Tapestry

Psychologists says editing your personal narrative could improve your life

Stories have a powerful effect on the human imagination. And the stories we tell ourselves are no different. Turns out understanding the power of our internal narrative, and taming our inner-critic, can bring about change in our lives.
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Stories have a powerful effect on the human imagination. And the stories we tell about ourselves are no different. Understanding the power of our internal narratives and taming our inner-critic can bring about major changes in our lives.

Timothy Wilson is a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia and author of the book, Redirect: Changing The Stories We Live By. He studies the stories we tell about our lives to others and to ourselves. And he's trying to understand how personal narratives can be tweaked to help lead better lives.

In one of his studies, Wilson and his colleagues looked at the angst experienced by first-year college students who weren't performing well academically and at risk of dropping out.  

The students in the study were divided into two groups. One group watched videos of students a couple of years ahead of them, who spoke of their own challenges in first year. The students on the video talked about how many students see their grades suffer a bit in first year, but things usually improve.

The control group received no information related to studying and didn't watch the videos shown to their classmates in the other group.

The aim of the study was to help students re-frame the story they told about themselves. Instead of saying "I'm just not cut out for college," Wilson and his colleagues hoped by watching the videos and hearing the stories of others, the students would shift their thinking to a more positive message: "I'm not alone in these challenges and I'll eventually handle it."

And the experiment worked. The group who watched the videos had a lower drop-out rate and achieved higher marks the following semester than students in the other group.

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This segment originally aired October 11, 2015. 

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