How To Change The Story You Tell Yourself

a person sitting on a bench in a room.

Storytelling is an ancient art and a hot new thing. It was the talk of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (theme: Re-imagining storytelling), is all the rage with SEO optimization, and your Ted Talk to-be; it’s in the air.

I frequently discuss storytelling with clients; our brains like a complete story. That’s part of why it’s hard to make a big life change — you’re shifting the story! And getting everyone on board with the new storyline takes time, patience and craft.

My clients, who tend to operate outside the box, realize it’s time for the story to take a turn, they often run into challenges when explaining the dramatic shift to the people in their lives. It’s almost as if they were in the bathroom and missed a key plot twist. When they don’t “get it” instantly, it can be disheartening. 

People like short, tight, stories. People like stereotypes. They are less taxing on the brain. 

And while living black and white is simpler, and more manageable, goodness you do miss out on a rainbow of passionate reality. The beauty of bounty, complexity. For example, though you may want your boss to be a run-of-the-mill jerk, as it turns out he has a complicated marriage, is working out all kinds of issues from his abusive father and a lack of positive male role models. Jerk is easy, but it’s not the whole picture. 

My girl Brene Brown has introduced the concept of “the story I’m making up” in her recent Netflix special and her book Rising Strong. It’s an idea I find myself returning to on a regular basis — with my clients, in my marriage, in life. 

It helps other connect to you where there may be disconnection. It owns the disconnect and creates space to resolve it. 

And then there are the stories you tell yourself. Your manufactured futures that could become self-fulfilling prophecies; for good or for bad. 

Let’s take an example. It’s a summer Saturday and you’re gearing up for a fun day outside. Then rain happens. What do you choose?

  1. Mope and be disappointed because you wanted sun.
  2. You can get super psyched for an unanticipated MOVIE DAY! Your near-term future involves a bowl of popcorn, cozy blankets and a movie party.
  3. Pull on the rain boots and head out for a rain hike. Get naked and streak in the warm rain. Look for earthworms and rainbows.

#3 got a little racy, but you get my point. You choose your adventure. You are the writer of the story you tell yourself and the experiences you have as a result of that story.

So let’s take inventory. Are there some stories you’re telling yourself now that might need an edit? 

What story are you telling yourself about this summer? 
In years past, I told myself that an ocean vacation was mandatory. I grew up at the ocean, and if I deprived my children of salt water then I was terrible. And yet, I hate the blazing hot beach and sand with three kids in diapers. That’s just a little piece of hell. So why was I forcing myself to live in summer purgatory? Time to rewrite the story. This summer we’re hitting the lakes. Summer does not equal ocean. Summer equals whatever I want it to. My story.

What story are you telling yourself about work? 
It’s my personal mission to let people know that work doesn’t have to suck. The next client who quotes “well, that’s why they call it work” wins a whoopie cushion. No, work doesn’t have to suck. That idea is what sucks the life out of people. How can we rewrite that ill-conceived story line? Songs like this favorite of mine from Harry Chapin (kleenex alert) help those who want to march to the beat of a different drummer. Let’s rewrite the story.

What story are you telling yourself about your relationship, or your family?
Like Brene says, what’s the story that you’re making up? And what are you tolerating that you don’t necessarily need to? During coach training I was taught how to help clients resolve the tolerances in their life. Tolerances sap your energy. Could you possibly put a small amount of energy into those tolerances and resolve them instead of living with what’s broken?

Can you end the chapter, or the story, and make room for the next one? 

Summer is over, school is in session. It’s a wonderful time to rethink the situation, rewrite the story, reconsider the ending, complete what you’ve been tolerating and prepare for what’s next. 

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