An article I had seen in the Star Tribune this winter had caught my eye. As someone who has long kept personal diaries, I often wondered if the negative beliefs I had written about myself those agonizing years in junior and senior high could have been written to more satisfying conclusions about myself. Those diaries were consistently heart wrenching in negative themes about my body and accomplishments.
Tara Parker- Hope wrote an article for the The New York Times reprinted in the Star Trib, “Writing your Way to Happiness.” She cites studies which point out the effectiveness of rewriting our personal narrative to form a different conclusion.
Our personal narrative is the story we believe to be true about ourselves. This narrative shapes the way we view our world and ourselves and is based on personal experience, family messages and our own perceptions. Our narrative doesn’t have to be factually accurate but becomes a lens through which we view ourselves, often negatively. The study suggests that, changing our personal narrative can change the way we view ourselves, improve our moods, increase memory and lead to behavioral changes that create improved self-satisfaction.
An early study at Duke University followed 40 freshmen that were struggling academically. The students were divided into two groups, a control group and an intervention group. The intervention group was given information via videos from junior and senior college age students who talked about their own experiences in college and how those experiences changed over time. This group was encouraged to write a different story about their college experience. The control group had no such advice.
The long-term results of this study were significant. Not only did those in the intervention group improve their grade point averaage but the drop out rate was 5% as opposed to the 40% in the control group.
“These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” wrote Timothy D Wilson, lead author of the Duke study and a University of Virginia psychology professor. His book,”Redirect:Changing Stories We Live By” was released into paperback.
James W Pennebaker is a social psychological researcher and teacher at the University of Texas. He did a research study on healthy students that he broke into 4 separate groups. Three groups wrote about a traumatic event for fifteen minutes for four consecutive nights and the fourth group wrote about a trivial subject for the same amount of time.
The groups writing about the traumatic events were associated with fewer visits to the health center and better over-all health. “I think of expressive writing as life correction” writes Dr Pennebaker.
What if we learned to be a nurturing , supportive voice to ourselves instead of critical and shaming? Try writing about an achievement, a time in which we used a resource or strength, a positive memory.
The power of words through literature, poetry and other media has been known to have a powerful influence on the audience. What if we were our own audience and the words we heard were positive ones?