How and Why We Create Life Stories

I’ve talked in the past about how we fit the events of our lives into a "preferred life narrative." Great leaders seem to do a particularly good job at crafting this narrative and understanding the world around them through the lens of their life story.

Benedict Carey wrote a great article in the NYT Science section today about this very topic. After recapping the research done around life narratives, Carey notes an interesting finding about how we feel when we think about ourselves in the first person versus the third person. People who recalled a bad (or embarrassing) experience in the past in the third person were more sociable afterwards than someone who recalled an experience in the first person. The point-of-view by which we see events might also affect future actions:

Dr. Libby and others have found that projecting future actions in the third person may also affect what people later do, as well. In another study, students who pictured themselves voting for president in the 2004 election, from a third-person perspective, were more likely to actually go to the polls than those imagining themselves casting votes in the first person.

When somebody asks you to sum up your life in a few minutes, how do you tell it? How do you structure your life narrative — what are the "turning points"? Do you artificially create "challenges" you’ve overcome? And do you think the way you have processed the past affects how you will understand tomorrow?

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4 comments on “How and Why We Create Life Stories
  • I think most of us are the sum of our experiences, plus the ineffable something that makes us individuals.

    I often feel that I’m acting out a part, and that the script is already written.

    It’s as if it was there, just waiting for me, like the Chili Peppers said about their music.

    I would describe my life as a meandering walk through a garden of unquenched desire, the trees’ golden boughs laden with strange Babylonian fruit.

    Of course, I’m shaped by the past, but I try to live in the moment, without conscious reference to the past– so that I don’t miss anything in the here and now.

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