Change is horribly awkward, when you think about it. If it weren’t, therapists like me wouldn’t spend so much time debating how and why people decide to finally flush their cigarettes or munch on some spinach. We tout that we understand the science of habit, and sometimes we do, but every individual’s recipe for improvement is fraught with undiscovered ingredients.
For a fangirl like myself, the missing item in my motivational soup turned out to be that wonderful distraction we call television. TV is perfect for procrastinating or crying about fictional people, but it's also powerful tool for redirecting the course of your life. In fact, recently, the New York Times ran a piece about how writing down your personal story can change your perspective on life and promote better health. In the world of psychotherapy, we’ve known for a long time that having a story motivates people, whether its printed in the pages of a novel or sitting in your Netflix queue. Narrative therapy teaches people how to organize and change your life like it’s the plot of a story.
So as I approach Season 30 of my life story, here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for how to start living a life that’s worthy of a string of Emmy awards.
1. Try to live every day like it's a season finale.
We spend a lot of days just going through the motions, like those filler episodes in Season 3 that everyone tells you to skip over. The reality is that nobody wants to watch you Google your ex’s name for the 3000th time or order another yet another pizza during a Real Housewives marathon once again.
Instead, what would happen if you lived every day like it’s a season finale? You would send that email asking for the job you want, you’d dump the loser who’s been bringing you down, and you’d reunite with a family member who’s too important to keep at arm’s length. Sure, you shouldn't be reckless, but living with more of a spirit of adventure is sure to make things more entertaining. Which brings me to...
2. Remember that plot twists keep things interesting.
Of course, there also will be sweeps weeks in your life; the kind of week that happens when a TV network tries to ratchet up viewership to set the rates for the advertising they sell. During sweeps week, TV writers pull out their most heart-wrenching or shark-jumping stories to get your butt on the couch. Surprise pregnancies. Natural disasters. Long lost siblings who bear no resemblance whatsoever. Basically, sh*t hits the fan on a Shonda Rhimes level.
We all have those Scandal-esque disaster days in our lives, but if you can see them as part of your larger story arc, then you can get past them. A bad date is just plot development. Being looked over for that promotion is just setting you up for the next big thing. In fiction, things always get worse before they get better, so it’s worth sticking around through the bad days to see where you land.
3. Cast your problems as the villain.
Sometimes, a therapist might ask you to personify your bad habit or negative thoughts. You’re not the problem. The problem is the problem, so casting it as your favorite TV villain can work wonders. Maybe it’s Joffrey Baratheon laughing at your career plans or Benjamin Linus plotting against you. In narrative therapy we call this “externalizing,” and it’s a cool trick that can give you the extra energy you need to conquer without taking it personally.
When I tried this technique on myself, I named my negative thoughts “Carl.” You see, Carl isn’t really interested in facts, and he can be pretty irrational. So when Carl points out that I’m probably going to fail, I just dismiss him for the asshat villain that he is. When I can separate me from the problem, I start rooting for myself as the heroine, and my story arc begins to bend towards something really good. Something that would drive Carl insane. Muhahahaha.
4. Be an improv queen.
The best TV happens when they let the actors loose and keep the cameras turned on, so why should your story be any different? Maybe there’s an Amy Poehler in you waiting to bust out the best one-liner.
Your life story is one giant improv show, but this is really more of an advantage than a terrifying proposition. Being an improv queen means you’re willing to make mistakes until you get it right. If you had a dud internship interview, rerun another one with a different script. Change your life’s soundtrack with the right music. Recast negative people with funny, inspiring ones. Life constantly switches from drama to comedy to mystery to love story, but you can choose how to respond to the unexpected.
5. Remember: you're the main character, so root for yourself.
If I could leave you with one tip, it would be to remember that great stories don’t resolve themselves overnight. The fictional characters we cherish the most are often the ones who’ve waded through the deepest sh*t and shaken off the nastiest villains. But we root for them because they don’t give up, and because they seem to be able to figure out how to enjoy themselves along the way.
If you can learn to show the same patience for yourself that you reserve for your TV loves, then there’s no telling where the next episode will take you. And the best thing is, you can start a new season of your life whenever you feel like it. The script is yours, so give yourself something worth watching.
Images: CBS; giphy (4)