How to make better LIFE decisions (in 2019): Living in a movie! (part II)

Reading time: Less than 7 minutes to complete

In this part of “Living in a Movie!” I’d like to explain more about how looking at your life through the lens of story can dramatically improve your experience of it. Then I’m going to address an important point of caution that you must know to save yourself from unnecessary pain.

If you haven’t yet, you can read “From Paralyzed to Energized - Living in a Movie Part I” here.

Are you ready? Let go!

The most useful thing about seeing your life as a story is that it gives you distance from your circumstances. What I’ve seen to be true is that people are often highly capable of offering fantastic advice to their friends but are unfortunately unable to come up with any of it for themselves. This has to do with their level of attachment to the situation.

If I’m in the driver’s seat of a car, and I’m flying on down the highway, I need to have most of my focus on navigating the road. My energy is caught up in my state of readiness, being prepared for anything unexpected that could pop up on the road, like a majestic Elk.

Photo by  Asa Rodger

Photo by Asa Rodger

Elks are beautiful, noble creatures. I love them.

Back to the analogy.

Ok, so you’re in this car. We were just talking about what it’s like when you’re the driver and you’ve got to be highly attentive. It’s a whole different experience, though, if you’re in the passenger's seat of the car. Here you are in a wonderfully free position of being present, and usually without any real demands on your focus. If the car trip is going to end in a crash, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You’ve got to trust the driver, and by doing so you’re free. Free to do things such as:

  • notice interesting street signs

  • read the lips of people arguing two cars over

  • write down every license plate number you see in a little notebook

(I used to do this last one as a kid. I have no idea why, but it kept me entertained for hours.)

This distance can also be practically useful. You get to be the one who changes the playlist, alters the voice of the Google map to a foreign language to annoy the driver, and then returns the voice of the Google map to English because this practical joke was actually getting you very lost.

You are afforded an excess of focus that you can direct anywhere you wish to. You've got distance from the task, so you can be observant.

Actually having the awareness to look at my life as if it is a story - not just for an isolated moment of passing insight, but as a habitual way of interpreting my reality - has given me the distance necessary to offer myself some great and profitable advice over the past few years.

When I stop following my own advice I usually find myself getting overwhelmed or becoming a lesser version of myself. Taking my own advice got me from New York City to Paris and from being an acting-school dropout to an acting-school graduate. It got me out of a painful relationship and into a healthy (and exciting!) one. It got me a ride on an Elk.* (see footnote)

The key is to actually take a moment to do this, so I’ll give you an experience of this, right now.

No email-sign-up-for-a-pdf that you will fill out later  never.

No five step system that you’ve ain’t got no time to memorize.

You don’t even need to get a sheet of paper and a pen (unless you want to)

You can do it in your head right now as you read.


Imagine that you’re an author and the character you’re writing about (which is you) isn’t you.

Got it?

The hero of this story is named ...

(your name)

They’re trying to figure out ...

(What is a situation that you’re currently unsure what to do in?)

What does this character truly desire …?

(Consider the thing or situation that you think would be ideal. What is the emotion that you would have if you acquired that thing or situation? If you’re currently trying to figure out your finances, you probably want the feeling of being secure. If you’re wondering whether to stay in your relationship or not, your desired feeling is likely empowerment or appreciation.)  

Who is the character’s ally ...?

(Who is one person in your life who makes you feel that desired feeling you just thought of? If there’s no person you can think of, what is something that brings you the feeling, to some degree? Maybe there is a book, or a movie, or a specific song that you have emotional associations with. Maybe it’s in a memory that you can draw up which has people or images tied to this feeling. Many times the ally that comes to our aid isn’t even present when they end up being most helpful. Like when Bruce Lee’s master’s voice reminds him of the truth he needs in a critical moment of battle**, or of course the moment when Luke Skywalker hears Obi Wan’s voice in his head and recalls the emotion of trust needed to be his most powerful self.*** What does this character need to be reminded about who they can truly be?)

Now, the most important step:

What is one action that this character can take following this insight …?

(There is something particular, possibly many things, in the way of this main character experiencing the emotion they desire to have more regularly. Taking even a small action to address this block within the character or their circumstances is making a decision that moves them in a positive direction. What conversation might this character need to have with another character? What must be confronted for the story to move on? What is something they are putting off that they can stop waiting to do?)


Doing this exercise should offer you anything from a slight-but-encouraging glimmer of clarity to a totally new perspective on the possibilities attainable through a new form of self-awareness. To take a moment to truly distance ourselves from ourselves gives us an opportunity to be innovative in the authorship of our personal choices.

Go ahead and see if you can use this kind of thinking to make a few good decisions to start off this new year. But...


Seeing your life as if it were a film is a useful frame for having clarity and making creative decisions in your life. But don’t use it as an excuse to be overly analytical, or to become more attached to your personal story. Having distance does not mean being disconnected, and developing self-awareness does not mean overthinking. We must turn our insights into actions, or else we have not evolved beyond the state of paralysis that I talked about in my last blog post “from Paralyzed to Energized”. Any new system for looking at our lives that has the power to give us more freedom also has the power to become just another prison of ideas, if we use it against ourselves. My script analysis teacher used to remind us often, “a character is defined by the actions we have them take.”

Not taking any action… is still an action!

I made the mistake of using my own story against myself when I became too attached to the idea that characters need difficult circumstances to grow and change. If I wasn’t suffering, I assumed I was treading water. I would search for or fabricate something to make my life more uncomfortable again. Life has enough discomfort to face up to and conquer as it is, we don’t have to impose artificial difficulty on ourselves. I learned, thankfully, that I didn’t always need to be in the beginning section of my story, always in the weakness, need, problem sections. I had to have a broader view, take in the bigger picture, and accept that winning battles, discovering new equilibriums, and experiencing positive self-revelations are also important parts of any story.

So, be brave, courageous, inventive and… write a great story!

Photo by  Diana Parkhouse

Enchantedly yours,

Will Swyers!


*This is not true. I have not taken a ride on an Elk… yet.

** Bruce Lee movie clip, from “Enter the Dragon“

*** “Star Wars“ movie clip

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