Personal stories and the art of the reframe

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about personal stories. To be more precise, about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And often, these stories are whiny stories, they’re negative stories, they’re stories of lack, of doubt, of fear.

But these stories don’t serve us in any way.

They only keep us stuck and afraid and operating on a very low frequency.

Many times, we’ve told ourselves these stories so many times that we don’t even recognize them as stories anymore. They become our default reality.

Personal StoriesWhat I’ve been wondering is this: if we can make a negative story our default reality, could we not do the opposite as well – change the story we are telling ourselves to create a better reality?

Empirical evidence suggests that this is indeed possible. In Redirect, Timothy  Wilson makes a very strong case for what he calls story-editing, which is basically changing and reframing the stories we tell ourselves. Wilson’s examination of three decades of empirical evidence indicates that:

 our experience of the world is shaped by our interpretations of it, the stories we tell ourselves, and these stories can often become so distorted and destructive that they completely hinder our ability to live balanced, purposeful, happy lives, so the key to personal transformation is story transformation. Source: The Atlantic

This research is backed up by the sheer number of people who have used writing as a tool to change their lives. One that stands out for me is MK Asante’s memoir, Buck. As a teenager, Asante finds himself lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of North Philadelphia. His father has abandoned them, his mother is in mental hospital, and his brother’s behind bars. Asante’s all set to walk down the same road, but a simple writing exercise at an alternative school – a school where he finally finds acceptance after being thrown out of or running away from multiple public schools – transforms his life.

But you really don’t need to look beyond your own life to see how your stories impact you in both positive and negative ways.

People become the stories they hear and the stories they tellAllow me to illustrate.

I’ve been fond of photography since I was a child. I loved tinkering around with my father’s camera and reading the camera manual {yes, I was a somewhat strange kid}.

I begged him to allow me to take photographs, at a time when film was expensive and you didn’t know what you had caught on camera until the roll was developed and you saw all those chopped off heads. But I was undaunted by those mistakes. I simply believed that I was a good photographer, and over the years, that is what I became.

I seemed to have an innate understanding of composition and deciding what subjects to shoot {and before you ask, portraits are not my thing. And yes, I know that’s a story I’ve been telling myself since a long time. I’m smart that way!}.

My worst times behind the camera were when I was actively trying the learn someone else’s way of doing things {what photogs call workflows and “photographic formulas”}. The emphasis is on the actively – because by actively following instructions, the story I was telling myself was that I didn’t know how to shoot a particular subject and that it was going to be hard to get it right at the first go.

There have been a lot of times when I’ve learnt things {for want of a better word} by default. These are the times when I’ve been drawn to a particular style of photography out of curiosity and wanted to experiment with it. At those times, the story I told myself was along the lines of “this looks super cool, I have to figure out how to do this too!”

That simple shift in the story that I was telling myself led to some fun, creative, and ultimately satisfying photo shoots.

Reframe your story

Which brings me to the really interesting part – that of actively reframing our stories.

And no, it’s not a simple flip from I suck at portraiture, for example, to I’m great at portraiture. Why? Because there’s a part of my mind that simply doesn’t believe it. So I can keep repeating I’m great at portraiture ad infinitum and nothing will change.

But what if I say I’m willing to believe that I can learn the art of portraiture.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!

This I can believe. Here my mind says yes, why not. Of course I can learn about the art of portraiture. And when I approach the subject from that angle, that’s when magic starts to happen!

Why don’t you try it? Think of a story you’ve been telling yourself. One that you’re willing to change. Now, reframe it in a way that resonates with you, and then share it with me in the comments!

#MicroBlogMondays – On choosing inner work


Sometimes you have to choose between All The Things and the Quiet Things. The outer excitement and the inner work. It can be a hard choice at times. On the one hand you have exciting events, fun shopping trips, lunch dates with friends. On the other, you have quiet contemplation, shadow work, and uncovering of old wounds. But sometimes, you have to let the quiet win. The rewards are longer lasting and beautiful. At other times, do All The Things. It’s also all about balance!

Linking up with MicroBlog Mondays.

{K} Kintsugi: Adapting the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery to your {art} journal

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver. As a philosophy, the belief is that the object is more valuable and beautiful with its history revealed.

But how can you adapt a pottery repair technique to your art journal?
By adapting Kintsugi as a transformative tool in your journal.

A Kintsugi artist rejoins a broken vase with gold epoxy, creating a new version of the vase. It will never go back to being what it was before it broke – instead, its cracks are highlighted to create a masterful work of art. In an art journal practice, the transformation comes by putting the pieces of you that are broken or hurting back together, working through the sorrow and pain to reinvent yourself – so you emerge into a stronger, more powerful individual.


Reframing your story

Once upon a time, I had a mug. It was white with the most gorgeous purple and blue pansies painted on it. It was my favourite mug…but then one day, it broke. I was devastated. But since it was shattered, I did the only thing I knew. I swept up the pieces and threw them away.

That was before I heard about Kintsugi. A Kintsugi master would not have seen a broken, useless mug – they would have seen a mug that had the potential to be repaired…to highlight its cracks and make it even more beautiful.

So Kintsugi’s first essential lesson is this: the story we’ve been telling ourselves – the one where we can never recover from the hurt or the loss or the betrayal – it’s time to change that story. Instead of letting our wounds define us, or looking at them as merely destructive, what if we looked at them as constructive? Instead of focusing on the hurt, what if we realize that the things that hurt us also have the power to make us stronger? The moment we do this, we can start to transform what was broken into something beautiful.

But how do we go about this transformational work?

kintsugi_in_art_journalHealing from your hurt
To mend the mug, the Kintsugi master would need to carefully prepare the gold epoxy – too much gold and the mixture would not be strong enough to mend the cracks; too much epoxy, and it would be too brittle.

In transformational work, the gold and epoxy represent the healing process and our willingness to go the distance. If we try to rush the healing process, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. We have to be willing to embrace set-backs, to circle back to some lessons until we’ve fully learned from them. Not only that, we must be willing to do the work it takes until that which is “bonding” us back into wholeness has had sufficient time to “cure.”

Owning all your parts

Once the gold epoxy is ready, the Kintsugi master will pick up each broken piece, fit it together and reconstruct the mug.

Similarly, when healing from our hurts, we need to embrace all of us – flaws and all. We need to look at each of our broken fragments and fully embrace the lessons from them so that we don’t repeat the same patterns again. And while some hurts may run too deep, we need to have the courage to understand that we can still stand strong…cracks and all.

Putting this into practice: Write out all the negativity and hurt in your art journal. Take a break and then look through it for the all the lessons that you can learn from that experience. Make a note of the wisdom you’ve gleaned on a separate piece of paper. Transform all the hurt in your art journal with paint and collage into a piece of beauty. Use the lessons you learnt as quotes on your page.

Disclaimer: If you’ve undergone significant trauma or think that this process could trigger some deep issues, please discuss this technique and work through it under the supervision of a registered clinical therapist.

Moving into fear

Basic painted face
A quick face painted with acrylics

How do you deal with fear? A lot of people will tell you it’s only by moving into whatever it is that you fear that you can overcome it. But how do you move into what you fear? How do you go boldly (or not so boldly) ahead into a situation that gives you the shivers? I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have a clue.

Then, I took up painting. And as I tried and experimented and failed and tried again, I realized – this is how you move into fear!

You move into fear by sticking with something even when you’re scared and have no idea what the hell you’re doing. It means taking a piece you don’t like and working it until you do. And if you still don’t like it, chalking it up to experimenting and experience, and then cutting it up to use as the base of another piece, so you can reframe and redo.

Fearless painting
Some fearless mark making

And each time you take a deep breath and make another mark on that paper or canvas, not knowing where you will end up, you grow your muscles of bravery. It may not be bold bravery, but rather the quiet kind of bravery that enables you to stick with a task; to look for answers; to try one approach, then another, and another until you start to see some semblance of success; to constantly learn and evolve and grow.

It’s a knowing that mistakes can be fixed. And that if they cannot be fixed, they can serve as the foundation for the next stage of your evolution.

Fearless painting
The final piece – after many layers of mark making and re-painting. Moving through the fear of having “ruined” the face with my fearless marks.

Ultimately, it’s the knowledge that life is fluid, constantly moving and shaping and stretching and contracting – that nothing lasts forever (even though it sometimes feels like it does).

Just like one mark on the page can change the direction of your painting, so can one move…one choice…one decision, change the course of your journey. And so it is that each new mark…each new decision…can change the final outcome. And it all started by moving into your fear.

This piece was inspired by Annie Hamman’s lesson in Lifebook

Intention setting: The impact that one word can have on your year

the power of a word of the yearDecember is a month for reflection – for some quiet contemplation on the year gone by and planning for the year to come. While a lot of people set goals and New Year resolutions, I’ve learnt that this really does not work for me. What does seem to work is desire and intention. But first, we start with…

Contemplating the year gone by
Set aside an afternoon with a hot cup of coffee or tea (or even some mulled wine!) and look back at the year gone by.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • What stood out for you this year – positive and negatives both?
  • What did you finally achieve?
  • What made you happy?
  • Where did you trip up, and what did you learn from your failures and struggles?
  • What do you want to work on some more?
  • What do you need to learn from the year gone by?
  • What do you need to release as you move forward into a new year?
  • What are you grateful for?

Or you may just wish to reflect, remember, and give thanks for the year gone by.

Once you’re done, set your journal aside and stretch…go for a walk…dance to some music…do some yoga…basically, use motion as a release for everything that came up.

Mapping out the year ahead

Once you’re finished looking back, it’s time to look forward. There are a number of ways and tools that you can use to plan the year ahead. One that I tried last year that worked really well for me – and that I am doing again this year – is choosing a word of the year. One word that will serve as a guidepost to how you design and plan your year.

 As you think about this concept, you may have a word that pops out for you based on your reflection on the year gone by. Don’t worry if nothing comes to mind – sometimes it needs a little bit of an intervention to find the word that’s calling to you. Here’s a very short list of words that you could choose for yourself – see if any of these resonate for you.


If you don’t know how this works or need some help to choose a word, Susannah Conway has an excellent (free) 5-day email class to help you discover your word.

Now that you have a word, what’s next? 

One word has the power to shape and change your life. It just requires a little effort.

Start by contemplating the following questions in your journal:

  • If you lived and breathed your word in 2016, what would be different for you?
  • Are there any ways in which you’re already living your word?
  • What can you do to bring more of this word’s energy into your life?
  • Think ahead to December 2016. As you reflect on the year gone by, where do you want to be with regards to your work, relationships, spiritual practice, health and fitness, and any other areas that are important to you?
  • As you look at your answers to these questions, do you see a theme emerging? How can you make this theme work for you?

Plan out your year

Now comes the fun part! Download and print out a 2016 weekly calendar and start fleshing out your year. Plot out the things you want to start and when you want to start doing them. Don’t forget to pencil in some holidays and some rest time. And remember, this is just a rough guide to get you started. You can change, add or subtract anything at any time during the course of 2016.

Here’s wishing you a beautiful holiday season!