The Defining Story of Your Life (Part 3)

March 19, 2012 — Leave A Comment

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” ~ Catherine of Siena

(This post is part 3 of a series. Read parts 1 and 2 here and here.)

So what if you suspect you are living the wrong story? How do you change your Defining Narrative?

As I mentioned in the last post, changing your Defining Narrative is a very difficult thing to do. After all, you’ve lived into your current Defining Narrative for a very long time. Its roots go deep and won’t be easily uprooted. In addition, there’s a good deal of fear to contend with, because changing your defining story means letting go of who you thought you were, and that’s a frightening thing to do, even when you deeply want to make the change.

But, though difficult, it’s not impossible. Here are four possible ways a Defining Narrative may be changed. There may be other ways I’m not aware of, but here are the ones I’ve either experienced personally or seen work effectively with others:

1. Experiencing a new Inciting Incident, one that effectively overrides the old one and launches you into a new Story. As I said in the first post of this series, every Defining Narrative includes some common elements: An Inciting Incident, A Central Conflict, and a Controlling Idea. All three are important, but the Inciting Incident is what sets the adventure into motion. So one way to change the Defining Story of your life is to experience a new (and radically different) Inciting Incident, one that is at least as (if not more) intense than the first, and that redefines who you are by redefining the story you are living. This might be, for example, an intense spiritual conversion experience, a drastic injury or other form of tragedy, or some other significant and intense “shock” to your current reality.

For example, one of the reasons I think the book Eat, Pray, Love was such a hit was because Elizabeth Gilbert (the main character in the story) essentially went on a quest to experience a new Inciting Incident for her life (and thus, enter into a new and more authentic Story to live) by taking a year off and traveling the world alone.

This is also part of the beauty of Christian faith, because through a personal encounter with Jesus (a new Inciting Incident), we are invited to leave our old lives behind and step into a new and larger Story… i.e. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

2. Conducting a deep and thorough analysis of your life to uncover the current Story you are living, and then, with great care and patience, overwriting the old story with one that better reflects the actual truth of who you are. This can be deeply rewarding work, but it is also typically slow and difficult. In fact, many people do not succeed in a wholescale rewrite, and find themselves caught in a seemingly constant struggle between two competing Defining Narratives. Counselors, coaches, support groups, and other forms of specialized retreat work are often essential to success in this process.

3. Going thru a Story-changing ritual, or ritualized experience. A powerful enough ritual, if done appropriately in the presence of the right witnesses, can redefine the Defining Story of who you are.

4. Enduring a sustained, external social pressure that is particularly intense. In other words, brainwashing, or torture. Obviously, not recommended. 🙂

OK. So I’ve covered a lot of turf over these three posts (thanks for hanging with me, by the way). So what? What are the takeaways that can actually make a difference in your life? Here’s a few, though I welcome you to suggest others in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.

  • You have a Defining Narrative ~ a foundational story you tell yourself about who you are ~ and you need to know what it is, because it is the single most powerful force driving your choices every day.
  • Your Defining Narrative will either restrict or unleash you in life depending on how closely it aligns with the actual truth of who you are.
  • You can uncover your current Defining Narrative by asking yourself a few foundational questions.
  • In order to let go of a false Defining Narrative, you have to actively go after a better Story, one that is aligned with the deep truth of who you really are. This is a deeply rewarding path, but difficult, and will require all your courage and trust in God’s restorative grace.

“For you shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” ~ Jesus

Michael Warden

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7 responses to The Defining Story of Your Life (Part 3)

  1. Great series of posts.  I’m curious about number three (a story changing ritual).  I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by that.  Can you give me an example?

    • MichaelDWarden March 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      You bet. There are actually a number of great ritualized experiences even here in the States that can effectively shift someone’s defining narrative. A few that come to mind are the Women Revealed weekends ( or, for men, the Crucible Project ( Another great one for men is the Mankind Project (, or for men facing the second half of life, Richard Rohr’s retreat for men called Rites Of Passage ( All of these lean heavily on ritual as a tool for transformation and story change in participants’ lives.
      lead strong. live free.
      Michael Warden, CPCC
      Leadership Coach & Team Dynamics Expert

      Visit me online at


      • Thanks!

      • All we did was get intimidated by staff dressed in black, get blindfolded, had our wallets, keys and wedding rigns taken away, get yelled at, given no time to read our Bible, no Bible study whatsoever, answer questions from a carpet, and decide what animal best represents our spirit. Yeah, real release.  

        • Bert: I don’t know what weekend you attended. That was not my experience at all on The Crucible Project Weekend.

  2. MichaelDWarden March 23, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Kinda fun to note that Seth Godin ended up blogging on this same topic this week. Great thoughts from him on this subject too ~

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