We're all made up of stories. In fact, life is one long narrative and we're all trying to write the best chapters we can before "The End." A deep way to start this article, I know, but the fact is we dig a deep hole for ourselves when we misconstrue our own story.
You know the drill. There's some limiting, deep-seated belief you have about yourself, an old story you keep telling yourself. It holds you back. The story isn't the objective account of your day-to-day life. Instead, as psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor John Sharp said in his TEDx talk, "It's the story you've been telling yourself about who you are and how everything always plays out."
It often has some degree of catastrophe to it. It might be built on your assumption of what you can't do, what always happens, or what never happens. It's what writer Marilynne Robinson calls your "mean little myth."
My old story is that what I do is never enough. Yes, I ascended to run multibillion-dollar businesses at Procter & Gamble. But there are others doing better, faster. Sure, I'm a successful keynote speaker now, I guess. But my February calendar wasn't full enough. Have I sold a lot of books and won several industry awards for them? Yeah, but others have sold far more books or have more followers of their Inc.com column.
And this from someone who wrote viral articles on how to stop yearning for the approval of others and on the importance of believing that you're already enough. I promise you all of the aforementioned wasn't a cloaked humble-brag. My old story is certainly nothing to brag about. But I'm getting better at rewriting my narrative.
And you can, too.
Here's how, with help from Sharp and from sharp, painful lessons I've learned.
1. Remember that you're the editor of your own life story.
Congratulations. You've been promoted to editor from onlooker.
One of the cool things about being a writer is the access you get to a variety of talented editors. The best ones call you on it (in one form or another) when your words are not matching the pictures, when what you're writing doesn't mesh with what you're actually trying to say.
Every time this happens to me, I find myself thinking, "What if we all truly acted like we were the editors of our own life story?" What if, when we caught ourselves living someone else's story, or living a story that's not what we intend or would want, we simply chose to change the script?
Guess what? You indeed are the editor of your own life story.
2. Find the point where your story diverges from reality.
Sharp says to do so, you should pay attention to your inner dialogue and notice when it includes statements that begin with "I always ... ," "I'm always ... ," or "I never ...." These thoughts are what we default to when we face hardship.
Think back to being a child and identify what experiences complete these sentences for you. What more recent experiences caused you to perpetuate your story? It's in these moments of awareness you can shut down or alter the narrative.
3. Ask if your story is really true or a false truth.
I do this all the time. When I catch myself meandering into "I'm just not enough," I ask myself, "Is that my mean little truth or is that really true? By whose standard am I not enough?" (By my own warped standard, of course).
4. Think self-appreciation versus self-deprecation.
Don't beat yourself up for having your reoccurring old story. Instead, began the practice of inserting positive elements into it, until it becomes habit. I've told myself many times now when I catch myself dissing my entrepreneurial achievement to remember how far I've come in only two years.
5. Leave your old story behind.
This is really what it's all about, no? All the self-awareness and positivity in the world won't matter if you aren't willing to jettison the baggage that's been weighing you down. You simply must, as Sharp says, "cut away what no longer serves you" and rewrite your narrative to serve who you want to be.
If you want to be a certain way, be that way. If you want to live a certain life, live that life. If you want to rewrite your story, then do it, because you are indeed the editor of your own life story.
Here's to fresh new chapters--page-turners filled with promise.