Personal stories and the art of the reframe

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about personal stories. To be more precise, about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And often, these stories are whiny stories, they’re negative stories, they’re stories of lack, of doubt, of fear.

But these stories don’t serve us in any way.

They only keep us stuck and afraid and operating on a very low frequency.

Many times, we’ve told ourselves these stories so many times that we don’t even recognize them as stories anymore. They become our default reality.

Personal StoriesWhat I’ve been wondering is this: if we can make a negative story our default reality, could we not do the opposite as well – change the story we are telling ourselves to create a better reality?

Empirical evidence suggests that this is indeed possible. In Redirect, Timothy  Wilson makes a very strong case for what he calls story-editing, which is basically changing and reframing the stories we tell ourselves. Wilson’s examination of three decades of empirical evidence indicates that:

 our experience of the world is shaped by our interpretations of it, the stories we tell ourselves, and these stories can often become so distorted and destructive that they completely hinder our ability to live balanced, purposeful, happy lives, so the key to personal transformation is story transformation. Source: The Atlantic

This research is backed up by the sheer number of people who have used writing as a tool to change their lives. One that stands out for me is MK Asante’s memoir, Buck. As a teenager, Asante finds himself lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of North Philadelphia. His father has abandoned them, his mother is in mental hospital, and his brother’s behind bars. Asante’s all set to walk down the same road, but a simple writing exercise at an alternative school – a school where he finally finds acceptance after being thrown out of or running away from multiple public schools – transforms his life.

But you really don’t need to look beyond your own life to see how your stories impact you in both positive and negative ways.

People become the stories they hear and the stories they tellAllow me to illustrate.

I’ve been fond of photography since I was a child. I loved tinkering around with my father’s camera and reading the camera manual {yes, I was a somewhat strange kid}.

I begged him to allow me to take photographs, at a time when film was expensive and you didn’t know what you had caught on camera until the roll was developed and you saw all those chopped off heads. But I was undaunted by those mistakes. I simply believed that I was a good photographer, and over the years, that is what I became.

I seemed to have an innate understanding of composition and deciding what subjects to shoot {and before you ask, portraits are not my thing. And yes, I know that’s a story I’ve been telling myself since a long time. I’m smart that way!}.

My worst times behind the camera were when I was actively trying the learn someone else’s way of doing things {what photogs call workflows and “photographic formulas”}. The emphasis is on the actively – because by actively following instructions, the story I was telling myself was that I didn’t know how to shoot a particular subject and that it was going to be hard to get it right at the first go.

There have been a lot of times when I’ve learnt things {for want of a better word} by default. These are the times when I’ve been drawn to a particular style of photography out of curiosity and wanted to experiment with it. At those times, the story I told myself was along the lines of “this looks super cool, I have to figure out how to do this too!”

That simple shift in the story that I was telling myself led to some fun, creative, and ultimately satisfying photo shoots.

Reframe your story

Which brings me to the really interesting part – that of actively reframing our stories.

And no, it’s not a simple flip from I suck at portraiture, for example, to I’m great at portraiture. Why? Because there’s a part of my mind that simply doesn’t believe it. So I can keep repeating I’m great at portraiture ad infinitum and nothing will change.

But what if I say I’m willing to believe that I can learn the art of portraiture.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!

This I can believe. Here my mind says yes, why not. Of course I can learn about the art of portraiture. And when I approach the subject from that angle, that’s when magic starts to happen!

Why don’t you try it? Think of a story you’ve been telling yourself. One that you’re willing to change. Now, reframe it in a way that resonates with you, and then share it with me in the comments!

Posted in Soulful living and tagged , , , , .


  1. That’s something which is logical and indeed true. Coming to think about it, I can say – we become what we think of. If you think you can or cannot – you are right.
    I really liked the way you structured this post. The research and personal example were well put in. Good one!

    • Yes, thoughts become things is one of my favorite quotes! It’s also easy to forget this, though. I know I’ve been guilty of getting caught up in negative thought patters many times!

      Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  2. Jini, this is the best post of yours so far. Beautifully written and well structured. And although I know thoughts becomes things, I just don’t follow it. I fall into the vicious circle of negative thoughts and self pity.

    • Thanks Ramya! It can be difficult to stop our negative spiral of thoughts. But when you notice it, try to pause. And then just try to reframe into something that’s not as negative but believable for you at that point in time. Makes sense?

  3. This post is perfect. It is so motivating and makes perfect sense. None of the flaf that stuff such as motivation becomes. I am all for creating an alternate reality through positive emotions always. And for photography? I so agree! I love my own rules 😛

  4. Film roll camera was like a geared car, difficult to learn but once perfected, nobody wanted to barter. The art of photography has always eluded me, since being the smaller child, I was always asked to keep away from costlier things, a camera being a luxury those days. Your article, brings that old world charm back. It I suppose touches on a greater point of finding the seemingly little things in life being the actual pleasure in life.

    • Yes, and it’s something we so often overlook – the simple, little pleasures, running as we are after the ever bigger measures of success.

  5. Well I am truly believer of this philosophy, whatsoever you think you become.
    The story you make in your mind about anything, even about you is going to become truth in from of your eyes.
    That’s why it is always said that watch your thoughts.
    My personal example is when I had decided to do blogging, I automatically ask questions about it, doing research about it, joined twitter, found a blogchatter and now I am blogging. This all starts with the thought in my mind.
    Very well describe, enjoyed reading 🙂

    • Yes, thoughts do become things – they guide your actions and decisions, don’t they?

      Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  6. wonderful post Gypsy Woman! It was both insightful and inspiring. But I think there is a trap there. When we are actively learning following someone else’s method it can be tough especially if it is not something that comes to us naturally or which we are not inclined to do, but if we get the negative story telling out of the way and approach it openly, then I feel there is definitely more learning there, in approaching new unfamiliar and uncomfortable paths.

    And an example of rewriting stories for me would be – going from mentally stressing ‘I could have done better’ whenever I fall short of my own expectations to ‘This is how it happened, its alright but now I know what needs work and I can work at it and improve myself’.

    • Well, if you are trying to learn a skill you will have to learn from someone else. And if one person’s approach doesn’t work, you seek out another teacher. So the point I was making is that when I’m approaching something as a learner – ie open to learning and inquisitive – I’m much more likely to learn than if I approach it from a negative attitude of I suck at this. Does that make the illustration clearer? 🙂

      I’m glad you found the post inspiring and insightful. 🙂

      • Ya! I was trying to highlight the same because how I interpreted your example of active learning was – when we are doing things our way without the condition of following a particular method attached to it, we are more likely do it well, but if we are made to follow someone else’s method or process then that limits us.

        Hence I pointed out the trap which we tend to fall into when we do things our way, which over time becomes the easy way out and so there is the tendency to remain in our own comfort zone and not explore other ways which may seem challenging at first.

        So ya, it’s clear now 🙂

  7. What a beautiful well written post! Yes, I do believe you are what you think. Power of positive thinking, you are creating an alternate reality where you believe you are the best version of yourself and then work towards it and let the universe help you get there.

  8. This is something really cool… Its essential to change the story because some stories need to be positive.I remind myself of the hectic schedule and i have started to hate my job…i think this blog post should leave some impact on my otherwise boring work life 😛 which is least interesting.. good as always …

    • Thank you so much Stephen! And if I can leave an impact on your life, I would consider it mission accomplished! 🙂

  9. Quite inspirational. I loved the opening lines. The questions and the start. Only you can stop yourself from doing what you want to and reaching where you always wanted to 😀
    I just stepped into the “photography” world and I keep telling myself the same in case of portraits 😀 (but i love landscapes. really!) Cheers.

  10. That was truly an enlightening post! And with so much logic! Loved the way you defined everything so clearly and in such sorted way!


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