What is an Effective Life Story.....

An effective life story vividly portrays your very complicated life journey, your joys and pains and the life lessons you have learned along the way. Every life is a journey of moving towards new goals and changing relationships. Some life stories report losing something of value, and then gaining it again - showing a restoration to what was lost. Frequently life stories acknowledge “inciting incidents” that throw things out of balance. Sometimes these incidents in our life portray a deep emotional shattering and painful opposing forces. Life stories prove that life is not entirely random, it is not pointless. Even though life may be at times very confusing, painful and unfair, all of the activities in our life have importance and meaning.  These stories demonstrates life has purpose and higher values exist. Writing a life history allows deeper digging into yourself to clarify the lesson you learned (new “life truth”). An effective story shows the effects of implementing this change or learning the lesson that your life’s journey taught you. In short, an effective life story shows your struggles through life and the new truth you learned as a result. Because of this, it is also possible to write your life story in advance, so to speak, by planning the life events in your preferred future.

This booklet (now a website) was first written for my Writing Composition 316 Class at Brigham Young University in 1977.  My English teacher wrote on my paper “I would buy this book!” It gave me confidence that I was on track and had a timely contribution. It has evolved through the years, but remains essentially the same, with the same basic five components.

  1. I.Why to Write Your LifeStory

  2. II.Topics for Your LifeStory

  3. III.How Write Your LifeStory

  4. IV.Write Your LifeStory in Advance

  5. V.Discover the Positive Core of Your LifeStory


Since 1977 I have published over 75 Personal Life Stories, and assisted thousands of people get started in writing their Life Stories. This rich experience has taught me the value of documenting one’s life story. Here are a few of the choice benefits that I have seen come through writing Life Stories:

1. Wisdom From the Past. The most obvious benefits of such writing are to the future readers. Imagine if you now had in your possession a detailed Life Story of your grandparents or great grandparents. It would reveal so much more about who you are, and why you are and provide insights in thousands of subtle ways. “Life is a series of lessons to be learned” (Helen Keller) This being the case, what better way for your posterity to gain this wisdom of valuable lessons than by writing them down.  Recognize your story was given to you to serve and help others. By teaching your story to others they may avoid the problems you have made.

2. Emotional Release. Experts agree that “reviewing and assessing one's life also has emotional and physical benefits.” (Time Magazine Nov 11, 2002) "The act of writing your life stories in a journal or personal history can help a person deal with emotional pressures" says Janet Brigham.  Keeping your Life Story can have what psychologists call the “post-mortem effect”.  "After the emotion is gone from a difficult situation, a person can go back to the situation, read about it, see what happened, and see what might have been a better way to handle it." Janet writes. Writing is the most helpful way of identifying complex feelings, expressing these feelings, letting go of the pain caused by the feelings and then examining alternative solutions. Sounds pretty therapeutic doesn't it?

Writing to express personal emotions is like removing the lid off a pot of beef stew simmering on the stove. On the surface all one sees is a black pot. But inside it is full of all kinds of vegetables, spices, potatoes, and of course, the beef. Writing is a way for us to look inside the pot of our own lives and see what is simmering. We look inward and reflect.The simple act of personal introspection through the medium of writing can untie bundles of deep seeded emotional issues which have been unexpressed for long periods of time. Expressing these feelings is a cleansing and a releasing experience. It separates the problems from the person. A person going through the writing process can say "I am not my problems. My problems are on paper, and they are not who I am."

Anne Morrow Lindberg wife of aviator Charles Lindberg wrote in an entry in her Life Story on May 13, 1941 "tonight Charles comes back and I feel I must write down before I get involved in life again and what I have felt in these two weeks he has been away - what I have learned with the lid taken off me for a brief spell. For when he comes back and I care again passionately about the day to day events with newspapers, with life itself - then I shall no longer see clearly. That is the trouble with life - the essential conflict between seeing and being...between mortality, and eternity. The two pull in opposite directions, and one must try to harness them both" (Anne Morrow Lindberg, War within and Without; New York Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p.182)  Writing and expressing, can heal us. It can focus, support, and enhance our lives and well-being. Whether we laugh or we cry, whether through sorrow or joy, we can understand more about ourselves, and each other, through keeping a journal.

Over and over, gerontologists and therapists are discovering the wealth of benefits that come from telling one’s story, from lowering blood pressure to coming to terms with childhood trauma (this from a study by Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas), and having more joy in life (from the Thesis of Layne Dearden, BYU Idaho, 1977)

3. Mental Exercise & Focus. Few things can stimulate the mind and provide it the exercise it needs like writing. Any kind of writing is helpful, because it focuses the mind on one point at a time. It provides a clarity of thought. If you can explain a thing on paper you truly understand it. Abraham Lincoln considered one of the best "thinkers" of our time gave credit to his mind power to his thoughtful writing. He exercised his pen every day in letters, speeches and journals. He discovered the longer he focused on what he was trying to express,  the more succinct his message became. He once wrote to his Secretary of  War Gen. Statton "I'm sorry this letter is so long, I did not have enough time to make it shorter." This simple comment reflects the power of exercising the mind through the written word. Writing is not an exercise in word-smithing - rather it is the honest expression of ideas. It is mental exercise because the mind struggles in defining the feelings within. This kind of mental exercise provides a consistent, positive and growth oriented outlook towards life.It provides you with the opportunity to consider a larger perspective on life.

4. Seeing New Perspectives on Life. The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. I have never experienced anything that works better at giving you a new perspective on your life that in examining in your own words and language what is really going on inside your world. Once explained, it is understood at a new level and new perspectives result every time. In a 1976 study at Brigham Young University of  300 consistent journal keepers (at least once per week) compared to 300 non journal writers, the journal writers exhibited 28% higher in self esteem, 34% greater frequency in exercise and 31% less stress in their life.  Lane Dearden conducted this experiment and went on to do his Masters Thesis on the relationship between mental health and journal writing. His initial results were verified. This works for the life stories in your personal history / memoirs as well. These results come from seeing their life with new eyes.

5. Reduces Mediocrity. I have written Life Stories / Journal entries consistently every week since January 1971, In those 37 years I have written for different motives, have used different styles, and kept different notebooks. I have used pens, typewriters and word processors. One thing has remained constant,  I have found my journals and Life Stories to be a very suitable companion. It has seen and heard me open up the depths of my soul as I was courting my wife, the details of the births of our five children, the feelings I had when I received my college degrees, the feelings of starting my career, the struggles of deciding whether to move and take new job opportunities, the process I followed to start different businesses - and the feelings of pride and anxiety watching each of my children go through special events. It was also my solace in dealing with the depths of pain in the death of my oldest child and oldest grandchild. The 37 years of documenting my life story has given me the yearning to make my life more meaningful, to make it more than mediocre, to make a difference that I even matter. 

There was a period of time in 1975 however, when I dropped the journal writing habit. I started up again 7 weeks later with the following journal entry dated January 1, 1976: "for the last 7 weeks I have neglected to keep a journal out of sheer laziness. I have noticed two definite changes in my life resulting from that. First of all I have noticed I am extremely frustrated. I have lost my concept of what I am working or striving for. Because I do not put down into words what I want, I do not know what i am working towards. I don't know myself as well and I tend to think things don’t matter. The other bad habit I have acquired and attribute to lack of a journal is my contentment with mediocrity. I am happy to be average. When I kept a journal I created and made great experiences. I was creative. I thought creative and happy thoughts, now I go where life leads me. Typically, I when I had a journal I would think of what I could create to write a story worthy of note in my journal. Consequently, I behave differently to merit more exciting things to write about. I am more vibrant and alive when I seek to create great life stories.”.

6. Process Difficult Times. Writing our Life Story can also assist us in processing difficulties. Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankle stated “What is to give light must endure burning” That is a great philosophy for life. Every difficulty we endure and learn from can be of benefit to others. Like Nietsche stated “That which does not kill us strengthens us.” Once we are strengthened, we can strengthen others. When my 19 year old son died in August 1996 I was so emotionally paralyzed I was literally lifeless for the first few months. It wasn’t until two months later that I was even able to have enough composure to do any writing about his death. I spent the next two full days of typing all of my unexpressed thoughts down. It was one explosion of words and phrases after another. I felt alive. I was able to see how my sons Life Story tied in with my Life Story. Writing helped me identify and process my deep guilt, fear, resentment and other assorted feelings. But at least after my Life Story entry I was able to detach myself from these feelings and realize that I am not them. After September 11, 2001 I wrote about the pain, my personal loss and our collective loss as a society. I examined how this act of terrorism impacted me, my family, my community and the world. Writing will get us through the grieving process, and assist us in handling the difficult times better than anything else.

7. Turn Your Unique Story Into A Legacy

There is one way to explain the popularity of bizarre television shows like Survivor, Fear Factor, etc. These shows help us satisfy our emptiness from not having our own Life Story. Not having our own story makes us fill the void by living through others for a sense of meaning. People are curious about the meaning in their life and seek to make a difference for others. Stories provide the evidence we matter and can have lasting impact. Everyone has a story. Your experiences, your feelings, ideas, thoughts, and dreams all combine to form your unique life journey, which is your story. A sure way to keep the memory alive of all those things that have happened in your Life Story is to write it down. To be a person is to have a story to tell. (Isak Dinesen). Your Life Story has shaped how you see yourself, your behaviors and the results you get in your life. It has shaped your world and your place in it. Stories link the past, present and future in a way that tells us where we have been before we were born, where we are, and where we could be going.Every man knowns perfectly well that he is a unique human being, only on this earth once, and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time. (Friedrich Nietsche).  Wrote author Sarah Stich:  “It's a human need to want to leave something behind: experiences, values, feelings that may not have been fully expressed. We all want a legacy. A concrete legacy is only one of the benefits of creating a your “Life Story”.


Genealogists and family historians spend countless hours searching for certificates, censuses, photographs, or anything that contains the tiniest bit of information about their ancestors. They want to learn more about the people they are related to. They fill out pedigree charts and family group records, and meet with distant cousins over the internet. All of this is done with a longing to know more of their roots. One thing is for certain, each genealogist wishes that their ancestors had left behind their Life Story. Why is the story so important. Simple. The stories of our ancestors are inseparably connected to our own stories. We , in many ways are just the sequel of those that have gone on before us Listed below is a brief 200 question outline which will help you walk through your life. The list is only a starting point, add details to each item on the list as you write. It may be helpful to visit the places you were at when you lived those chapters. Try to write at least one Life Story a week.

Consider each of these as topics for a Life Story. Pick the ones that by answering them will be of most valuable to your readers. Follow the rules found in “How to Write Your Life Story” below in the following session to help your readers visualize the following events for each topic. Then link them all together through a narrative into one comprehensive Life Story.

Your Ancestors

1.What do you know about your ancestors on your family pedigree?

2.How did your grandparents influence you?

3.What is a brief LifeStory of each of your ancestors?

4.Where did they live? What were conditions like then?

5.How did your ancestors overcome obstacles?

6.What lessons were passed on to you by grandparents?

Your Parents

         1.      What were their personalities like? What made them unique?

         2.      What talents and skills did they possess?

         3.      What roles did they have in the family?

         4.      What family traditions did they teach you?

         5.      What were their physical characteristics?

         6.      What historical information about their lives is important?

         7.      Who were their brothers and sisters (your aunts and uncles)?

         8.      What tidbits do you know about your grandparents lives?

         9.      What is your mom’s story? Your dad’s story?

        10.     What were the rules of the house?

         11.    What is the essence of your family?

12.How has your opinion of your parents changed through the year?

13. What were the three greatest positive traits of your father? Your mother?

14.How did the negative corollary of these 3 positive traits impact you?

Your Birth

         1.      What were the conditions surrounding your birth?

         2.      When and where were you born?

         3.      What was your birth order in the family?

Your Childhood

1. What was your general health? Any accidents?

2. What trips or family vacations did you take? Did you see relatives?

3. What was your relationship to your brothers and sisters?

4. What grade schools did you attend?

5.How did you get to school?

6.What subjects did you like?

7.What did you like about some of your favorite teachers?

8.What were some interesting school projects you had?

9.Who influenced you most in grade school?

10.What were your chores in the home?

11.What sports or games did you like to play as a youngster?

12. Did you have pets in your home? What were they like?

13.What hobbies did you have?

14.How did you get along with brothers and sisters (sibling rivalry)?

15. What were your career aspirations when you were younger?

16.How did you spend leisure time?

17.What were the favorite types of music you listened to?

18. What religious or spiritual values were taught in your home? How?

19.       Favorite activities? Games played & etc. (Kool Aid stands, collections)

Your Family Growing Up

1.What were some of the most memorable fun times as a family?

2.What were some of the family's projects?

3.What were some of the moves the family made? Why?

4.What kind of financial conditions did you have growing up?

5.How was information exchanged? (dinner tables, family meetings etc.)

6.What was the approach your parents used to get you to do tasks?

7.How were you disciplined?

8.         Did you ever go to extended family reunions?

9.         What were vacations like? Where did you go? What was memorable?

10.        How did you celebrate Christmas? Passover? Thanksgiving? Other Holidays?

11.        How did illness impact your family?

12.        What impact did seasons have on where your family lived?

13.        What kind of family cars did you have?

14.        Describe what mealtime was like in our home?

15.        What are your recollections about dinner table?

16.        What types of meals did the family enjoy?

17.        What were the special treats that brought the family together?

18.        What scenes in your home are most memorable to you?

19.        What stories do you tell others about your family?

   20.      What did you learn from life at the family dinner table?

Your Family Relatives

    1.      Identify aunts, uncles, cousins that played a role in your life? How did they influence you?

    2.    What are the unique Life Stories of these people?

    3.    What about black sheep of the family? Any crazy uncles?

             4.       Why are these people so memorable to you and to your readers?

Your Teachers, Coaches & Mentors

         1.      Who were you most significant mentors growing up? What did they teach you?

         2.      What favorite radio / TV / movie characters could you relate to?

         3.      Who were your best friends? What values did you learn from them?

         4,      Who saw talents in you that even yourself did not see?

Your House & Cars

1.     What did it look like? (Draw a floor plan)

2.    What type of furniture, appliances, and entertainment places?

3.    What were your chores around the house?

4.    Describe the key rooms in your house. Your room?

5.    What major purchases were there?

6.    What types of cars did you have? What stories do you have about them?

Your Hometown

1. What was unique about your hometown?

2. What is relevant about the history, population, terrain and transportation methods?

3. What is your neighborhood like? (Include a map)

4. What about  businesses / commerce, houses, landscapes, seascapes?

5. How did your hometown influence your activities, clothing styles you wore, and your values?

5. What type of entertainment is there?

6. Why did your parents move here?

7. Where did you hang out? (give names of parks, theaters, malls, etc)

High School Years

1.What courses did you take? How did you do? Favorite classes?

2.What activities or clubs did you join?

3.What were the most important things you learned?

            4.         Who were your friends? What things did you do together?

            5.         Why were you in this clique?

6. What was your social life like in high school?

7.         What were popular summer or winter activities during this time?

8.         Any nicknames in High School?

9.         What positive / negative influences existed in your school? Impact on you?

10.       What were your favorite TV shows or movies?

11.        What was the first record or CD that you bought?

12.        How did you dress? What were popular styles?

13.        What was it like growing up here?

   14.      What were the most important lessons you learned in High School?

   15.      What summer jobs did you have?

Spiritual Training

1. What religious training did you have?

2.What was church like for you?

3.What religious or spiritual experiences did you have?

4.What are the most important things you value? (Your family, faith or freedom, etc)

5.How do you gain strength in the face of trials? What were some of the greatest trials you had? How did it strengthen your values?

6.What is your source for discovering meaning of suffering? Meaning of life?

7.         What faith promoting experiences did you have?

8.         What did your parents teach you about God?

9.         What most impacted your religious beliefs?

10.        What is your relationship with nature?

11.        What are some lasting impressions spent in special places for you?

   12.       What were key turning points in your life? Why did they have such profound affect?

College / Missionary Work / Military / Technical Skills Training

1.What was your motivation for enrolling in your choice?

2.Where did you go? Why there?

3.How was it financed?

4.Who were your roommates, close friends?

5.What were your major subjects studied?

6.What degrees or honors did you have?

7.What unusual learning experiences did you have?

8.What discouragements did you have?

9.What cultural differences did experience in a  new area?

10.What was your means of transportation?

            11.      What positions of leadership did you have?

12.Who were your favorite professors? Why?

   13.     What regrets do you have about college? What would you do differently?

World Events

1.     What prominent historical events occurred in your lifetime? (Pearl Harbor, Kennedy Shot, 9-11, etc)

2.     How did these events impact you? How did you feel about them?

3.    What emotions do you have towards war? Towards social injustice? How did these impact you?

Your Married Life

1.How did you first meet your spouse?

2.What was your first impression of each other?

3.What kinds of dates did you have? Special ones?

4.What feelings did you have for each other? Reasons for marriage?

5.What were some romantic times and places you shared?

6.How was the marriage proposal given?

7.When were you married? Where? By whom?

8.Where did you go for your honeymoon?

9.What marital adjustments did either one of you make?

10.       Where did you settle down?

11.       What role did romance have on your relationship?

   12.     How did you get along with your in-laws?

   13.      How did being raised by your parents influence how you parented?

Professional Vocation

1.        What were the careers of you and your spouse? How selected?

2.What promotions and advancements were made?

3.What were job duties, successes and failures?

4.What was the effect of your job on your personal values?

5.What outside business ventures did you have?

            6.        What changes occurred in the industries you worked in?

            7.        What job transfers did you or your spouse have?

            8.        How did you serve others in your work?

            9.        To what extent was your “worship” (sense of your call from above) aligned with your work?

            10.       Why did you choose subsequent careers? (if any)

            11.       How has your career / job  impacted by technology over the years?

            12.       What happened when you were laid off from your job?

Family Life as a Parent

1.What were some of the most memorable fun times you had as a parent?

2.What were some of your family's projects?

3.What were some of the moves your family made? Why?

4.What kind of financial conditions did you have when your children were growing up?

5.How was information exchanged? (dinner tables, family meetings etc.)

6.What were your children's interests?

7.What were family responsibilities?

8.         What family traditions did you have for Christmas? Other holidays?

9.What was your relationship like with each of your children?

10.     What sacrifices did you make for your children?

11.     What conflicts occurred in your family?

12.     What hobbies did you have as you got older?

13.     What family rules did you create for your children?

14.     How were home improvements made?

Church / Community Involvement  / Contribution  / Service

1.What church leadership positions did you have?

2.What feelings of contribution did you have in service?

3.What relationships did you enjoy most in service?

4.Civic and political organizations you were involved with?

5.Which church(es)  did you attend? Why there?

6.         What other type of service did you render?

7.         What charitable organizations do you donate cash and time to?

   8.     What special awards did you receive?

Life Adversity & Conflict

1. What personal weaknesses did you struggle with?

2.What did you worry about?

3.What difficulties did you have with relationships?

4.What family tensions existed?

5.What were some tests on your personal or family values?

6.When were you ever in danger?

7. What emergency medical situations arose in your family or in your life?

8.What kinds of financial problems did you have?

9.What major illnesses, operations or accidents occurred?

Your Body

          1.        What have you disliked about your body?

          2.        What do you appreciate about your body?

          3.        How have you cared for your body?

          4.        How has your body impacted your life?

          5.        What operations have you had? Other hospital stays?

          6.        Any self-defeating behaviors or negative addictive spirals?

Your Country and International Travel

        1.        What do you most appreciate about the country you were born / raised in?

        2.        What would you like to change about your country?

        3.        What do you think your countries values are?

        4.        How has your life been impacted by these values of your country?

        5.        Why did you travel to other countries?

        6.        What did you most appreciate about international travel?

        7.        What did you miss most about your homeland while gone?

        8.        What feelings did you experience in the culture?

        9.        What were highlights of your trip? Lasting impact?

Favorite Leaders & Celebrities

        1.        Who have been your favorite leaders in politics, in community, sports, entertainers?

        2.        Which of these or any other famous people have you had the chance to meet or visit with?

        2.        If you could meet anybody who ever lived, who would you meet and what would you ask?


        1.        How did you prepare for college funds, vacations, retirement?

        2.        How were your household finances operated?

        3.What lessons did you learn about money management to pass on to others?

Fun & Entertainment

        1.        What things did you do for fun?

        2.        What activities relieve stress for you?

        3.        What toys did you enjoy as an adult?

        4.        What are you favorite leisure activities as an adult?

        5.What were your favorite vacations? What made them memorable?

        6. What were your favorite movies, TV shows, Plays, Musicals, Books?

Your Grandchildren

1.What one story can you relate about each grandchild that characterizes them?

2.How did being a grandparent enrich your life?

3.What did you do to inspire, and develop your grandchildren?

4.What life lessons did you pass on to your grandchildren?

5. What lessons did you learn from your grandchildren?

Healing the World

        1.        Who do you feel most drawn to contribute to?

        2.        What environmental concerns do you have? What have you done about this?

        3.        What passions have arisen out of your suffering or tragedies?

        4.        What have been your greatest troubles in life?

        5.        What event most shattered your world?

        6.        What is the rose that you are in the process of becoming? What are your thorns?

        7.        What wrongs do you dream of righting?

        8.        What social injustices would you wish you could cure?

Your Emotional World

        1.        When have you felt betrayed/ Trusted?

        2.        Powerless? powerful?

        3.        Overwhelmed? Completely together?

        4.        Lonely? Loved?

        5.        Rejected? Accepted?

        6.        Joyful? Depressed?

        7.        Whole? Fractured?

        8.        Hopeful? Discouraged?

        9.        Peaceful? Anxious?

Your Beliefs & Philosophy

         1.      What are your thoughts surrounding God? Service / Human Rights? Nature?

  1.     2.      What do you believe now that your parents did not teach you?

  2.     3.      What did your parents teach you that you no longer believe?

  3.     4.      How do you examine your personal beliefs?

  4.     5.      What quotes, scriptures, poems, verses give you the best handle on your life philosophy?

Life's Reflections

        1.What were life's major decisions for you?

        2.What gave you the most joy and inner happiness?

        3.        What contact did you have with prominent people?

        4.        What was your retirement like?

        5.What advice do you have for your posterity in spiritual things?

        6.        What advice do your have for your posterity in things related to work?

        7.        What life lessons do you want to pass on?

        8.        What impact did goal setting have on your accomplishments?

        9.        How have you learned from your mistakes?

        10. As you look at your entire LifeStory as a journey, what has the journey been about?

        11. What were the high points and the low points of your life?

Evaluative Questions To Consider Each Week for New Life Stories

Your Life Story can explain how you resolved your past issues and what lessons you learned in life. This section will assist you in continuing on your journey of Life Stories with some of the most important evaluative questions to review weekly. You can show and tell how you have grown from what life has taught you.  Listening to your voice within can assist you to determine what your soul needs? As you reflect on each question below, see which one speaks for you now? What are you feeling, and what do you need to express? Listening to your self in this manner, and making an appropriate choice of what topic to address will help on your life journey. These questions are designed to be asked each week or so providing an answer to the one that aches to be told first.

  1. What happened this week in which I saw evidences of direction from unseen spiritual sources?

  2. What lessons did I learn this week?

  3. Where am I on life’s journey right now?

  4. Who am I? Where am I going? Who do I want to be?

  5. How do I feel about my time usage this past week?

  6. How am I living my values and priorities?

  7. What are my greatest opportunities and trials at the present? Where are my greatest tensions right now?

  8. What possibilities do you envision for your life?  Am I willing to pay the price to achieve them?

  9. What unfulfilled expectations do I have in my life, my marriage, my family, my career?

  10. What are my major accomplishments of the week?

  11. How did I magnified the stewardships I have been given (family, professional, community etc) this week?

  12. As I reflect on my relationship with ______________ I feel _______________.

  13. What are the blessings I am most grateful for right now? (count your many blessings)

  14. What one hope, dream, desire, do you have to improve society ?

  15. What do I need to do to BE this change right now?

  16. When I daydream about doing great things in my life I think about  ______ .

  17. This leads me to feel _________.


Writing your Life Story can be one of the most mentally stimulating and therapeutic experiences of your life. It requires openness to being influenced to reflect the accuracies in your truth. Once you have started writing Life Stories as a system of discipline, you may want to get caught up on the rest of your life. Here are some ideas.

Get Started: Get a Box. Perhaps the hardest part of creating a personal history or LifeStory is getting started. The old letters and childhood pictures and other memorabilia you have saved through the years are your personal life history in embryo. You just need to develop it. Begin now by collecting memorabilia—items you have kept, or your parents or other family members or friends have kept—relating to you, things you have done or with which you have been involved. Dust off the faded shoeboxes full of old photographs, certificates, and memories, and get ready to "go back in time."  Get a big waterproof box with a lid. Place it in an area that is convenient for you to work in and where you will see it often. Everything concerning your life will go here.  First, place folders labeled with the chapter categories suggested below, or other categories that you think work for you. The folders will help you divide your life into those categories and time periods. These folders will serve as the skeleton of information with which you will write your history. In parenthesis after each category, write in the relevant dates that apply in your life (for example, Childhood (1930-1941).

Digitize the Materials in Your Box I recommend scanning each photograph and making a digital picture of each of the objects in the box. The advantage of digitizing your history is obvious, making an electronic digitized file (like a pdf or html) can be emailed and distributed to thousands of people, instead of having one physical copy for one person. Going digital makes everything better. Be sure to digitize: Birth and marriage certificates; blessing or christening documents; photographs of you, your parents and family; love letters from your spouse; a handwriting sample; genealogy forms;  graduation announcements; newspaper articles of important events; calendars; day planners; financial statements; passports; and journals. Place items you locate into the appropriate folders, and label them. Use the same file names for your digital archive. Create your digital archive using a color scanner or digital camera, saving each file as a .jpg or .pdf file. In addition to organizing your memorabilia for writing a personal history, you have started the process of becoming a librarian of your own life by making and using a personal archive.

Make Writing the Story Routine. Establish a regular routine to work on your Life Story. For example, mark time on your daily planner that every Sunday morning from 7:00 am to 9:00 am. Most of your success will be just in showing up for your scheduled appointment with yourself. They say that if you do something for 21 days, it becomes habit. Therefore, in theory, if you write a little Life Story each weeks for a month, it will become a compulsion.  

Keep the Story Simple. Ask what really happened? Get to the point. Narrate your story to make it concise. Show the big picture. List it as a chronology. Take a helicopter view or get a close up shot of the scene? Make it easy to follow using the 5W’s 1H (who, what, where, why, when and how) “Clear the Clutter” of your life story. KISS. Shorten it whenever possible. Write the first draft of your Life Story down on paper quickly. Then clean it up. Edit later when you focus on polishing it up. Just get the story down first.

One Prolonged Moment. This means to examine 5W’s (who, what, where, why, when) and 1 H (how), about one instance in time. Try writing about the exact instance of one moment in time that impacted you. Explain it descriptively in great detail using all 5 senses as if you were there completely reliving that moment in time again. making this one moment prolonged, and full of detail and emotion can connect to the audiences heartstrings. Get quotes from others. Where is the hope? Where is the pain? Add rich human dynamics. What is the emotional plot? What is humorous? What was learned? What emotions were evident? What issue is still not expressed? “The King died and then the queen died” is a historical account. It answers the question “what”? When we write “the king died, and the queen died of grief” is a Life Story.  It answers the question “why”? As you write a Life Story explaining a significant life-changing event describe the entire event using dialogue between all of the people involved.

Relive honest emotions and feelings. Get back into the time when you actually lived the events. Think about how you felt. Think about what the event taught you. Then just write your feelings. Be sure not to write what would embarrass you in from of others.   Do not overlook your imperfections in writing. Keep it honest. Recording flaws and mistakes make your Life Story more real and more believable. Your writing should record the way you face up to your challenges. Your experiences, when carefully recorded will be interesting to your posterity. Experiences of work, relations with people, and an awareness of the rightness and wrongness of actions will always be relevant. Writing your Life Story when continued as a process every week will tell of problems as old as the world and how you dealt with them. Says prominent “Life Story” author Spencer W. Kimball; “Your Life Story should contain your true self rather than a picture of you when you are "made up" for a public performance. There is a temptation to paint one's virtues in rich color and whitewash the vices, but there is also the opposite pitfall of accentuating the negative. The truth should be told or all the worlds we live in, in all our roles should be told.” When writing about others, remember you are the custodian of the reputation of the person you write about. Treat that sacredly.

Direct your writing to a specific audience. Perhaps your grandchild or children. Document what you think they would find interesting, don't merely write or record what is of interest to you.

Relax. Find a place that wont distract you from thinking. Some people need music playing to get in the mood, some people need silence, some people need constant explosions. Again, the point is to sink into a habit of writing that doesn't feel like homework, but like an escape.

Be careful when using My Space.com or facebook.com One of the interesting modern methods of keeping a journal is through websites and blog sites like MySpace. These can be terrific ways to keep your thoughts in order or simply write about your thoughts and feelings. They can be a bit more intimidating than a simple blank book and need to be used with a little more caution. You may not want people to read all the intimate details of your life, for privacy or security reasons. A personal journal does not get offended with you if you’re angry with a friend, but the friend who reads your blog about this anger very well might. Therefore, exercise caution and cultivate more careful writing in your blog entries.

Define Your Cast. Your Life Story is also about  your co-stars - the cast of players in your life (parents, family, teachers, mentors, bosses, enemies, etc) How did your cast influence you? How was your character and personality shaped by these key people? Write a “Life Story” about a person that you feel intrigued, or positively impressed with. Write a “Life Story” featuring an incident about this person. Instead of writing “Curtis is very optimistic”, Instead show an incident that reveals his optimism to the reader. Discover the underlying theme of the person you are writing about, then define the many examples of that theme. Your Life Story is defined by the characters in your story - define your characters. Describe what makes people unique. Show what they look like, mannerisms, show how they felt (hate, love, envy, greed, fear. joy, rage, jealousy, etc). Describe vulnerabilities. Another technique is to write the dominant theme of the person. For example, my mother’s dominant Life Story theme is selfless service. So I wrote about the 54 people from cousins, nieces, nephews, and the sick  that she adopted to temporarily live in her house.

Go Back in Time. Go back to the places you hung-out in your childhood and connect to your roots - this will stimulate your writing. Weave your story into the sinews of your soul, and ever fiber of your being. Let it “stir you”. Admit the pain, loss and heartache of the stories of the past. Take responsibility for your old stories. Build passion for the inherent successes in your story, and the contribution you can can make with it. Readers have to understand our world if they are to understand us. They must know our life context. Our community (diversity, ethnic , social, economic, religious, climate, geography); our Family (siblings, impact); our trends (fashions, music, events); our personality (Health, mannerisms etc).  What it means to be a housewife in the days of 1930 is completely different than it is today. Define what a housewife is in the context of the era being lived.  So we answer the question how is my experience different from what other people are experiencing? How did my experiences impact me then?

Practice Show & Tell. The goal of effective writing is to show (demonstrate, illustrate, exhibit, dramatize) , don’t tell (explain, state, inform, summarize, narrate). Think of an event in your life that gave you great fear. Describe the behaviors you exhibited. How did it feel? What was the impact of this event on you? Others? How did other’s behavior impact you. Especially the people in your cast of characters at the time. Describe the Behavior and the Impact  from the characters in your Life Story. Behavior is something that you can tape record, take a photo of or make a video of. For example the statement “My father was smart” does not describe a behavior. Smart means different things to different people. You cant take a picture of someone being “smart”. But the more specific statement: “My father woke up at 5 am each morning to read his psychology books and magazines in his office.”. This describes a behavior. You can see a picture of it in your mind.  Another example: “My dad was a conservative dresser” is made better by defining the behavior more specifically with “My dad never owned a pair of blue jeans in his life. He wore a proper fitting shirt with a collar and matching slacks even when mowing the lawn.” Describing behavior can only be told using the specifics of the 5W’s 1H. Also remember to focus on using all five senses in describing this behavior.  If it doesn’t do this, it is not specific enough. To identify the impact of the behavior focus on how it influences the cast members of your story. This provides the evidence that readers need to verify your facts.

Write in Scenes. Write according to scenes. Capture a Life Story in a scene, and make all the scenes you need to tell your complete Life Story. Dramatize these scenes, with specific language, and dialogue when ever possible. Writes scenes in your personal histories. All movies, books, plays have a scene setting. Put them in a specific setting and explain in great detail. Life stories are a series of stories connected by a narrative. Write the scenes first then connect to the story. Make sure you use dialog in every story. Do it as best as you can accurately describe. This gives life.

Truth vs. Perception. Remember there is no absolute truth in writing a history. It is impossible. Errors creep in during perception (we only perceive small parts of the reality), we store all data differently in our brains, and when we retrieve information we use different data based upon our audience. So just do the best you can. This means your Life Story can be just as true if you write it in 1971 when it happens or 37 years later in 2008 when you see what remains and what has lasting impact. Reflect in solitude on the patterns in your story. Recognize “life is a series of lessons to be learned” and “you will keep having the same problems until you learn the lesson that life is trying to teach you.” (Helen Keller) Name your story, write it down, and recognize it is not you. You are more than your current story. Be honest with yourself in doing this.

Recreate Your World. Get Rid of the Excuses for Not Writing. The project is too massive, don’t know where to begin, I hate writing, I don’t remember much of my life, What I write sounds too boring, Nobody will be interested in reading this, We don’t remember.


For 37 years now, writing has become my personal and spiritual solace. My heartfelt and most important advice I give people to get this habit started in their life is simple, every Sunday for the rest of your life, take one hour and do the following:

1) Write at least one Life Story per week. Write about a topic from the topic list in this guide once a week, also following the tips in the writing guide.

2) Plan Your Life Story in Advance. In order to live your life fully it is very helpful to plan it in advance. The best way to create what you want to write about is to plan for it. Plan what you want for your future then do it, and then write about it. Realize that you are going to make your life worth writing about. Look forward to filling the pages of your Life Story as you live your life. If you do not enjoy what you have to write about, then go for a make-over! Change your life around so you do have something worth writing about.

In my 20 years of teaching workshops I have gone to over 40 countries teaching people in the corporate setting. My most popular workshop is “Leading Your Life” - a 2-day workshop on how to lead a life of success and satisfaction. All education consists of learning about ourselves. We study medicine to learn how to keep ourselves well physically. We study philosophy, psychology and psychiatry to learn how to keep ourselves well mentally. Agriculture is how we feed ourselves. Sociology is how we live together in agreeably. Law is how we keep our lives orderly. We have religion to learn how to develop ourselves spiritually. But what is the role of genealogy? Writing Life Stories (genealogy) can help us learn from the relationships in our past - those ancestors who kept their Life Story a secret buried treasure, and have left us to research it and translate their life lessons.

Why this workshop is so popular is simple. The most valuable commodity in the world is life. That is that primal human element in which all of us have our being. The most important characteristic of our being is that we are capable of tremendous growth - of becoming more. That is, life can be upgraded in quality; it can be increased in intensity; it can be energized in greater passion; it can be enhanced in productivity; and it can be made to produce a greater return to us in life. liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I have such zeal in teaching this workshop, because it is a thrill to be engaged in human development. Assisting others in documenting their own life is, in my opinion, the greatest occupation, the most exciting avocation, and the most profitable activity I have ever done. It is so meaningful because it is not about the words, it  is in the effective care, development, and improvement of one's own life. Life can be made tremendously better if it is nourished, motivated, vitalized, polished, and beautified. It can also be lifted up above the ordinary as it is given a greater purpose and higher goals. Writing your Life Story can produce the inspiration and the motivation necessary to help you and others reach any accomplishment.

Define Your Eternal Intentions. My deeply held belief is that our Creator gave each of us some good ideas for planning our lives while he was carrying out his plan of creating the earth. To begin with, he had a great purpose in mind for the entire planet with a plan that would employ every living person.  Each person’s Life Story, contributes to His story. This Creator knows our needs, our character, and our possible potential. Because we assume the Creator to be an all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, he is able to know the end from the beginning. Because he loves us, he seeks everyone to reach that potential destiny, so we can have the same eternal happiness and the fulfillment he has. The Shinto faith teaches that God’s most important role is creator. Had he not done this role nothing else would have happened. Therefore, man becomes most godlike when he is also being creative. This concept of creation is nowhere more beneficial than when it comes to creating our own lives and our own Life Story.

Many times the Creator has turned the calendar forward to the earth's winding-up scene and the time when all men will stand before God in the final judgment. John the Revelator said: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev. 20:12) Similar scriptures are found in Judaism, Buddhism, Shinto, Hindu and Islam. Life stories fill a significant role in all organized religion. Scriptures, in a sense, are the Life Stories of our religious leaders.

What a tremendous advantage it is to be able to read the history of our earth in advance and to be given a preferred future and a guaranteed success program for this life so that we may clearly foresee our own future destiny. We can be motivated to greater excellence in our everyday behavior by the knowledge of our own Life Story and by a strong certain faith in our brilliant futuristic Life Story.  This Life Story in advance can act as a powerful magnet drawing us to it.

Someone has said that no plan is a plan until it is on paper. You would not want to hire an architect for an important building job who carried all of his plans in his head, for then many of the important details would be lost. Likewise, when a plan for your Life Story is not written down, it may easily be forgotten. When one writes a plan down, he is much more likely to think it through, make it as definite as possible, and thus increase the possibility that he will carefully follow it. Creating our future Life Story in advance is a skill that fits hand in glove with writing your accomplishment in a Life Story when it is complete.

Write Your Life-Long Intentions. When I was 20 years old I was living in Australia working with people, teams, and their organizations towards continuous improvement. My supervising leader was John Covey, who was on a sabbatical from his professorship in teaching “Organization Behavior” and “Leadership Effectiveness” at Brigham Young University. He inspired me with his ability to motivate me, and to do something purposeful with my life.  At that time I made some important decisions about my own future. One of them was that I wanted to be a teach people about leading their life. I then put down on paper a schedule of proposed accomplishments to make this occur. I knew the year that I would finish college and graduate school. I envisioned a career where I would teach corporate world about self-development and team-development.  I knew the price that I would need to pay for this accomplishment. I even planned my travels which I predicted would span the globe. I put down on paper what I would do when my retirement time would arrive. I developed a definite focus and a powerful drive for the desired accomplishment. I also gave thought for what my roles would be in social, spiritual, and family. I still have this list and carry it with me in my daily planner, every day. I created my Life Story in 1977 for the many years that have followed.  I find it interesting that by scheduling my life in advance, it is easier to believe in it and then to materialize it. Certainly if one has a pre-defined track to run on, it is also easier for him or her to make improvements along the way. I believe that the most significant common ground of all religion is to teach people how to make the best and the most of our own lives - to make our life and its accompanying Life Story reflect the highest most noble part of who we are. Only when we live according to the highest purpose within us, can we contribute to the highest for our planet. As simplistic as it sounds, the act of writing your Life Story in advance is perhaps the greatest predictor of this success.

Define Your Weekly Intentions. Each week when I evaluate the activities and direction of my life I ask the question “What Does Life Expect of Me. I have found some of the greatest success I have had getting people to start this habit of “planning their Life Story” in advance is by asking that simple but profound question: “What does life expect of me?” I have found it especially helpful when examining these expectations from all the various roles in our life. In the space below identify key things your inner voice enlightens you to do. What does life expect of me in this role?

  1. Family:

  2. Friends:

  3. Faith / Higher Values:

  4. Freedom:

  5. Fun:

  6. Finances:

  7. Fitness:

  8. Employment:

Daily Intentions. Gandhi used to keep a daily journal on a double page. Before the beginning of the day, he recorded on the left-hand page his objectives and intentions for that day, and at the end of the day he recorded on the right-hand page what the actual accomplishments and activities were and where improvements could be made for the future. I believe that the discipline of writing is central, I do not believe the daily discipline is required. Once a week is certainly sufficient. Write your Life Story, not at the end of your life, but as you go along, making notes along the journey, as to whether or not you are on schedule. In some ways, an advance LifeStory might be compared to a financial budget. To some people a budget is merely a record of where their money goes. However, a wiser person uses a budget to tell his money where it is to go. Every good program for life has long and short-range objectives, both to help give your life its direction and to motivate its achievement. With a good Life Story you can keep your life on its intended course.

Sometime the great historian of the universe may write up the completed history of our earth, and it will point out where all of our individual and group successes and failures have taken place. Many scriptures in various world religions indicate that God also keeps a biographical account of each of our lives, which the scriptures call our “Book of Life”. This is the book out of which our lives will be judged. By the time this book has been opened, all of our opportunities will have passed, and we will then be governed only by the consequences of what fills the pages of our “Life Story”, but if we keep our own weekly version of God's book of life, woven into our “Life Story” we may choose our consequences as we go along.


In this section you will need a partner to assist you. Completing these activities will assist you in discovering, highlighting and valuing the forces and factors that give meaning to your Life Story and your partners. The goal of using this section is to assist you in seeing the theme in your Life Story. Most people don’t know how to read their life in such a way to reveal their story. As a result they miss the deeper meaning in their life. People frequently think their life is authored by others. Some believe it is through nature (environment) others believe in nurture (parental upbringing) – unaware they are the authors. Frequently these people feel victimized, like everything is “acting upon them” without them acting upon things. Here are some instructions and guidelines on how to get started to defining the positive core (or theme) of your Life Story:

1. Select an interview partner  (preferably someone you don’t know well) 

2. Interview your partner using the interview guide below.  Take about 20 minutes to interview your partner.

3. Encourage your partner to tell his/her story.  Look for the “plot”. Take notes and be listening for great quotes and stories.  Interview them with a childlike curiosity, and listen as if you had to retell the story yourself.

4. Here are some possible questions to probe further:

        a. Tell me more.

b. Why do you feel that way?

c.  Why was that important to you?

d.  How did it affect you?

e.  What was your contribution?

f.  What do you think really made it work?

g.  How has it changed you?

5. Let the interviewee tell his/her story, please don’t tell yours. Ask about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Allow for silence.


Looking back at your entire life experience, I’d like for you to reflect for a moment on a high point – a time that stands out as one of your most rewarding/peak experiences you have had, a time when you felt most alive, most inspired,  and most excited about your life, a time that had a profound impact on you. Please tell me the story about this time. What made it a high point or peak experience for you?

As you consider your family relationships, I’d like for you to reflect for a moment on a high point – a time that stands out as one of your most rewarding/peak experiences you have had with a member or members in your family, a time when you felt most alive, most inspired, and most  proud about your role as an family member, a time that had a profound impact on you. Please tell me the story about this time. What made it a high point or peak experience for you?

Think for a minute on how your life has make a contribution to others. What things do you like to give back to others? How do you serve? What has been you most profound contribution to others? How did this impact others? How did it impact you? Consider your professional / work experience or community service, or one from each.

If you could meet any person who had ever lived and have an interview with him / her who would it be? What would you ask him or her?

After the interviews:

Let your partner share with you what patterns they heard in your stories. Have them explain these three meaningful stories in your life to you, in their own words. Observe how they breakdown what makes you tick. They should have no problem identifying certain things that make up your positive core. Get ready for some fabulous insights that can serve as a very helpful guide in your journaling process and in defining your life story. Your partner may have a better clue about perspective in your life than you do!  Fish discover water last. In the same manner, you may be so stuck in the daily hum drum of life, that you no longer see the big picture of what your positive core is all about. Your partner can help you discover it.

Being able to read what has already been written in our Life Story can help us develop personal accountability. We need to approach our life with the mind set of a student, eager to gain insight and direction for the future. Breaking away from patterns of the “old scripts” can assist us in choosing to write future chapters we wish to create and live out. The perspective we hold of our Life Story, is the most important influence that shapes our tendencies, behaviors and choices and even our eternal destinies.

A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives. In 1975 I had a long conversation with Henry Eyring, President of Brigham Young University (Idaho) about the value of writing journals and personal history. He told me he has a system of discipline for his writing in which every entry he answers the question “What happened recently in which the hand of the Lord was clearly evident” Thirty-two years later I asked him how his writing was going and if he still asked the same question each day. He told me no, I know have a new one “What happened with my family recently in which the hand of the Lord is clearly evident. Then he e-mails any photos or written Life Story entries to his children. Henry Eyring believes there is significant value in the establishment of family tradition and the passing of these traditions to subsequent generations. Knowledge of these Life Story traditions and family history welds generations together.

Every family has keepsakes. Families collect furniture, books, porcelain, and other valuable things, then pass them on to their posterity. Such beautiful keepsakes remind our hearts of loved ones now gone and also turn our hearts to loved ones unborn. They form a bridge between family past and family future. Some families have other, even more valuable, keepsakes. These include Life Stories: genealogies, family stories, historical accounts, and written family traditions. These eternal keepsakes also form a bridge between past and future and bind generations together in ways that no other keepsake can. Over and over, gerontologists and therapists are discovering the wealth of benefits that come from telling one’s story, from lowering blood pressure to coming to terms with childhood trauma (this from a study by Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas), and having more joy in life (from the Thesis of Layne Dearden, BYU Idaho, 1977). Writing your Life Story makes sense. It is your responsibility in the same way that it is your responsibility for exercise, good diet, and other self-development activities.

A business associate, engaged in the same Life Story business as I am said it well, “Those who have worked with us find that treating the images and stories of their lives is one of the best things they have ever done. It is a uniquely liberating experience. As people get involved in their life history they relish the conversations and storytelling that emerges as part of the process. They are able to look at their lives anew, with fresh eyes. After all “the real voyage of discovery consist not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.( Marce Proust)


Your story is truer than any other reality you know. (Rene Des Carte)

He alone deserves to be remembered by his children who treasures the memory of his fathers. (Edmund Burke)

Fill your paper with breathings of your heart (William Wordsworth)

Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on a broken glass. (Anton Chekhov)

A good story teller is a person with a good memory, and hopes other people haven’t. (George Bernard Shaw)

When an grandparent dies, its as if a library has burned down.

Lives are best remembered through stories that move beyond mere names and dates. (Morris Thurston)

Every man knows perfectly well that he is a unique human being, only on this earth once, and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time. (Friedrich Nietsche).