What’s Your Story?

“We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlling by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.” – Aristotle

We all have personal narratives.  Personal narratives allow us to share our lives with others and vicariously feel things that happen outside our own experience.  They help us make sense of the world around us.  These stories aren’t conscious (necessarily), but they are the playbook by which we live our lives.  The question raised in Timothy Wilson’s new book, Redirect, is whether your personal narrative is helping you or hurting you.  Some of us have healthy, optimistic stories we tell about our own lives, which is great and serves us well.  But sometimes people develop pessimistic stories and get caught in negative thinking.  This does not serve them well for looking at the world or coping with their problems.  Redirect asks, “How can people revise their negative stories and develop a healthier view of the world?”

Telling New Stories Gets Results

Wilson offers a refreshing and practical, new look at how to solve a broad range of problems, ranging from teen violence to dealing with trauma to helping people get better grades.  Redirect looks at recent work on psychological change and focuses on techniques to help people find a new, better path using what Wilson calls story editing and what others have called Narrative Therapy.  Through story editing, people are encouraged to change their personal stories in a beneficial way.  Wilson outlines several types of story editing, including story prompting, where people are given information that suggests a new way of interpreting their situation, along with a variety of simple writing exercises that help people reinterpret events from their past.

In contrast to these techniques, Wilson shows that many conventional methods and interventions previously believed to cause change are ineffective and actually have a blood-letting effect, causing more harm than good.  Some approaches try to change people’s behavior without considering what it is doing to their personal stories.  Things such as offering incentives to children in return for reading books has actually been proven to be detrimental to their academic achievement in the long run.  It undermines their interest in schoolwork by convincing them they’re just doing it for the reward, not because they like or want to learn.

Story Editor, Please!

Each brand has a narrative, a story that helps its consumers connect and relate to it.  If story editing can work for individuals and can provide solutions to complicated problems such as teen pregnancy, why couldn’t it be used to reshape a brand’s narrative?  I say it can!  At Brandtrust, our work has always been based in story.  We uncover our clients’ brand narratives, allowing them to use these stories to connect with their customers more deeply than ever before.  What I never realized before reading Redirect is that we too, like Wilson, practice story editing or Narrative Therapy at Brandtrust when we help brands work with their current narratives and then edit them to get to even better stories with even happier endings.

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