While it might sound like some kind of guru-peddled self-help fluff, psychologists have found proof that “editing” the stories you tell yourself about your life can help you achieve more.
An experiment with 40 distressed Duke University freshman shows how.
A research team lead by Timothy D. Wilson conducted an intervention, splitting the students into experimental and control groups.
The experiment group watched videos of upperclassmen talking about how hard it was to adjust to college and how their grades got better after they had some time to get used to collegiate life.
“The goal was to prompt these students to edit their own narratives about college,” Parker-Pope writes. “Rather than thinking they weren’t cut out for college, they were encouraged to think that they just needed more time to adjust.”
The long-term results may persuade you to start editing your own life story.
After watching the videos of junior and senior students talking about how they adjusted to college life, the freshman raised their grade point averages.
The most stirring result regarded drop-out rates.
The Times reports that 20% of the control group dropped out within the next year. But only 5% of the experimental group left school.
This kind of intervention can “nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle,” Wilson says.
The experiment relates to two fascinating fields of research.
First, the idea of “editing” your “story” springs from expressive writing, an area of study within positive psychology. Like a more focused variety of journaling, expressive writing consists of writing about a traumatic experience in your life for 15 minutes over several days — with positive effects ranging from greater well-being to improved working memory and reduced absenteeism.
While expressive writing provides a way to extract meaning from difficult experiences, the editing process serves as a way to shift your self-conception.
In this way, it has a lot to do with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Her work has shown that the “mindset” you hold about yourself determines a lot of your professional success, subjective well-being, and stability in relationships.
In a wealth of experiments, Dweck has found that if you think that your success comes from your innate talent, you won’t be as motivated to work hard, since success should be effortless. But if you think success springs from effort, then you’ll be more motivated, since you think success is a result of your hustle.
It’s the difference between the grade schoolers that cry out “I love a challenge!” when they’re hit with a pop quiz and the children that feel defeated before a test begins.
By getting Duke students to edit their personal stories, Wilson and his team were training them to perceive their circumstances differently — to see themselves as up for a challenge, and thus motivating them to put in the work necessary to survive at one of the world’s toughest schools.