I recently came across an article about personal storytelling in The Atlantic called Life Stories. It wasn’t an article about the art of oral storytelling, or even about memoir writing, but about the signature human process of storying the events that happen to us.
One phrase that stood out was what the researchers call ‘autobiographical reasoning’ described as:
“identifying lessons learned or insights gained in life experiences, marking development or growth through sequences of scenes, and showing how specific life episodes illustrate enduring truths about the self,”
And it seems to me that this is exactly what happens in personal storytelling.
In the process of crafting a life event into a tellable tale we do ‘autobiographical reasoning’.
We reflect and identify, sometimes for the first time, the meaning of a period or set of events in our life, what we learned and realised and what this tells us about ourselves and the significant encounters we have with others and why.
Of course we tell stories everyday and so we are always engaged with this process, but often not in a deliberate conscious way, where we take the time to find and choose a spin on the events that is the most useful and positive.
Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah says
“Rehearsal strengthens connections between some pieces of information in your mind and diminishes connections between others. …the things I tell you become more accessible to me and more memorable to me.’
Hence the reverberations of any story we tell, in a performance or otherwise; it rattles around in our head for days and if we were in any doubt before what it all meant, it settles in as our very own gospel once we have been heard.
And if we make it the best gospel we can imagine, that makes sense and teaches us, surely that's on a par with meditation for a useful happiness practice….