MINOT--I’m not an expert at many things. A lover of learning, I tend to soak up information and skills, without ever committing them to lifelong practice. This comes in handy because I know a little bit about a lot of bits. If I need to know more, I can usually find someone who is more expert than myself.
Recently, however, I’ve been contemplating what my area of expertise is. After much thought, this is where I landed: I’m an expert at reshaping and reframing a narrative.
Let me explain.
Naturally, I’m pessimistic. Or maybe I should say, pessimism was my normal, natural response to life’s circumstances throughout most of my life. Like any good pessimist, I’ve never considered myself a pessimist. Instead, I insisted I was a “realist.” To me, optimism was foolish; a fantasy unlikely to come to fruition, ready to lead to disappointment. Deep inside, I wanted to believe the good, to be hopeful, but the negativity always won out. I thought if I assumed the worst, anything better would be a pleasant surprise.
After nearly 30 years of living with that mentality, I discovered the painful bits of life are just as painful—even if you tried to brace yourself for them. Disappointment still stings, even when you’ve convinced yourself it’s coming. Eventually, my unhealthy thought patterns and lack of emotional intelligence took a toll. I found myself facing devastating anxiety and depressive disorders.
I came to an ultimatum: find a way to fix what was going on in my thought life—or succumb to a life of sadness, maybe even suicide.
That was nearly seven years ago. Since then, I’ve worked really hard to shift my normal, natural pattern of thinking from assume-the-bad-negative, to honestly-positive. I’ve created a new “normal” in my mind. This way of thinking is just as realistic—if not more so—than my old “realist” habits.
I learned that something positive and hopeful can be just as honest as something negative—even when examining the same circumstance. I learned that each of us has the right and authority to shape the narrative of our days. We get to decide what we will believe about our day when we recount it to others, and when we crawl into bed at night.
I do many things, but this is my area of expertise. My ability to reshape instinctually-negative narratives into something truthful, and positive is something in which I’ve achieved expert-level status.
Since beginning to write “She’s Not from Around Here,” I’ve gotten many, many messages sharing appreciation for my pleasant perspective on a place that many see through an inherently unpleasant lens. This reminds me, in a world that is often dark and confusing, uplifting words spoken with honesty are a balm. We are all drawn to hope.
While I appreciate the gratitude and compliments, I don’t want to take too much credit. I think this is a knack we can all develop with a little practice. We all have the ability to control our story, even if we can’t control the windchill.
Heading into winter—perhaps the hardest time to call North Dakota home, especially if you aren’t from around here—is the perfect time to start honing your own ability to reshape a narrative. To get you started, I’ll reframe a couple common winterisms for you.
“North Dakota winters are miserable.”
Reframe it, and you’ve got something like, “Everyone knows insanely cold temperatures are uncomfortable, but our community works hard to provide fun, and often free things to do that only happen during the cold months.”
“Winters last forever up here.”
That becomes, “Winter is a hard season, but spring, summer, and fall in North Dakota are absolutely stunning.”
“My kids are going crazy from being cooped up inside.”
Rewrite that narrative and you’ve got, “My kids’ energy encourages us to get outside and play, or attend events even when it’s cold and I’d be tempted to stay home.”
You’ve got the power over the story you tell. With practice—whether you’ve lived here your whole life, or this will be your first winter—you can weave an honest narrative with a positive spin. Positivity won’t change the windchill, but it will help you get through the cold, dark months with your hope, and mind intact.
For more on positive living and an outsider’s life in Hot Dish Land, join me on Instagram (@amy_allender) and Facebook (@amyallenderblog).