Tell Yourself a Story

One of my goals is to become a counselor. That said, therapy, mental health, and counseling ideas are something I think and read about a good deal. This week, I came up with an idea for a way of helping myself understand my own life, and I wonder if it might be helpful for someone else as well. It’s a bit of an exercise which I’ve outlined below, and I think it’s kind of fun. It’s by no means an original idea – but it did just occur to me this week. It goes like this.

Here is an idea to help us out of despondency – to help jolt us back when we’ve gone away, to help us get a sense of ourselves when we feel gone. I will think of my life as a movie. Most movies (and stories in general) can be though of as having three parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. Think about Pixar’s movie Cars. Lighting McQueen is a racing star (setup), he is swept away to the town of Radiator Springs where he confronts some hard truths and has to learn some hard lessons (confrontation), he goes back on the big track and wins a unique kind of victory (resolution). We even do this without thinking when we tell an everyday kind of story.

Me and Louis were gonna go to a baseball game. But on the way we got a flat tire. So we spent three hours finding a spare and a tire iron and finally ended up at Applebee’s just in time for half price apps. Bing, bang, boom.

You can think of pretty much any story this way. The Bible works rather nicely as well, on large and small scales. Creation, fall, redemption. Or – Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, Peter denies Jesus, Jesus reinstates Peter. It’s a great way to understand stories. And here’s how I think this could be helpful when getting a grip on our own stories as they unfold.

Part 1 – speak truthfully

Prompt: Tell your own story with the present day on which you are speaking as act 3 (resolution). This places the current self (and one’s circumstance) as the resolution. Today is the conclusion of what has come before. And that may not be so appealing, especially if the current state is despondent/bored/removed/unsatisfied. The goal here is to speak truthfully.

Example: [In keeping with my wanting to be a counselor.] (1.) I first decided I might like to be a professional counselor in my senior year of college. (2.) It was too late to change my major from communication studies to counseling psychology, but I was able to add a family counseling class as an elective. (3.) Currently, I am an admission counselor at Grand Canyon University. This isn’t really what I was aiming for, but I do at least get to perform some counseling role with students.

Part 2 – think logically

Prompt: Tell your story as act two. Something, or some thousand things, have set the stage, and now we find the self in a state of action, of conflict, of movement, of friction. This allows for explaining the present as in part a result of the past. However, this exercise should be completed by imagining and articulating the third act as a logical conclusion. How is today a springboard into the resolution? If part 1 has happened, and this present thing is happening, then what seems likely to happen? Again, this may not be appealing.

Example: (1.) I was able to take a class on counseling in college and got an idea of what the profession was like from my professor. I decided that this is the career I would like to pursue. (2.) I took a job as GCU as an admissions counselor so I could get experience advising people on a daily basis and start a master’s program in mental health counseling. (3.) In the future I will most likely finish my degree and become a licensed counselor able to practice in some state(s).

Part 3 – speak imaginatively

Prompt: Tell your story as act one. Finally, the narrator should tell their story imaginatively. The present moment is act 1 of a 3 part drama. You must tell the story of the present day as a precursor to what you hope will happen in the future. You should be realistic about the opposition that will be faced in act 2, the friction. And most importantly, you must articulate a vision of your desired resolution. What is the best possible way this could end?

Example: (1.) I am an admissions counselor who sits at a computer most of the day and talks with students, sometimes on the phone sometimes in person. (2.) I will become licensed as a counselor and open my own practice. It will be difficult at first as I will probably take a major pay cut when starting out. I will have to figure out where to practice and how to build a clientele. I will also have to figure out whether to own my own space or work for/with someone else. (3.) My career will be enormously fulfilling, even while challenging. The experience I gain will allow me to write a book as well as teach at a local university in a beautiful city near the coast where I live with my wife, our family and a small dog and surf at least twice a week.

These three exercises are an attempt to make sense. In doing so, it becomes clearer how the past, present, and future are giving way to one another, that we are in the same breath being and becoming. The first part helps me be realistic about where I am and how I’ve gotten there. The second part helps me think about where my current path is likely to take me if I continue on it. The third part helps me articulate what it is I hope will happen, what it is I am aiming at as I move forward. This is the most important part I think. The examples I gave are true, if somewhat broad and trivial. This exercise may also be helpful for getting a look at the things in life we don’t have the courage to talk about very often.

There’s a funny interaction in Alice in Wonderland that I learned about in a high school class. It goes like this:

[Alice said] ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’

Published by javenbear

Javen Bear is 25 years old and lives with his beautiful wife Aleisha in Phoenix, Arizona. He's a graduate student in a mental health counseling program at Grand Canyon University where he also works as an admissions representative. Javen’s super-power, if he had one, would be the ability to press pause on the world and catch up on reading. He enjoys talking walks with his wife, playing guitar, and always uses Oxford commas.

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