The Importance of Authoring Your Own Life

There is a Native American parable about a grandfather who says, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” When asked which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.

How do we learn to 'feed' the stories that heal?

It's not something we think about often, is it? The notion that some stories we've told ourselves for decades may be doing us more harm than good. Or that changing our perspective on events from our own pasts is not only possible, but may help us heal decades-old wounds. We think of our personal histories as being set in stone, unchangeable, in the past and therefore out of reach. But this is not so. Because history is rooted in memory and shaped by those who recall it.

Crack open a German history book to the section on World War II, it's likely to highlight and emphasize VERY different events than an American or British or Japanese history book. Not becausehistorians are lying or mistaken, but because each culture has its own, specific memory of that long and brutal war. And each set of historians was tasked with recalling the war in a way that is unshakably connected to their own native culture, each group retells the war's events from the perspective of their home country. It's all history, and it's all valid … but very distinct versions are created in each telling.

And this is good news for individuals, too, because it means that the way we remember past events may be more influential and important than the events themselves. How we frame and recall pivotal experiences may be more important than what “really happened” based on our memories or photographs. Which means that painful, traumatic, or infuriating events that have plagued us for ages can be re-cast and reconstructed to be meaningful in more positive ways.

You've probably gone on vacation a time or two in your life, right? And while you were away, a few things may have gone haywire: Your luggage got lost, you caught a nasty cold, the museum you were dying to visit was closed for renovation. At the time, you were frustrated and enraged … but what happened when you discussed the trip with friends and coworkers three weeks after you'd returned? In all likelihood, you “retouched” your memories to highlight the good and omit the bad. (I've done it myself for virtually every trip I've taken!) And while this may seem dishonest on the surface, it's actually a brilliant tactic. Because it enables you to let go of the minor inconveniences and celebrate the joys. Focusing on what you loved about your trip crystalizes it as a positive experience in your mind and memory.

Our brains do this naturally with some experiences—like vacations—but others need a bit of help. If you are aware of certain relationships, experiences, or lessons from your past that have been perpetual thorns in your side, the easiest way to re-cast them is to do some focused journaling. You can quite literally rewrite your own personal history, tell stories about your past in ways that are healing and transformative. By focusing on lessons learned, positive feelings experienced, and strengths gained, even situations that once seemed utterly catastrophic can soften into significant but beneficial events. And by taking control of your own internal narrative—by authoring your own life and choosing how it is remembered—you reclaim a huge amount of personal power. Staggering amounts of healing can take place if you're willing to dive into your past through intentional, regular journaling. You can become your own historian, shaping each recollection of your life's journey and rewriting it with care. You can gently “retouch” memories so that they resonate with wisdom and reinforce self-knowledge. This isn't dishonesty, it's separating wheat from chaff: Taking what is good and useful, and leaving behind the dead weight.

I encourage you to feed the stories that heal. What story are you living? How do you choose to remember your story?”

When you make yourself the author of your own life, you can answer those questions with confidence, clarity, and control. Shape the story you are living, and watch how your re-cast past can fuel a limitless future.