Why Writing About Your Life Has the Power to Change It
Oct 29, 2019
Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you could start over?
Or maybe you’re the kind of person who admits regret but wouldn’t change a thing.
While each day offers us an opportunity to restart our lives, unfortunately we don’t get do-overs…
Except when it comes to writing.
In fact, the word revision actually means to see again. And if you pause long enough to consider its meaning, you’ve actually performed the word's intent. Here, you see a familiar word, a word with connotations related to writing [and pain] and next you add another layer of meaning.
In writing, the capacity to see the stories that make up your life again has enormous implications. What happens when we look at our lives not just critically but with imagination?
What happens when we say to ourselves “I thought I was headed this way, but I ended up going another way” or “I went the way I planned. But I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I’d taken a different path?”
Those familiar with Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken
” will hear its message echoed in this conversation, captured here in his opening lines:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
To be human means to choose one path over another. To be human also means that we’re headed in one direction when an unwanted detour occurs. And being human means to discover that sometimes there is meaning in the detour.
[Fun fact: I once memorized the entire poem for extra credit in high school. Fun fact 2: A few years ago when friends and I were on a 13 mile trail run and feeling very weary, we recited the poems we’d once memorized to keep us going. Frost’s was one of mine.]
Psychologist Daniel Siegel
, author of The Developing Mind
, among other books, considers this ability—the capacity to tell your story with meaning—as something called a coherent life narrative. But this narrative feat is far more than a parlor trick. It turns out that those who’ve created a coherent life narrative possess an ability to overcome past challenges because they’ve done the work of making sense of the pain, loss, and obstacles in their past.
And overcoming is just part of it. Imagine the strength, focus, and direction that comes from knowing where you’ve been and where you’re going.
But how do we create coherency from our lives? What goes in and what gets left out?
You can begin by thinking about the stories that make you…you.
Like most things of value, there’s first the identifying and then there is the sewing together to make the whole.
Jungian analyst Robert Johnson
writes, “The first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising one’s family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life.”
Johnson makes obvious for us what is otherwise hard to see: there is holiness in sewing our lives together. And it is a new life (or is it a second one?) the moment when we integrate all of who we are into the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
Because the work of cohering our story is ultimately the work of becoming whole.