Why The Stories You Tell Yourself Matter
Change Your Story to Change Your Life: Building Empowered Narratives that Represent Your True Self.
The stories we tell ourselves are a vital part of identity management. While education is only a section of our life, graduate school has a way of making us question our own identity and purpose.
Sometimes the discrepancy between what we expect and our experiences can be so pronounced that they throw us off course – we question our ability, belonging, and value.
So why do the stories you tell yourself matter?
Why Narratives You Create About Yourself Are Critical
When I started graduate school , I felt like a fish out of water. I was in a new space and learning how to navigate this space. I held narratives that spoke of impostorship. I knew I belonged in the academic space, because I was smart. I could do the work, but having listened to what others thought of me and what I should do, led me to think otherwise. It took me a while to understand that my story was different, but it did not make it less valid.
In time, I began to probe into who I was and what I believed , thanks to the power of mentoring, introspection, story-writing for healing, and narrative-based coaching.
Looking back on my journey, I started thinking about the stories I tell myself and those I have heard from other people as a wellness coach.
We all build narratives about who we are and what we want to achieve in our lives. These stories shape our beliefs and expectations. They determine how we see ourselves and the world around us.
These narratives become how our brain makes sense of events. However, they can be destructive, if not recognized for what they are: external influences.
Are a few hits on life’s playing field enough to permanently disable our healthy perception of self, taking away self-esteem or well-being? No! It takes repeating this toxic belief (about yourself) constantly – which people do automatically every day when dealing with any given situation.
In the next section, I will show you how exactly you are doing this.
Damaging Stories That Hinder Your Progress
Since we live life as one big story, we tell ourselves stories everyday, often subconsciously. We create stories about wealth, health, people, relationships, success, capabilities, money, etc. -all which form different subplots.
Today, I want to submit to you three popular stories you may be telling yourself that are an impediment to your growth.
• Stories about who you are
As a coach, I meet people with very strong ideas of who they are.
Usually, these identities are rooted from our background, childhood incidents, and circles of influence and we tend to reject any other suggestions that go against the beliefs and that identity.
These narratives may sound something like…, I am not someone who___________________
Everyone can fill that blank because we all hold ideas of who we are, and what we can and cannot do.
I have heard people say:
– I am not someone who can do public speaking
– I am not someone who is an A student
– I am not someone who can do this work
These are stories you tell yourself and hold within your being by thinking and saying, “this is who I am; I can not change.”
• Stories you tell yourself about people.
We all have our favorite and not so favorite types of people.
When meeting a stranger for the first time, we tell ourselves plenty of stories based on what type(s) we believe they may be like based on past experience with others who share those characteristics or traits.
Like everyone else, you form judgments about people on your initial encounter, which is 90% influenced by your perceptions.
These can range from our perception of color, race, background, and status. The fact is these stories about people limit and affect our relationships.
Here is a short exercise to gauge the stories you tell about people:
– Are people inherently good or evil?
– Do you think women can not achieve as much as men?
– Do you believe people are always scheming to take advantage of you?
– Do you believe the system is rigged against you because of your background?
Your preconceptions shape your values and beliefs and influence how you show up in the world. How you view others defines your hopes and expectations from life.
• Stories you tell yourself about the future.
When it comes to the future, two types of stories emerge; the fantasized future and the bleak (pessimistic) future.
You may be holding one of the two. The fantasized story goes like this; when I become successful, I will feel good about myself.
Whereas fantasized future stories determine the future based on the current progress, the bleak future stories determine the future based on the past.
How to Write New Stories
The Power of Storytelling
We often underestimate the power of storytelling in our personal lives, yet we live in a world where we are bombarded with stories 24/7.
The current information age has revolutionized how we receive and share perceptions.
Whether it is the news, social media, or the latest blockbuster movie- we read and listen to stories everywhere. And they have a profound impact on our lives.
The stories we tell ourselves are especially central to our focus and success. They shape our beliefs and expectations. They determine how we see ourselves and the world around us.
To change your life, you must start by changing the narrative.
When you tell yourself stories that accurately represent your identity, you build resilience to external influences that may try to misrepresent you.
There are three steps to changing the story you tell yourself:
1) Acknowledge the current story:
The first step is to become aware of the negative narratives you have been telling yourself. These narratives might be based on your upbringing, past experiences, or even what you see on TV and social media. Once you identify these narratives, question their validity. Are they true?
2) Write a new story:
Write a new story—one that represents your true self. This new story should be based on your values and aspirations. It should be positive and empowering. Most importantly, it should be authentic to you.
3) Share your new story with others:
Share your new story with the people who matter most in your life—your family, friends, colleagues, etc. When you share your new narrative with others, you not only solidify it in your mind and make it more real for everyone else involved, you become empowered to live it.
That means showing up to life in the way you believe you are.
The stories we tell yourself matter because they shape your beliefs and expectations about who you are and what you can achieve in your life. If you want to change your life, start by changing the narrative—acknowledge the current story, write new stories based on your values and aspirations, and share it with others.