You are a collection of all the stories you’ve told yourself. That’s right: Your life is a work of fiction and you are the main character. We all tell ourselves stories about the things that happen to us, the decisions we make and why other people do the things they do. We make assumptions and then act upon those assumptions. That’s how you create your life; your stories become your reality.
You wear your stories like a warm winter sweater because they give you the comfort of believing you actually understand what’s happening around you. You do this because your brain can’t stand not understanding why something is happening. It constantly looks for patterns, assigning cause and effect, and then creates a narrative that you subsequently believe, even if you have no access to the actual truth. Psychologists and scientists call this the “narrative bias.” We couldn’t survive without it.
There’s good and bad news to consider when pondering your narrative.
First, there’s the bad news: If you create a story that is negative, inaccurate or based on a lie you’ve been told or you’ve told to yourself, you could send yourself down a path that might lead to poor decisions, low self-esteem and needless suffering.
The good news is you can create a different story. You can challenge your assumptions. You can think about the way you think. You can break down belief systems that hold you back and build upon the positive things that happen in your life. You can choose to let go and move on.
Even though your story might feel real and unchangeable, it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re living a charmed life or one of struggle and despair. Your story isn’t real and it isn’t permanent.
Pick one thing in your life you want to change or make happen and tell yourself a different story — one where you are progressing, succeeding and winning. Then, start taking action to create that story. It doesn’t mean it’s easy; it just means it’s possible. Be willing to do the hard work.
Here are some tips to stop the negative self-talk and story creation:
- Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone else. Most of us would never talk to others the way we talk to ourselves; we are far harsher on ourselves than others. Treat yourself with the same compassion, understanding and forgiveness you would treat your friends and family with.
- Accept that you’re not perfect. People have their strengths and weaknesses, gifts and detractors. No one is perfect, so stop trying to be. It’s far more productive to focus on your strengths and build upon your talents. Don’t waste your time beating yourself up over your weaknesses. Doing so will cause you to feel like you will never measure up. Life is so much more gratifying when you do what you’re good at.
- Distract yourself. One of the best ways to stop the negative self-talk is to distract yourself. Get some exercise, play with your kids, do some yoga or meet a friend who always knows how to make you laugh. These types of healthy distractions can stop you from spiraling negative thoughts and give you space to gain perspective.
- Let go of the past. Your past does not have to define your future. Don’t let a bad experience jade you. Just because something bad happened earlier in your life doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. Break the negative thought pattern by trusting that you’ve learned from the past and believing that you will make different and better decisions in the future.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Colluding with negative people will keep you stuck in negative storytelling mode. These kinds of people won’t inspire you to be optimistic or make constructive changes. Instead, surround yourself with positive people who have a can-do, resilient mindset. Their confident view on life will rub off on you and help you gain perspective.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Jordan Belfort, the so-called “Wolf of Wall Street.” Belfort is a man who hurt many people and worked hard to turn his life around after serving almost two years in prison. While his choices are indefensible, he nails self-storytelling. “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the B.S. story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it,” Belfort said. For more information, contact