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Don’t like your life story? Then rewrite it

Storybook

Lobke Peers

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

Registration for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards have closed. Companies can pre-register for 2019 at www.employeerecommended.com.

What is your favourite story of all time?

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As you think about your answer, reflect on why it is your favourite story. Who was the main character, and what was most interesting about them? What role did they play?

Stories are an important part of the human condition. They provide us with many things, such as entertainment and education. Most of us enjoy a good movie or book to escape our day-to-day life. Stories allow our minds to go to new and exciting places, to imagine and experience our life at that moment through a different lens.

Most stories have a main theme and structure, with respect to a clear beginning, middle and end. The lesson we draw out of a story can vary from being profoundly clear to abstract. Stories end differently, but most of us can relate to those that have happy or unhappy endings.

This micro skill of storytelling focuses not on what stories we enjoy and read, but which ones we create for our life that will ultimately define our mental health and happiness.

Awareness

Most can relate to external stories; however, some may not be mindful of what character we're playing in our life story that's being written daily.

On a typical day, what character are you playing the most, using the Karpman drama triangle roles listed below? How much do you see yourself in each role, and how do others see you?

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The victim – You have feelings of being the victim: helpless, hopeless, stuck and unable to find a solution or make things easier and better for yourself.

The rescuer – To others, you often act like a hero who has a need to help victims, and you feel guilt when you're not able to help others in need. The not-so-obvious is that when you take this role it's at your own expense, because you're committed to focusing on others first, providing you with a rationale to not focus on yourself and your needs.

The persecutor – You regularly blame or try to control others. To onlookers, you appear to lack empathy for others' needs, and are primarily focused on self-interest only.

The point of this exercise is to notice the different kinds of roles we can play. These are meant to be a few examples. If we're not aware of the roles we're playing, we may not be aware of how they impact our end story.

Accountability

We all get one life to live, and we all can be the authors of our own story. Some have not been taught, or yet believe, that we can each write our own story. For this micro skill to have any impact we need to accept that we're the author of our life story, and what roles we play will have an influence on how our story will end.

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Action

Four steps you can take to start to improve your life story:

1. Frame your characters.

To shape your life story, start with the key characters and how your character influences the others. Sit in a quiet spot, fire up your laptop, and define the different characters in your life that matter most to you (such as your spouse, child, parent, peer).

Define your character – In your life story, who do you want to play, and what traits do you want this character to be known for? This isn't who you are now; it may be, but more importantly who you want to be.

Define your core cast – Who are the most important people to you, and what characters are they playing today?

Finalize your cast – We can't pick our family or children, but after that it's optional. Each of us must determine if we have the right cast in our life, so we can create the storyline we want. Only we can make that final decision.

2. Define your storyline.

Now that you've defined the characters, what's the storyline? What kind of story are you going to live (for example, fast paced or slow)? Have fun with this and write out the backdrop to frame your storyline. Be specific with the kind of life and experience you want for you and all your characters.

3. Unpack your script, not with words but with daily actions.

Your character has defined roles within your storyline. Each day your actions will determine whether you're following it. The key to success is being clear and committed to be the character you want to be.

4. Get input from your cast.

There's no better way to ensure you're playing the character right than to ask your cast to evaluate whether the storyline is playing out as you designed it.

The good news is that this is your story and if you aren't happy with it you can stop, rethink what you really want, re-write it and re-launch your story. We each have one life, one story and we live it one day at time.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

This article supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award. This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at:tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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