Listening to and acknowledging the stories that patients narrate represents an intrinsic part of the interaction between doctor and patient. Telling their story allows a patient “to be heard’-“to be seen”. When a patient reveals their story a moment of trust, vulnerability and connection has been created. Through these stories an opportunity has arisen to develop a deeper understanding of the person and their life. We begin to recognize and appreciate what makes them tick.
Yet, how often do we, as physicians delve into and understand our own stories? Not examining the narrative that impacts both who we are and the arc of our lives, means that we are essentially flying blind, without self-awareness and knowledge about the influences that inform our thoughts and actions. Even more shocking than this kind of ignorance, we have doomed ourselves to living out a story that may not even reflect what we truly want in life, personally and professionally.
As expressed by the remarkable Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.:
“Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”
Exploring your own story requires diligence and curiosity, so that focus and an open mind can be brought to rewriting the script that you want to live by. In his book, The Power of Story, Jim Loehr, world-renowned performance psychologist, describes the ways that we can analyze our “Old Stories” in order to gain the insight and wisdom that will help us write our “New Stories”. He has worked with both elite athletes and high performing non-athletes to help them develop new, authentic and exciting narratives that can guide their lives.
He has his clients begin by writing their “Old Stories”, which usually tend to focus on five areas:
Work, Family, Health, Happiness and Friends, with various subsets thereof. In order to bring authenticity and impact to their stories, he suggests various techniques including writing down tone as well as content; exaggerating emotion and bringing in color and texture; looking for hidden influences; and asking if this truly your story. These are not simply words on paper, this is a visceral description of the narrative that is currently directing your life. He then gets his clients to ask three questions:
- “Will this story take you where you want to go (while remaining true to your most important values and beliefs)?”
- “Is the truth present as much as possible in this story?”
- “Does this story inspire you take action?”
Frequently clients are dismayed and even shocked to read what they have written. The whole exercise functions as a profound wake-up call to write a “New Story” where they can truthfully answer yes to the questions above.
We have many reasons for staying in thrall to our “Old Stories”:
- Fear of the past.
- Reluctance to be vulnerable.
- Uncertainty about the future and our own courage.
- Unwillingness to embrace curiosity and our imagination.
Yet, however understandable, the power of these concerns must surely dim when measured against the answers to the three questions above. A “New Story” arouses and motivates us to build a successful, thriving future. Be truthful, vulnerable and courageous and write the story that you truly want to live by and share with others. Begin a journey that uniquely reflects “the music inside you”!