How to tell the stories you want to live by

Sage CohenUncategorized10 Comments

At my Aunt Linda’s wedding about 25 years ago, my cousin Shari gave a toast that I will never forget. It went something like this.

John, Linda’s new husband, was relentlessly positive and approving of Linda. To the point that Shari suspected he was a fake. After all, how could anyone be so universally satisfied by another person? No matter what my aunt cooked, for example, it was the best meal John had ever eaten. And so on.

Then one night, Linda burned dinner. There was no question about it: the meal was ruined. Shari was on edge. What could he possibly find redeeming about this meal?

But then this happened.

John took a bite of the burned main course and, without missing a beat, said to my aunt, “Linda, this is the best salad I’ve ever eaten.”

He skipped right over the part of the meal that didn’t work to something he could truly be pleased with. He found the detail that aligned with his core truth: that my aunt was simply a source of endless delight.

This story changed my life.

I saw with such clarity—thanks to John’s wonderful gift for loving my aunt and Shari’s wonderful gift for storytelling—that we get to choose where we put our attention, and how it makes us feel. John simply didn’t focus on the burned dinner. This wasn’t a lie, it was a choice. He invested his attention and his feedback on the part of the meal that made him happy—the part that reinforced his love story for his beloved, the chef.

Every one of us has this same choice, in every moment.

We can decide the storyline we want to live by, then focus on the evidence that supports it and simply ignore the rest. As we speak and write about this evidence over time, it eventually becomes integrated with our being as our new and more accurate version of reality, identity, and relationship.

This is how I rewrote myself on the other side of divorce. After a year of deep grief, I decided that the only way my son was going to have the kind of life I wanted for him was for me to invest in a new story about his father—and our family. Inspired by my uncle John, I decided I’d have eyes only for what I appreciated about my coparent. From that day forward, I gave him only feedback about what I truly appreciated. The more I looked for things to appreciate, the more I found.

As a result, remarkably, within weeks of establishing this new practice, we had a new family system. One that shifted us from our “disappointer” (him) and “disappointed” (me) roles to “satisfier” and “satisfied” roles.

I’m not saying that there weren’t challenges or conflicts along the way. What I’m saying is that I didn’t hang onto them for a moment longer than I had to. Instead, I’d focus on my gratitude that my coparent answered the phone, that he considered my request, that he did what he thought was right…whatever it was I could possibly, authentically appreciate…that’s what had my attention. And I believe he has held me with the same compassion and grace.

As a result of many years of this practice, our family system today is a coherent and collaborative tribe of parents: my coparent, his wife, and me. We are all so close that my son feels he has one family in two homes. We take vacations together, we celebrate holidays together, we sing karaoke together, and generally just enjoy each other’s company. Here we all are celebrating my son’s fourth grade graduation last week.

This concept is simple. But the execution can feel like warrior’s work—depending on how big a story you set out to rewrite. I am here to say that it can be done.

Want to try it out? Here’s a quick coaching video that can help you experiment with this kind of transformational storytelling. (Just click to start watching immediately.) I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

10 Comments on “How to tell the stories you want to live by”

  1. Thank you for sharing this great story and using it as a springboard for action.
    Thank you also for the bonus video breaking down the steps. There is quite a bit of research indicating that we are very capable of changing our stories at the most elemental level: redirecting our though processes to respond to the stimuli in our brains by practicing the desired outcomes.
    I believe in manifestation, and much of what you shared here is an effective approach to telling the story that you want to live by. Again, thank you!

    1. Thanks so much, Deb! I agree that we are very capable of changing our stories–and through them, our lives. Delighted to be collaborating in manifestation with you!

  2. Sage! I needed to hear that today. Thank you for your willingness to share your story with others. Sending to warmest greetings and well wishes.
    Mishel (from Tumbleweed days)

  3. Sage, I’m so, so grateful for finding your book, The Productive Writer! As soon as I get paid I’m going to buy it & finish reading it!
    What you describe as the ‘lead story filter’ is a lesson I have learned (from the Lord) about forgiveness as a lifestyle. I do have a member of my family that tries to be upsetting with yelling, ordering, prying, & being bossy & vulgar, but the times I am successful to not respond in kind have been so rewarding. Thank you for sharing your life lesson, it is golden! So grateful to have e-met you & to learn from you!

    1. Great to hear from you, Robin! I’m so happy The Productive Writer is good company for you! And I’m delighted to hear about how you are tending your family story.

  4. Good morning Sage,
    I was SO happy to read your story about your own personal tribe of parents. We share a similar story!
    My then boyfriend and I decided to move across the country from Pennsylvania to the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The first trip to find our new home was over the Thanksgiving holiday. His ex-wife, their two sons and her current husband lived in Seattle and they extended a gracious invitation to their home for Thanksgiving dinner. I made a choice to accept the invitation and be a peaceful warrior towards family harmony. Since that time, over fourteen years ago, they have became part of my extended family. It’s not to say there have been a few difficult challenges that go along with our unusual dynamics, yet they all have enriched my life in so many ways. The boys, now grown men, say they have two sets of parents to help guide them over life’s sometimes difficult terrain.
    Most people who hear my story think it unusually odd however I focus on the gift of peace with gratitude.

    1. Hi Jayne, Thanks so much for sharing your story! So lovely to hear how your choices led to amplified love and connection in your blended family.

  5. I have found this kind of reality as well in my parenting. What I love about your story is the permission it gives, not to be in denial, but to construct a new possibility, almost like redrawing the lines in a constellation. Drawing attention doesn’t change the stars but it does help us to come back into alignment, like a child starting over in a connect the dots. We just need permission to let go of the “shoulds”. I feel like you have reminded me of this truth. Thank you!

    1. Redrawing the lines in a constellation…I love that, Mantu. Thank you so much for this reference point. It is always a great gift to consider the possibilities of parenting and family with you. thank you!

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