We all have a story. We tell it when we want other people to understand who we are and where we’re coming from. Sometimes, we tell it to ourselves to justify or explain our thoughts and actions.
So what’s your story doing for you?
I know a woman who’s an introvert. She learned this via on online personality test. When she’s called on to speak in front of people at work, or when she’s put in a position where she has to interact with clients, she tells herself, “But I’m no good at that. I’m an introvert!” My acquaintance is an intelligent, resourceful, personable woman, perfectly capable of tackling anything that’s put in front of her. She struggles with “extroverted” tasks more because of the story she tells herself than because of any lack of skill on her part.
Some stories run deeper than others. They might involve our childhood experiences, our first loves, our first failures. We tell them to ourselves over and over, until they become embedded in our consciousness. It’s said that we think 80,000 thoughts a day, most of which are repeats of the thoughts we had the day before. Some researchers say that 87% of these thoughts are negative. Some of them are so derogatory and hurtful that, if someone else said them to you, you’d probably punch them in the nose.
If you spoke the same words aloud, over and over, all day, eventually you’d believe them, whether or not they were true. The same thing goes for your internal dialogue. But when you become conscious of the stories you tell yourself, you can make some amazing changes in a relatively short period of time. When you change your words, you can change your life.
I spend a long time telling myself how I had to be. “I’m a coach,” I would say. “Therefore I can’t react this way. I can’t make mistakes. I can’t be human.” My story—that I wasn’t allowed to react in a human way to problems in my own life—was causing me a lot of stress and anxiety. When I realized that I was using my story as a crutch to stop myself from diving into tough emotional territory, I was able to set it aside and work from where I was, rather than where I felt I was supposed to be.
Your action step this week is to find out what your stories are. If you’re not sure, listen to yourself as you talk to your friends, family, and coworkers. What words do you use over and over? How do you define yourself, and how does that definition serve you?
Sometimes it helps to have an objective person on your side when you begin to delve into the internal dialogue. Some of my greatest successes as a coach have come at the moments when my clients really got clear on their stories. When they changed their words, they changed their lives!