No one is more familiar with the sometimes stomach-churning hills and valleys of life than people who set out to establish, grow or even just maintain their own businesses. If you run your own massage practice, you probably already know there is rarely a straight line to success—and even when there seems to be, that situation will inevitably change at some point. Fortunately, the opposite is true, too: Strings of unfortunate events can be punctuated by small triumphs, or years of struggle finally pay off in the form of success and a feeling of lightness.
The problem is that while you’re struggling through difficult periods in your life or business, your mind might overemphasize the negative and overlook the positive. If you dwell too long on the negative, it can have a permanent effect on your sense of self as well as your thoughts, behaviors and well-being.
The story you construct about yourself in your mind is called your narrative identity, and it has great influence over your sense of self and, therefore, your thoughts and actions. Fortunately, your narrative identity is something you can change, meaning you can turn its influence to your advantage—which can be especially useful for weathering tough times.
What’s Your Story?
Your mind digests the events of your life and organizes them into a story with a consistent plot and theme, just like a writer would. It replays events from the past and projects how the coming days, weeks or years might turn out, telling and retelling your story and smoothing out the rough edges.
Over time, some elements of your narrative might get edited out entirely, while others become embellished. In this streamlining process, your mind sometimes smoothes out the wrinkles too much, to the extent that your story reads more like a neatly-wrapped-up mystery novel than your personal epic saga.
In these mental retellings, the story of who you are, where you came from, and where you’re headed tends to solidify, and it’s easier for your mind to fit new data into your existing story line than to creatively see new directions for your story. It would take more effort on your part for that to happen—but it’s worth making the effort.
Create a Redemptive Narrative
Research in the area of narrative identity shows that one type of story line in particular—the redemptive narrative—is more likely than others to foster a positive mood, good self-esteem, and overall feelings of happiness and satisfaction with your life.
We see and hear redemptive narratives—those stories of overcoming adversity to achieve a higher level of functioning, or even greatness—everywhere. They are favorites in cultures around the world.
Researchers think redemptive narratives’ universal appeal may reflect the fact that from an evolutionary standpoint, they make sense. Overcoming adversity is good for survival, so you’re wired to appreciate it.
Chart Your Life
You can start using your narrative identity to your advantage by re-envisioning your life story, with the goal of producing one that better reflects the complete, rich experience of your life, one that acknowledges your mistakes, struggles, failures, and also your victories—and, most importantly, creates meaning from them.
Get a paper and pencil and start graphing the timeline of your life, connecting the dots of your high and low points in life and in business. Where you see a down followed by an up, you’re seeing redemption. You may notice on your timeline that downturns and upticks come in different magnitudes.
These ups and downs can be small events that happen in the course of a day or major upheavals, but they represent redemption. Therefore, don’t worry if you haven’t had a major obstacle or tragedy to overcome in your life, because bringing attention to redemption of any magnitude can produce positive benefits for you.
Also, understand that life’s story lines don’t really have long, straight segments, so if you see one on your graph, zoom in on it on a separate sheet. In its streamlining and compression process, your mind has probably left out some detail; see if you can find it again. Every fall is followed by a bounce, so try to identify bounciness in your story.
Uncover Meaning and Resilience
Look at each downturn realistically, then ask yourself what positive things also took place. For example, maybe you lost a few frequent massage clients earlier this year and you feel your business is heading in the wrong direction. While it may be true that you feel that way, what other truths are you overlooking? Didn’t you enjoy some wins during that time, too?
You may find happiness in something you overlooked. Perhaps it was a day one of your existing clients conveyed her gratitude for your work, and rekindled your original passion for it. Or maybe you invested time and money in yourself for continuing education, and now you are better at what you do, or more fulfilled.
What about the bounces that had nothing to do with work? Such as the time you were having a terrible day, but then you stopped to help a lost child and forgot all about it, because it made you feel so great, or the time a friend surprised you with an act of kindness?
Also, consider what each downturn taught you about yourself. At the very least, you survived whatever it was, which means that you are resilient, and probably stronger than before it happened. Were you aware of that?
To Find Happiness, Challenge Your Default Narrative
Every time the timeline of your life zigzags, you’ve gained new knowledge of the world or yourself, so keep looking for that; and remember that your life story can be told in lots of ways, so go back and visit some different pages for a change, and write new ones.
See if your feelings about yourself and your business—and how tomorrow’s chapter reads—change for the better, too.
About the Author
Jim Hjort, L.C.S.W., is a licensed psychotherapist, coach, mindfulness meditation instructor, and founder of the Right Life Project, through which he helps people overcome roadblocks to self-actualization. The Right Life Project helps you understand the ways you can work with the different dimensions of your life to be happier and reach your full potential.