On the one hand, we DO believe people need a general map, but it has to be a good map (actually, we prefer “compass” to “map”).
Another important factor to consider is that, although the social sciences have long been powerfully imposing specialties and scientific authorities on human experience, they have long been guilty of reflecting the dominant segments of Western society’s culture and their assumptions about human behavior.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting. (e.e. cummings)
Social scientists such as psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and all those pundits and writers you read in the mainstream press or on self-improvement blogs almost always betray an historical, political, and moral illiteracy when writing about behavior or lifestyle change. Hence our motto:
There’s a lot of people certified, but not everybody is qualified.
This state of ignorance has major ethical implications due to the serious repercussions for readers, research subjects, students, patients and clients…and policy makers such as our politicians and government officials.
If the average expert on improving your life is that blind or biased, that leaves out lots of people, don’t you think?! We’re sure there are more than a few readers who have felt all those “How to be Happy” or “10 Things Successful People Do that You Do Not” articles don’t speak to their experience, their lifestyle, or their realistic options for change.
Besides, wouldn’t you agree that fiction is much more powerful than scientific studies in changing the lives of readers and viewers? Think of your favorite books and movies vs. the articles in magazines like Psychology Today or an academic journal–which category moves you the most?
For example, remember “The Grapes of Wrath,” that great 1939 novel by John Steinbeck (later made into a great film by John Ford with Henry Fonda)? If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, stop reading and come back after you do…….we’ll wait……..
Pretty moving, eh?! Made you think about your life and the life of your family, friends, and neighbors, right? Hell, it makes us think about the lives of just about everyone, if you ask us.
Now compare that to some blog post or newspaper article on the economy and why we should or shouldn’t raise the minimum wage!
“But hey, you guys: I’m reading this right now on a BLOG, for Pete’s sake! And not only that: you’re not writing fiction!” True, true. We’re not advocating we throw the baby out with the bathwater–we can still learn and be inspired by social science and/or general non-fiction writing on changing our lives. However, as we mentioned, they’re usually one-sided and just focus on changing our little individual selves. They usually leave out working for social justice and large scale change. Not only that, but they usually leave out addressing many–if not most–of the causes of our individual suffering, not to mention the suffering of so many millions across the world. Therefore, their impact is limited. Kinda like the immediate gratification you can get from so many of the distractions available to us (usually for a price): you get a hit, it feels good or takes away physical or emotional pain for a little while, and then you’re left feeling empty, anxious, depressed, confused–you get the picture.
We’re well intentioned–we want to change and make a difference, but, like the experience of all those people motivated to join a gym after every New Year’s holiday but let their membership lapse after a month or two, something’s missing. (And that’s just the way the 1% want it to stay, too.)
Goal Setting Should Start with a New Story
When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen. (Harley Davidson)
I learned that to find your own voice, you’ve got to chase after a dream no matter how obscure something sounds. (Musician and renown producer, Daniel Lanois)
So, back to re-authoring. It goes something like this:
- Tell a different story about your life, your past, your character, and your potential, and change your life and assist others to do the same. Basically, we’re talking about reframing and changing the narrative and the meaning of past events and, therefore, the potential of future change and growth. Then…
- Take action to create momentum and build connection to a supportive and challenging community.
Our mission is to assist you in:
- Identifying the impoverishing stories running (and maybe ruining) your life;
- Shifting them to resourceful stories that will change your life and the lives of those you touch; and
- Joining a community that inspires you, supports you, challenges you, and offers you an opportunity to do the same for them.
Do you know what the secret of success in organizations is? Drag other people up with you. (Milton Erickson)
How will we do that? With your help and everybody that joins our community here at Mo’ Betta Life! (Register Here) We believe that the most powerful re-authoring is the result of dialogue and solidarity with one another. As the folks who run the web site, we promise to listen to you and make changes and adjustments based on your feedback and participation. We promise to walk our talk.
We’re after nothing less than changing a world that’s doomed unless we get moving, and we are certain we all need to change ourselves, re-author our story, and thereby re-author the story of the entire planet.
How’s that for goal setting?! I think they call it a “B-HAG” (“Big Hairy Audacious Goal”)
Do what I do, dear boy–amaze yourself with your own daring! (The great Laurence Olivier to a young Albert Finney when asked for his advice on acting.)
The contents of the Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) Web Site, such as text, graphics, images, video, pdf documents, online educational course material, and member forum content, comments by Mo’BettaLife.com owners, and other material contained on the Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) Web Site (“Content”) are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health or mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Mo’BettLife.com (mobettalife.com) Site!
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Web Site. Reliance on any information provided by Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com), Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettlife.com) owners, employees, or staff, or others appearing on the Web Site at the invitation of Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com), or other visitors to the Web Site is solely at your own risk. By visiting and/or participating in and on Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) as a visitor or member, you agree to release Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) owners, employees, and staff, and others appearing on the Web Site from ALL LIABILITY for any problems or concerns you may have that may directly or indirectly impact your health and well being.
YOU AGREE that, if you are taking any medication prescribed by a physician, nothing in or on Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) warrants any changes to your prescription and you understand that ANY CHANGES to your prescription medications are solely YOUR DECISION and RESPONSIBILITY and MUST BE first discussed and approved by your physician. YOU AGREE that Mo’BettaLife.com (mobettalife.com) does not have ANY LIABILITY for any adverse impact of your decisions to start prescription medications or change or end use of prescription medications.
Please see our complete Terms and Conditions of Use, Privacy & Confidentiality, & Rules of Conduct!
And don’t forget to visit the other main pages of our site: