Pen, paper, computer




"Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on a concept he calls “narrative identity.” McAdams describes narrative identity as an internalized story you create about yourself — your own personal myth. Like myths, our narrative identity contains heroes and villains that help us or hold us back, major events that determine the plot, challenges overcome and suffering we have endured. When we want people to understand us, we share our story or parts of it with them; when we want to know who another person is, we ask them to share part of their story.

An individual’s life story is not an exhaustive history of everything that has happened. Rather, we make what McAdams calls “narrative choices.” Our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events, good and bad because those are the experiences we need to make sense of and that shape us. But our interpretations may differ. For one person, for example, a childhood experience like learning how to swim by being thrown into the water by a parent might explain his sense of himself today as a hardy entrepreneur who learns by taking risks. For another, that experience might explain why he hates boats and does not trust authority figures. A third might leave the experience out of his story altogether, deeming it unimportant." (Esfahani Smith 2017)

Intention: In this task, we map out our personal narrative, to become more aware of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and to identify patterns in our story. Writing your narrative can help you understand how you, became you. Often though, we don't realize that we are the authors of this story, that this story can to some degree be influenced, edited and reinterpreted. Doing this work can strengthen your self-concept and bring forth a stronger sense of the meaning of the situation you are in right now. This is the intention of this exercise, to become a bit more aware of the kind of stories we tell, and to increase our ability to influence this story in a positive manner.



(20min) Find a large piece of paper, and then draw a straight line in the middle that represents time, from your birth to this moment. You can create your own periods, for example from 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-25. Then, map out the major events of your story, the challenges, suffering and positive. Your highs and lows in life. Mark them on the timeline, where the highs go further up above the line and the lows further down. After you have marked all major events, draw lines between all the events, thereby, creating a life-line of highs and lows. You choose what you would like to bring in and how you interpret them.


(15min) Reflect on the life-story you have made, and then try to look for patterns. Highs and lows can, of course, be important, but we shouldn't overlook the smaller stuff or underlying patterns. Guiding questions: What kind of patterns do you see on your own timeline? What underlying patterns are missing from this timeline?


(60min) Gather in your groups. Share your story, focusing on the patterns and insights you found. One person shares their story at a time while the rest of the group focuses on listening. It is important that no one interrupts the story. Save all questions and ask them after the story is told.






Esfahani Smith, Emily. 2017. “The Two Kinds of Stories We Tell about Ourselves.” Ideas.Ted.Com.

Mcadams, Dan, and Kate McLean. 2013. “Narrative Identity.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 22 (June): 233–38. doi:10.1177/0963721413475622.

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