In an annual fit of hopefulness, many people pause at the beginning of January to make New Year’s resolutions—big and little promises to change something about themselves (lose 10 lbs., be more patient with the kids) or some aspect of their lives (find more satisfying work, tend my relationship better). These resolutions are notorious for failure. We make them, perhaps write them down and stick them on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door, and discard them as annoying clutter a few weeks later when it’s obvious we are not about to get off that holiday sugar binge, or things at work have speeded up so much we can hardly think.

The impulse we’re following, says author Christina Baldwin, is to use the New Year to write or speak our way into a new story. She says, “In the aftermath of holidays, we are often tired of that old sense of self; the worn out routines, the habits of living. We look at the brand new calendar and want to change the story of how our lives are going. This is actually honorable work, we just have to know how to do it.” In her book, Storycatcher, Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, Baldwin devotes an entire chapter to a process she calls “creating a story of the self.”

“Building a life story is a universal mental activity for people in all cultures,” says Baldwin. “We put our life experiences through a story-making process so that we know how to live in a continuity of action/meaning/reaction/next action/new meaning. We all do this, so we might as well use story to make our lives better.”

Baldwin defines four steps to making a life story: linking, editing, disorienting, and revisioning. These occur naturally and repeatedly. Linking is the building block of memory and story-making. If a teacher tells a child she is smart, the child links that comment to previous remarks and increases her self-confidence. We create links and we can break links: this is called changing our minds. Editing is how the linked story evolves as our sophistication with experience changes.  “We aren’t changing our past,” says Baldwin, “we are changing the meaning of certain experiences. If something my parents or teachers said about me as a child no longer serves me, I need to edit it. I used to sing off-key and was told ‘you can’t sing…’ Well, I took voice lessons and edited my story.”

Disorienting is a step in making a new story that Baldwin admits is misunderstood. “People don’t like disorientation. Our little storylines about who we are make us socially comfortable. However, new stories have the potential for making our lives bigger and better. When life falls apart it’s a highly creative time and we love stories of crisis—as long as they are happening to someone else! Like the man who suddenly leaves his wife, and after she goes through a disorientation, she rises to complete her education and take on new work. A few years later, she may look back with gratitude for getting drop-kicked out of her old ruts. That’s revisioning—we’ve taken life’s lemons and made lemonade. And we don’t get to revisioning, except by allowing disorienting.”

“So when I make my New Year resolutions I ask myself: am I trying to link, edit, disorient, or revision? To proclaim, ‘this year I’m joining the community choir,’ is a linking resolution. To say, ‘I’m going to change my job,’ is a disorienting resolution. If we know what aspect of our life story the resolution activates, we are much more likely to keep it. I used to dread making resolutions, but now I know how to live them out to success. It’s still not easy to lose weight, or  be more patient, but I like the sense of being in charge of my story from here on.”

 

Baldwin’s book, Storycatcher, Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, can be found at local bookstores, on-line and through www.storycatcher.net

Based on the book Storycatcher, Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story © 2007 by Christina Baldwin. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

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