Storytelling is a very powerful tool, and we humans have a hardwired capability of having thoughts and creating stories.
Like any tool, it can be used for beneficial purposes, or not so beneficial purposes.
I’d like to point out here the automatic nature of thought and storytelling, and how to ensure you’re telling yourself the right stories that will benefit you the most.
Parents read stories to children at bedtime to help them fall asleep. Business owners and salespeople use stories to build rapport with potential clients and make sales.
We all can use stories to relate to others, especially new people we’ve just met.
It’s a way to foster imagination, to connect, to share, and to educate.
Have you ever thought of your internal storytelling – the thoughts that pop into your head, how your brain tries to automatically label or classify these thoughts (good or bad, etc.) and put a story around them?
Our thoughts and stories can have a big impact on our lives. It’s good practice to make sure these thoughts and stories are serving our best interests and goals.
Think about this statement: What you tell yourself, you believe.
We’ve all met the confident colleague who takes on new projects and stretch assignments knowing that they’re going to do well and most times they do.
And if they end up not doing so well, it’s still positive for them; they’re telling themselves it’s a learning experience to help them the next time.
Then there’s the colleague who didn’t do so well, but they tell themselves it’s a crushing blow, and a sign that they’re just not good at this project. What’s the likelihood of this person challenging themselves with a new assignment in the future? Pretty low.
What are you telling yourself? If you’re telling yourself lies, do you believe those too?
By lies, I mean stories like I’m not: good enough, old enough, young enough, talented enough, smart enough, etc.
If we’re telling ourselves these kinds of things consistently and over time, they can become limiting beliefs that will change the course of your life – and not in good way.
Here are some common types of stories people have:
I can’t do that; I’ve never done that before. We all have to start somewhere. Did you know how to drive a car when you were 10 years old? What about reading and writing? I’m sure you weren’t born with the vocabulary and speech skills you have now.
Don’t let something that may seem challenging be turned into a story about how you can’t do it because you have no experience doing it.
I’ve met so many successful entrepreneurs since leaving my corporate job and one thing they all have in common is the story that they don’t need experience in something in order to get it done. They roll up their sleeves and just get it done.
Things like build a website, write a blog, produce a podcast, run a business, hire employees – you can learn how to do these things, or hire someone to do them if you don’t want to do them yourself.
With repetition and practice, we can become very skilled and successful at whatever the task is, or in finding the right people to help us. But you have to take that first step and try.
I’m too young or I’m too old. Don’t let a story about your age limit your opportunities.
The truth is you’re never too young or too old. I had a friend, in her late 50’s at the time, who was laid off from her job and the first thing out of her mouth was, no one is ever going to hire me at this age.
If you walk into a job interview with that story playing in your head, do you think you’ll do well in the interview? Probably not.
Simply changing the story to something more positive and truthful can turn things around.
Think of the amount of experience you can bring to that job and how the company would benefit by having you as an employee so that you can mentor the millennials in your office.
With these positive thoughts, you’ll shift that defeated feeling to one of more confidence and ease, and you’ll be more likely to get a positive outcome: to get that new job.
I don’t have a choice. We always have a choice and it’s best to remember that when you’re under the impression someone else is in charge or is to blame for what’s going on in your life.
Yes, sometime it feels more comfortable to not take responsibility: to blame others or blame fate for our actions or lack of action.
As an example, if you make a commitment to have a meeting with someone, and then choose to do something else instead and blow them off, own up to it. Accepting responsibility by being direct and apologizing can be very liberating, and the person you’re dealing with will probably appreciate your honesty.
The good news about limiting beliefs is once you become aware of them, you can change these stories and beliefs, and ultimately change the outcomes in your life to more positive ones.
But how do you that? And then how do you change it?
Here are three strategies for you to try that can help you become more aware of your thoughts and to improve them:
1. Find something in your life that isn’t working or it could be a goal that you haven’t been able to achieve. Maybe it’s the same New Year’s resolution that never gets done, like, you still haven’t lost those 15 extra pounds that you’ve been carrying over the years.
Take 5 minutes to sit with your unachieved goal, and write down the thoughts and feelings you have about not reaching it yet.
You may be thinking that it’s too hard to do, you don’t deserve to be healthy and fit, you don’t know where to start, or you feel scared about what it’ll take to achieve, even overwhelmed, deprived or confused.
If you still really want to achieve that goal, the next step would be to write down new thoughts and feelings that will support you achieving it. Using the earlier example, instead of “losing this weight is too hard”, you could change your thought/story to “I’m so successful with achieving career goals that losing this weight is going to be easy and fun; I’ll simply apply that same focus and follow through to this as I do in my work”.
2. If you’re working with a coach or mentor, let them know you’re working on becoming more aware of your thought patterns and stories you’re telling yourself, and ask for their support.
I partnered with a coach who would point out every time I said the word should, as in “I should be doing this”, or “I should have completed that” – I was “should-ing” all over myself.
Those reminders made me aware of that pattern that I wasn’t really noticing before. Eventually, I’d either hear it as I said it and would correct myself, or I’d catch myself before saying it and change it to “I could do that” or “I will do that”.
3. Pay attention to generalizing words you may be thinking or saying, words like always, never, every time, etc. If you say or think to yourself, “I’m always late to work on Monday mornings” – is that really true? Have you always been late on Mondays for every job you’ve ever had. I doubt it.
Take a more realistic approach and acknowledge that you seem to be having a hard time getting to work on time now, and commit to change it. You can start by changing your thought to “I enjoy being on time for work and look forward to starting my day”.
Please try some of these strategies out and see if they work for you.
Your thoughts and stories are more powerful than you might have realized and they have a direct correlation to your happiness, success, and achieving your most important goals.
Now that you know this and have some tools to help you, take action: change your thoughts and your story to the right story, and you’ll change your life for the better.
Photo by Social Cut on Unsplash