What is the Point? 1 of 4: The Power of Narrative and Storytelling

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

#Purpose #Happiness #Mindset

“Life is fragile, be kind to yourself and tolerant with others.” Gareth Robinson

People have been asking themselves what the point of life is forever, and because I lost a close friend to suicide just over a week ago, I’ve been examining that question to process his death and find some clarity.

I’ve known my friend for as long as I can remember, he was one of my best mates for over four decades. We spent our formative years together, I lived with him in four different houses, three different countries, he was one of the best men at my wedding, the Godfather of my son, and someone I expected to be seeing for a long time in the future. Losing Rich has been hard, it's been harder for his family, it’s been hard for all of his mates (he had a lot of good mates), I’ll be processing it for a while to come.

During difficult times, I find writing cathartic (if you’re grieving, I recommend you give it a go, because it might help you too*). As well as helping me process my mate’s death, I hope that this series of articles will in a small way, help others cope better with whatever it is they’re coping with. We all need a little help sometimes... And, I guess that is the point of life:

To make a positive difference — just like my mate did — in your own, and other's lives.

*Studies have shown the positive impact that journaling can have on your life, including improving your happiness and helping you achieve your goals. Check out this article here from Psychology Today if you’re interested in learning more.

Over 500 people turned up to Rich's funeral, with more of us dialling in because we couldn’t travel to New Zealand. If he knew how many people he had helped, and importantly how he had helped them — often with just his words and time, he might still be here now.

So, the meaning of life, the point of it all, is to contribute to your community. To make a positive difference in the world — no matter how small — because every little bit counts.

I want to share what Rich taught me with his last and final act. An act that was out of character, a sad and irrational act that has taught me a lesson (he’s given me plenty of them over the years). An act which brought into sharp focus for me what is important in life and the best way to live it.

In this series of 4 articles, I’ll be covering:

1. The Power of Narrative and Storytelling

2. Memento mori

3. Developing Your Happiness with Gratitude and Fun

4. Why being insignificant is a good thing (unpublished)

Each article provides lessons on how you can develop a more positive mindset, and reduce stress and anxiety levels, so that you can live a happier and healthier life. The first cab off the rank is about the stories we tell ourselves. How to control the narrative, and tell yourself stories that help, rather than stories that will potentially kill you.

Remember that if you really want to help people you need to help yourself first… It's like the emergency briefing from the flight attendant before a plane takes off:

“Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

If you can’t look after yourself, you won't be able to look after others.

IMPORTANT: The information in this article is not a substitute for medical advice, nor is the content intended to be used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional advice and treatment from doctors and/or qualified healthcare professionals in specific cases of need. If you, or the person you are concerned about, appear at risk of self-harm or harm to others, please seek immediate professional assistance.

“Don’t lose hope because when the sun goes down, the stars come out.” Unknown

PART ONE: The Power of Narrative and Storytelling

On average people speak at a speed of about 125 words per minute, most of us can understand 400 words per min. When talking to yourself — what is known as ‘inner speech’ — you process up to 4,000 words per minute.

Why should you care?

Consider for a minute the sheer volume of content you get through when talking to yourself. The stories, the crap your imagination makes up, the future scenarios that don't exist yet, that can create stress and anxiety in your life.

Often inner speech (or self-talk) is negative, and the volume alone shows how important it is to be aware of your inner speech, to learn how to better manage it.

You need to learn how to speak more nicely to yourself 😊.

The remainder of this article is split into three sections; the Past, Present and Future. In each I’ll look at how you can speak more nicely to yourself, change the narrative, and create better stories about, and for yourself.

“Past is a memory, future is imagination. Nice places to visit, but you don’t want to live there.” Dan Millman

Your Past

You cannot change the past, however, you can change your view of it, your perception in other words. No matter what has happened, anyone can change how they view a past event to see it in a more positive light.

If you look hard enough, there are always positives to be found. They are sometimes small and difficult to discover, however, they’re always there — little golden nuggets of positivity.

Even when you have suffered a tragedy, which on the surface looks like it does not have any good to come out of it, you can always find some good…

TIP: When all else fails, use this technique from the Stoics to find a positive where there doesn’t look like one exists. Be brave and consider how your response (what you say and do) can help others cope better.

It’s as simple (but not easy) as that.

When all else fails, think about how you can respond so that others, who have also been affected by the tragedy, can better cope. How can you behave, what can you say, or do that will help your friends better cope?

Importantly, by focusing outside of your own pain and helping others, you’ve found a little golden nugget of positivity! The added bonus is that by helping others, your actions will likely help you too.

Moving on from tragedy (I’m a positive kind-of guy), when considering the past remember that it doesn't have to define who you are today. Change is the only permanent state. It’s not just in business that we see change and disruption. To state the bleeding obvious; your whole life is change, you are born, you grow, live, and then you die.

Importantly, once you realise that you do not have to be the same person you were last year, month or even week, you realise how many options you have to create your own present-day narrative.

QUESTION: Are you the same person today that you were ten years ago? Five years ago? Last year? If you answered 'yes', then think again. Think a little bit harder about the experiences you have had over the years, the people you have met, and the lessons you’ve learned over time…

Of course you aren’t the same person that you were five years ago, or even five months ago!

My point is that when it comes to storytelling, and the stories that we tell ourselves, as the author of your story you have the power to change the narrative.

You don’t have to lose the past, just make sure that those mistakes you’ve made, the errors in judgment (we all have them), are not blown out of proportion. If you need to, change your perception of past events to see them through a more positive lens.

Remember that your past thoughts, behaviours and actions do not have to define who you are today.

If you’re interested in some more tips on how to better manage your past, then this article from Healthline on is a good one: How to let go of things from the past

Let’s move on from the past, because as Dan Millman says; it’s a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there

The Present

Science tells us that most of your happiness is derived from how you perceive the world, in this case perception is reality!

If you’re like me, naturally you might be somewhere in the middle of the ‘Glass Half Full Perception Scale’ (GHFPS [I made that up]). What this scale represents is how much of a positive outlook on life people have. At one end some people are naturally optimistic, while at the other end you’ll find those depressing doom and gloom merchants, where nothing is ever good enough. The important thing to remember about the GHFPS, is that you can move yourself up the scale!

By changing your perception of events, by creating a new narrative, and new habits, you become more positive. Even something as simple as a smile can make you feel more positive (smiles release endorphins). I am sure you can all think of a friend who is at the bottom end of the scale. They use negative language, they often highlight the negative side of an event or experience, and things are always too hard. You know who I’m talking about!

At the other end of the scale, I hope like me you have some friends who always seem to see the positive side of life. They take an optimistic view of bad experiences (bad things do happen). Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re always positive or perfect (no one is), or that they don’t get sad (everyone does), however, they always seem to see the lighter side of life. They are more the glass is overflowing kind of people, rather than the glass is half empty, or even half full.

Talking about friends, most of us have heard the expression; you are the company that you keep. Here’s another take on the same piece of advice:

“If you run around with 9 losers, pretty soon you’ll be the 10th loser.” Les Brown.

Think about that for a moment… We all should be hanging around with mates who support us, who are positive, and make us feel good.

EXERCISE: Figure out who you should be hanging out more with, and who you should be hanging out less with.

  1. Find a few minutes when you won’t be disturbed

  2. Grab a pen and piece of paper

  3. Draw a line down the middle of the paper

  4. Write ‘Positive Friends’ at the top of the left-hand column and ‘Negative Friends’ at the top of the right-hand column

  5. List down all your positive friends on the left-hand side, and all your negative friends on the right-hand side

  6. Once you have written the list put it somewhere safe and sleep on it.

  7. Revisit your list the next day to see if you still agree with which side of the page your mates are on, and whether or not you need to add or delete anyone?

  8. Now, the most important action you need to do is start hanging out less with your negative friends, and more with your positive mates!

Remember that you have a choice to find the positive or negative in any situation; choose your mates who will help you focus on the positive.

You cannot always control what happens to you, however, you can control who you hang out with and how you think about just about everything.

Before we move onto the future, here's a quick reminder to be grateful for what you already have (more on gratitude in the 3rd article), from the World Poetry Slam Champion Rudy Francisco:

“Every year remember that 2 million people die of dehydration, so it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty, there’s water in the cup. Drink that sh#t up and stop complaining.”

Check out his inspiring 3-min poem here: Rudy Francisco — Complainers

The Future

The future doesn't exist yet, so stop worrying about it so much! Focus on the present instead.

Stress is often caused by us thinking about the future, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet (and may not). We create stories and feel anxious about a future that only exists in our imagination… Seneca the Younger said it better than I can:

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Worrying less about the future isn’t easy, like most people I stress out about the future. However, when I feel myself starting to stress about some future event - that may or may not happen - I bring myself back to the present. I try and focus more on what I am doing in the 'here and now', rather than stressing about something in the future that I cannot control.

EXERCISE: The following are actions I sometimes (no one’s perfect) take to stop stressing out about a future event.

  1. Remind myself that I cannot control any future event (of course I can‘t because it’s in the future). I can only control my actions and thoughts in the present.

  2. I then think about whether there is any action I can take right now, that will help minimise the likelihood of that future event happening, or lesson the negative impact if it does (sometimes bad things happen).

  3. I revisit what is important to me, my purpose, core values and goals. And, then think whether or not that potential future event (which may or may not happen) will adversely affect what is important to me? If the answer is yes, I then go back to the previous point (2) above and think again about what action I can take today that will minimise the likelihood of that event happening, or reduce the impact if it does.

  4. If I can't find anything that I can do to reduce/mitigate the risk of that event happening, I try and look at it more positively, from a different angle, to see if I can find even a tiny little golden nugget of positivity?

  5. Finally, if all else fails I go back to my purpose, values and goals to put the potential event into perspective (remember, if you've got a glass of water 'drink that shit up').

TIP: Speaking of perspective, I also use visual cues to remind myself how lucky I am. I have a number of pictures, mantras, notes and quotes on my office wall that centre and inspire me. I also have mantras and affirmations in Thriverapp that remind me to worry less about the future, and focus more on the present.

So, focus on the present, on the actions you can take today to live a happier and more balanced life. Ask yourself what you can do today to give yourself the best chance to create a future that you want to live in?

Remember, that the future doesn’t exist, only the present exists.

An additional benefit, to thinking this way, is that you become far more productive because you’re focusing your energies, and spending more time, on the activities that count!

But, what about future goals I hear you say? Sure, set some goals that will help you create a better future for yourself, your family, and your community. However, include Open Goals focused more on the present and ‘how’ you want to live, rather than only SMART goals focused on ‘what’ you want to achieve in the future. NB: This article isn’t about goal setting, so if you want to talk about that you can email me at: gareth@mindhabit.com.au

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning a little more about Open Goals, here’s a nice article by Christian Swann that you should check out: Try setting an open goal

Wrap Up

  • The point of life is to make a positive difference

  • The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are extremely powerful, and often more negative than positive. They don’t need to be - remember you are the author of your story and you control the narrative

  • If you have been through tough times in the past, and made some mistakes, don't let them define who are you are today

  • You have a choice to view something through a positive or negative lens. Choose positive

  • Hang out with positive people that support the person you are trying to become. Life is too short to hang out with negative people who sap your energy

  • Focus on the present, and what you can do today to create a better future for you and your community. The future only exists in your imagination Wow, that ended up being a bit longer than I thought! I enjoyed writing it, it has helped me process my mate’s death, and if you got this far 😜 I hope you got some value from it. Remember, that we all feel anxious and stressed at times, and that's OK. Remember that life is fragile, so be kind to yourself and tolerant of others. If you are suffering, please remember that there are people who love you, and people that can help you. The next article in this series, dedicated to my mate, will be about living each day as if it were your last (memento mori), the third about gratitude and fun, and the final about the power of insignificance. Finally, this was the first article I’ve written under the banner of my new performance coaching brand Mindhabit. Mindhabit (www.mindhabit.com.au), which has been developed alongside Thriverapp (www.thriverapp.com). Our vision is to help people live happier and healthier lives by becoming 'extraordinarily ordinary'. If you’re interested in reading more, check my blog out, you can also follow Mindhabit on Facebook and LinkedIn (page links below). Mindhabit Facebook page | Mindhabit LinkedIn page Cheers, and keep on smiling (on the inside and outside). Gareth.

40 views0 comments