This article originally appeared on Medium here.
What if you could change someone’s life for the better by revealing your deepest personal secrets? Would you do it?
Telling your life stories will certainly fill you with emotions.
It’s a joy to tell people about a moment of triumph or happiness. You also share pain and suffering when you recall a stinging personal defeat or loss. You may find it’s embarrassing to reveal certain details kept hidden for years.
Yet, those ugly details might be what someone else needs to hear to overcome their own challenges.
Others can learn from your mistakes before they make the same ones themselves.
It’s easy to think about all the reasons for telling your most important stories.
It’s another thing to sit down and put your stories down on paper. You need to break it down into easier bites. Otherwise, the work may seem overwhelming.In those moments, it’s easier to forget why you wanted to write your story in the first place.
I don’t want you to lose heart.
Even if your stories are ugly at first, that’s where you start.
With that in mind, discover four strategies to help you find the courage to tell your life stories.
1. Focus on Big Changes
You may find it easy to think about the moments in your life that defined you as a person.
Those moments stick with you for a long time.
That’s why it’s easier to remember how you felt on those days and in those hours. Think about the first days of school and then graduation.
Remember those weddings and divorces alongside births and deaths. Ponder the days of buying and selling houses while moving from place to place.
In general, big changes occur when something new begins and when something old ends. Those are moments that bring up many feelings. Those moments can change and shape the rest of your life.
How you react to situations of change, growth and progress can affect how you see yourself.
These huge events may change your perception of what you were like before they happened. Looking back, you notice other events and processes that led up to the big changes.
You might not have noticed those lead-ups before now. You didn’t think of them as particularly important at the time. Focus your efforts on those powerful moments of change to catalyze your storytelling.
Reflecting on these moments open up new insights and other events that weren’t obvious to you before. You being realized how you transformed from one person back then to who you are now.
The key here is that you don’t have to worry about thinking of everything all at once. You don’t have to have a complete analysis from the outset. By focusing on big changes, you can make the analysis as you go.
Discover yourself through a gradual process and you won’t feel overwhelmed at the task of telling a great story.
2. Make Writing a Small Yet Important Habit Each Day
Find incredible value and power in small habits.
You don’t have to drop everything, re-invent yourself and start writing your story as a full-time job.
There’s no need to lock yourself in a room with a ream of paper until you write a masterpiece.
Don’t burden yourself this way.
Try not to think of the entire process as reaching a large goal. This is especially true for a project that recalls the story of your entire life. Stop thinking about reaching that huge and faraway end. Big goals might seem so far out of reach that you stop trying altogether.
The solution involves switching from goals to systems.
Commit to writing a little bit each day without thinking about the grand finale.
You will still reach your denouement, and even faster than you think.
Writing your story becomes a normal part of your routine. Think of writing like eating, working and bathing. It’s much less manageable than believing, “I’m going to write a book about my life no matter what.”
It takes far less courage to commit to thinking about your life for 15 minutes each morning.
Carve out a small slot of time occurring on a regular basis. Commit to that moment. Use the moment for one purpose: telling the story of your life. You don’t even have to write something during that time.
The point is, telling your story becomes an unconscious routine.
Your brain adapts to it, like when your brain reacts to hunger or getting ready for work. Your mind will fill that time for you and become used to pulling up memories about your life. Those memories make their way onto the page at some point.
Diving into your memories becomes automatic. You begin to feel better about telling your story than not telling it.
3. Reward Yourself
There’s power in positive reinforcement.
Give yourself positive, enjoyable incentives to write while recording your life story. The incentives could be food, such as a favorite candy or other snacks, or a coffee break. Permit yourself to buy a small indulgence, like a book or a movie, each time you complete an important step.
A reward system is another way to get your unconscious mind on your side.
Your brain likes rewards, so help it to help yourself.
Rewards help make the process move along faster, plus your brain is more at ease with the process.
Without enjoying rewards, it may seem as if storytelling is a laborious task. Give yourself an extra-special reward when you record a difficult or painful experience. This can give you more courage to not hold back in the future.
A reward system can take a bit of the edge off this process.
Take care not to overdo it. You don’t want to turn your life story into an excuse to jump into health-destroying habits. Whatever positive reinforcement works, that process should remain uplifting. Rewards should contribute to your happiness without putting anyone else at risk.
4. Write About What You Think About
This is especially important.
Telling your life story puts your story in more than one place. Get it out of your head and onto paper. You don’t want to leave out important details. You also don’t want to focus too much on things that aren’t important.
How can you know which is which?
Trust your instincts!
Write about whatever comes to mind without worrying whether it’s important or not.
The things you think about, by their nature, inform your actions. That’s a pretty good sign that whatever comes to mind is, in fact, important.
Trust me on this.
The real determination whether pieces of a story are important or not comes in the editing phase.
If you don’t write down everything you remember, think, and feel, you won’t have much to edit. Get it all out initially, then you can edit when you have several thousand words.
Don’t worry about telling your story in chronological or any particular order, either.
Rearrange things later if you need to do so. In the meantime, write about things as they come without worrying about organization.
You may wonder about whether certain details are appropriate to share.
They are in this first draft.
Everything’s fodder for your story at first. No one but you need to see these words. Putting them down on paper, even if you cut them later, will help you lay them to rest and even help you write a better story.
If you’re really unsure about a particular scene, understand that you have no obligation to share it at all.
You need to tell your life story for yourself. That doesn’t mean you must tell it to someone in particular. This is the key to your freedom.
Telling your life story is about you. It’s written by you and for you to help you. It’s your life story, after all. There are other important people in your life, but this story isn’t about them.
Knowing that, don’t hold back. Write your life story so that you can discover for yourself who you are and why.
The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, even if that someone else is a reader a century from now. The exercise of sifting through your memories on a regular basis reveals to you who you are. You might even teach yourself some valuable life lessons along the way as you write.
Most of all, have the courage to go through with it because it will be good for your soul.
Fascinating further reading and listening on courage and writing:
- Laugh at the Fear: Writing Tough Times with Powerful Humor
- Breaking Down the Walls
- Rock Bottom to Authentic Success