To transform our lives, we need to change our stories.
– Carl Greer
In this week’s podcast, we are challenging the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back.
We encounter all different circumstances in our lives – all day, every day. The way we view these circumstances – the way we think about them and the stories we attach to them – impacts our emotions, our actions, our results, and our overall quality of life.
For example, let’s say you’re waiting for the train, and it is running late. That is a circumstance that is outside your control. Everyone on the platform is experiencing that train running late. But the STORY each person attaches to that experience is different.
For example, one person’s story could be: “The train is late. This is terrible. I’m going to be late to work and my boss is going to yell at me.”
Another person’s story could be: “The train is late. Amazing! I get to spend a few more minutes finishing this chapter in my book.”
Each different story is going to create a different emotion in each person. In this example, who do you think is the happier person? Most likely, the person who thinks the train running late is a good thing.
This happens throughout our lives – we attach stories to circumstances. The key thing to realise is: they are called stories because that is all they are – made up, from our imagination, just a bed time story. They are not necessarily TRUE.
We have the ability to choose which stories to tell ourselves, and which ones to believe. Unfortunately, we tend to choose to believe the stories that do not serve us.
Here are some real examples of stories – from both my clients and myself:
My presentation has to be perfect, otherwise I won’t look knowledgable.
I always go blank when I stand up to present.
If they don’t like my idea, they will think I don’t know my stuff.
If I talk about myself, others will think I am bragging.
My colleagues aren’t smiling. They must think I’m boring.
My boss is impatient with me.
They will never pick me for that opportunity.
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, don’t stress! You are normal! Everyone tells themselves a story of some sort that prevents them from progressing, growing and achieving the success we want. The challenge is in shifting these stories to something more constructive, a story that helps us get to where we want to be.
In this podcast, I take you step by step through the process of how to become more aware of your stories, and how to shift them to a more constructive thought pattern. If you want to be more assertive in meetings, become a confident speaker, a more effective leader, an empathetic colleague…or take your career and life to the next level in general – this is a very powerful exercise for you.
A word of warning:
Challenging your stories is not a surface level exercise. It goes DEEP. I recommend you work through the exercise when you are relaxed and comfortable, with enough time to reflect, be curious, open and vulnerable. When you dedicate the time to diving into your stories, incredible things can happen.
Other resources I mention on the podcast:
- Click here to listen to the interview with Fabian Dattner, where we discuss the stories we tell ourselves.
- Click here to listen to the episode ‘How to deal with difficult audience members’, where I share an experience where I had to quickly shift my story in a stressful situation.
How to change your story
1. Be AWARE of the stories you tell yourself.
A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a conference where the other speakers included Red Balloon founder Naomi Campbell. My profile was given equal billing on the promotional material, and I freaked out. I felt strong waves of anxiety within me. After some self inquiry, I realised the story I was telling myself was: “You’re not good or professional enough to be on the same stage as these other speakers.” And this was contributing greatly to my nerves.
The goal here is not to analyse or judge your feelings or your story, it’s simply to be aware. So whenever you feel discomfort, whether it’s anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, shame – all you need to do is notice these feelings, and then ask yourself: “I wonder where this feeling is coming from? What is the story I am telling myself right now?”
When you notice your story, write it down. Be as petty as you want! For example: “My boss doesn’t understand me”, “My partner is lazy”, “No-one listens to my ideas.”
2. Question your story
Speaker and author Byron Katie is well known for her set of questions to challenge your story, called ‘The Work’.
Once you have your story written down, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it true?
- Can I be absolutely sure it’s true?
- How do I feel when I believe that thought to be true?
- Who would I be without the thought?
Listen to the podcast to hear me step you through each question!
3. Come up with alternative stories
Now is your opportunity to use your imagination and create alternative stories that could explain the other person’s behaviour or the situation.
For example, for the story ‘My boss doesn’t understand me’, some alternatives could be:
My boss may be having issues in his personal life and is distracted.
My boss is trying to make everyone happy, and is spread thin, and therefore struggles to dedicate time to listening to me.
I may not be communicating my messages effectively for him to understand.
When we do this, we realise we can just as easily make up alternative stories to the original one. The difference is – the alternative stories are more likely to serve us, instead of create feelings of stress and anxiety.
This is such a powerful process, I use it with all my clients and in my coaching programs. You can use this process to challenge any story that holds you back or creates conflict within yourself or with others. As you become more practiced with it, you will develop the skill to shift your story in the moment, which will lead to your ability to handle difficult or stressful situations with clarity and ease.
Listen to the podcast to hear me go through each step in detail. Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and if you do move through the exercises and discover something new about yourself, I would love for you to reach out and let me know 🙂