Old book bindings by Tom Murphy VII - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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A Winning Way to Get Started Writing Your Life Story Susan Heitler provides this story-starting ideas to help you get in touch with your own life story. From Psychology Today, January 18, 2012.

Can Fiction Stories Make Us More Empathetic? Exposure to narrative fiction may improve our ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling, a researcher reports. Many stories are about people -- their mental states, their relationships. The researcher explains that we understand stories using basic cognitive functions, and there is not a special module in the brain that allows us to do this. Understanding stories is similar to the way we understand the real world. From Science Daily, August 11, 2014.

Editing Your Life's Stories Can Create Happier Endings This piece from the NPR program All Things Considered uses the example of the author Lulu Miller's nephew to illustrate the work of psychologist Tim Wilson. Wilson has been studying how small changes in a person's own stories and memories can help with emotional health. He calls the process "story editing" And he says small tweaks in the interpretation of life events can reap huge benefits. From January 1, 2014. Includes a link to listen to the story, which runs 8 minutes, 54 second.

How You Can Be a Better Storyteller Eric Barker, of the Barking Up The Wrong Tree blog presents this interview with UCLA Film School Professor Howard Suber. Along the way, Suber reveals the power of a narrative to define --- and change --- our lives. Posted March 4, 2013.

Most Good People Have the Same Basic Life Story Psychology research verifies that the stories we tell ourselves matter. A new study from Northwestern University shows that folks who fit the classic mold of "good people" — those who care about others while also having high well-being and mental health — have life stories that share remarkably similar narrative arcs according to research by Dan Mcdams and Jen Guo and summarized here for Business Insider, March 13, 2015.

Narrative Psychology Vincent W. Hevern at Le Moyne College, explains: "narrative psychology" refers to a viewpoint or a stance within psychology which is interested in the "storied nature of human conduct" (Sarbin, 1986)--how human beings deal with experience by constructing stories and listening to the stories of others...human activity and experience are filled with "meaning" and that stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful formulations, are the vehicle by which that meaning is communicated. This extensive Internet and resource guide includes history and background, links to key theorists, methodology, a discussion of narrative in other disciplines and much more on this perspective.

Our Stories, Ourselves The tales we tell hold powerful sway over our memories, behaviors and even identities, according to research from the burgeoning field of narrative psychology and summarized in this article from the APA Monitor by Sadie F. Dingfelder, January 2011, vol. 42(1), p. 42.

The Power of Our Personal Stories Margarita Tartakovsky, writing for PsychCentral explains how revising our stories and our perceptions of problems can empower us. Posted June 15, 2014.

Revising Your Story Social psychologist Tim Wilson argues that a better way of changing behavior may be to try to get inside [people's] heads and understand how they see the world—the stories and narratives they tell themselves according to this article in the American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, March 2012, volume 43, number 3, p. 28.

Self-Affirmation: A Simple Exercise That Actually Helps According to research published in the Annual Review of Psychology and summarized here for PsychCentral, one effective way of affirming our values and strengths is to revise our narratives. Published June 2, 2014.

Self-Motivation: How You Can Do it! Beats I Can Do It Research by Sanda Dolcos and Dolores Albarracín published in the European Journal of Social Psychology and summarized here for the BPS Research Digest suggests that second-person self-talk (e.g., You can do it!) is more effective than first-person self-talk. The researchers surmised that second-person talk maybe be effective because it cues memories of receiving support and encouragement from others, especially in childhood. July 9, 2014.

Self-Portrait in a Skewed Mirror You're more than the star and author of your own life story. You're also the spin master. How you tell your tale reveals whether you see yourself as victim or victor, even when your story veers from the life you lived. By Carlin Flora, for Psychology Today (published on January 01, 2006 - last reviewed on September 16, 2013).

So, What's Your Story? What are some of the harmful stories you tell about yourself, and how could you rewrite those stories to be more supportive and nurturing of who you really are? Read about how we can change the stories we tell about ourselves by Melissa Kirk for Psychology Today, April 27, 2012.

The Stories That Bind Us Writer Bruce Feiler describes research which suggests that the stories families tell about themselves inspire resilience in future generations. From The New York Times, March 15, 2013.

This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) Presents an overview of the work of Dan McAdams and others on how personality is revealed in the stories people tell about themselves. From The New York Times, May 22, 2007.

We Actually 'Become' Happy Vampires or Contented Wizards When Reading a Book [R]eading satisfies a deeply felt need for human connection because we not only feel like the characters we read about but, psychologically speaking, become part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the experience according to research by Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young, published this month in Psychological Science and summarized here in Science Daily, May 10, 2011.

Why We Write Psychologists Jerome Bruner and Henri Zukier suggest that our minds have two general ways of taking in the world. When we perceive the world in paradigmatic mode, we act like scientists, connecting facts, looking for patterns and universal principles through which we categorize and understand our environment. The narrative mode on the other hand, is what allows us to endow life with meaning through the stories we tell about it. Read about the power of writing our own narrative in this article by Mindy Greenstein for Psychology Today, January 12, 2012.

Writing Exercises Scientifically Proven to Redirect Your Life Inspired by the research of Timothy Wilson and others, writing exercises, like distancing yourself from negative experiences or determining what your best possible self looks like, may be beneficial according to Jane Porter writing for Fast Company, February 11, 2015.

You Can't See It, But You'll be a Different Person in 10 Years No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they'll be tomorrow. according to the End of History Illusion. According to researcher Daniel Gilbert, Life is a process of growing and changing, and what our results suggest is that growth and change really never stops…despite the fact that at every age from 18 to 68, we think it's pretty much come to a close. You can listen to the original segment and comment by Gilbert here, on the NPR website (runs 3 minutes, 58 seconds) or read a more in-depth summary here.

Your Life Story in Metaphors Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes about the metaphors we use to describe our lives: Think about how you've gotten where you are in life, and where you hope or plan to go. What metaphor comes to mind? Does your life have a shape or a direction? Is it an arrow (upward or downward), a circle, or a series of steps? How about the life of other people you know? Is the metaphor you'd apply to yourself the same as those you'd apply to other people? in this article from Psychology Today, published May 3, 2011.

Assignments, Exercises, and Activities

Life Story When discussing intake interviews and psychotherapy, John Suler, Rider University, point[s] out that clients engage in a process of exploring their life story, usually at first by describing the most important "facts" about themselves. In this exercise, described on his Teaching Clinical Psychology website, students write down four important facts about themselves and one lie. Others in the class read each list and the class discusses patterns which they see.

Case Studies

Courtship Narratives The University of Texas PAIR Project, according to their website, is a long-term study of courtship and marriage that began in 1981 with 168 newlyweds. We collected information on the couples' courtships and early marital experiences, and followed couples across the years to their eventual relationship destinations. The site presents excerpts from the case studies of 7 couples who later divorced. The narratives are from their courtship period.

Current Researchers and Research Teams

The Foley Center for the Study of Lives is the research center for Dan McAdams and his colleagues. They describe the center as an interdisciplinary research project committed to studying psychological and social development in the adult years.

Electronic Texts

Examples and Illustrations

Lecture Notes

Slide Presentations

Tests, Measures, and Scales

Life Story Interview The Foley Center for the study of lives at Northwestern University maintains a collection of scales related to development and narrative across the life span. The Life Story Interview is one qualitative measure used by Dan McAdams and his research team.

Multimedia Resources

Editing Your Life's Stories Can Create Happier Endings This piece from the NPR program All Things Considered uses the example of the author Lulu Miller's nephew to illustrate the work of psychologist Tim Wilson. Wilson has been studying how small changes in a person's own stories and memories can help with emotional health. He calls the process "story editing" And he says small tweaks in the interpretation of life events can reap huge benefits. From January 1, 2014. Includes a link to listen to the story, which runs 8 minutes, 54 second.

You Can't See It, But You'll be a Different Person in 10 Years No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they'll be tomorrow. according to the End of History Illusion. According to researcher Daniel Gilbert, Life is a process of growing and changing, and what our results suggest is that growth and change really never stops…despite the fact that at every age from 18 to 68, we think it's pretty much come to a close. You can listen to the original segment and comment by Gilbert here, on the NPR website (runs 3 minutes, 58 seconds) or read a more in-depth summary here.


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