The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Story power serves you best when you know how to use it. Today we’re taking a quick visit to the stories we tell ourselves and how these create our entire reality. Let me start with a story:
When I was 10 years old my mom and dad went out for the evening and I was put in charge of babysitting my younger brothers and sister. There were 4 of us. It was dark outside and we were getting ready for bed when suddenly there was a knock on the front door. Who was it? There was no peephole and we looked back and forth at one another. We whispered little questions like “do you know who it is?” “was someone supposed to come over?” “what if it’s a murderer?” Our body language and big eyes perpetuated the story that there was something to be afraid of. I, the one in charge, also created fear with my own fear. Our little kid stories of being alone in a house after dark with the unknown on the other side of the door took over our young minds. We ran, all of us, into my bedroom and hid under the comforter on my bed. The four of us hunkered under the covers, eyes wide.
When the rap, rap, rap came on the door again…the fear escalated, but I felt someone needed to answer it. I was babysitting, so I felt it was my role to assign someone to answer the door. I pointed at my sister, and with a sweep of my finger I assigned her the task of answering the door. She shook her head no, and so I pulled out the threats…”You go answer the door or I’m going to punch you in the nose,” I demanded.
Her fear of what was behind the door was more powerful than her fear of me, but I had to follow through, so I pulled back my fist and punched her in the nose. She started bleeding and crying and the energy escalated to the next notch. Now there was blood AND fear, and yelling, but no one answered the door. The four of us lay there, under the covers, yelling at each other and refusing to budge until my parents came home and we could run into the safety of their arms.
There is a mechanism in our minds that creates gratitude, happiness, unhappiness, envy, joy or jealousy, fear or peace. Not many of us pay too much attention to this mechanism, despite the fact that it is working all the time, in everyone alive on this planet.
It is the stories we tell ourselves all day long, every day, about every interaction we have, about ourselves, about our friends, about our spouses, about the things that happen to us! By calling them stories I am not giving them a value of true or false, rather I am acknowledging that they are narrative interpretations we create about our experiences to make sense of our lives.
Ryan Clarkin, one of my favorite life coaches said, “The most powerful stories we’ll ever tell are those we tell to ourselves.”
I asked him to go into more detail about this topic, for this episode – here’s Ryan…
–To hear Ryan’s message, listen to the audio version of the podcast.
Let me share some examples of how we create stories:
- You may have a story about how your boss and work environment is supportive and fun. The people you work with are your friends. While someone else in the office may have a story about how the receptionist is always dismissive, the work areas untidy, the boss too caught up in their own dealings to pay attention to them.
- You may have a story about how your spouse is a lazy and a slob because after dinner he/she does not clean up their mess. Whereas someone else in that same situation may tell a story about a hard-working spouse who needs a little support and rest after a long day.
- You might have a story you tell yourself, about yourself, every time you look in the mirror, about how ugly you are because you put on 25 pounds after you turned 40, and that no one will find you attractive. Whereas, some in the same situation may focus their story on their health and the beautiful way their body works for them, a focus on the things they love about their body, thus creating a sense of confidence rather than self-condemnation.
- You may create a story about how ineffective you are because you aren’t always 100% motivated and beat yourself up over it with little mental jibes around the story – something’s wrong with me, I’m lazy, I’m undisciplined. Whereas another story might instead be focused on the things you DID get done. You build a story – I call it SUCCESSFILE at the end of the day – where you list everything you got done instead of ruminating on the things you didn’t get done yet.
The resulting response from the person telling these stories is obvious – If you are telling yourself you’re ugly every day, you will no doubt go out into the world full of self-doubt, most likely more withdrawn and less outgoing as you strive to go unnoticed. If you tell yourself the repeated story of your lazy good-for-nothin spouse your treatment and attitude toward your spouse will be very different than if you are creating a caring space for them at the end of the day. It also changes their response to you and the outcome of your stories. These stories change everything about how you interact with the world and the people around you – how you see the world. In fact, these stories create your world.
We create stories to define our existence. We create stories to make sense of the things that happen to us. We create stories to share our live events with each other. In my master’s research, I studied the functions of the personal narrative, and there are a litany of functions – we use them to teach – like when a speaker in church shares a story about how helping a neighbor made a big difference in the neighbor’s life. We tell stories to warn, like when we tell someone about the time we got in a car with a bunch of people we didn’t know in Europe and ended up in places previously unimagined, and are lucky we didn’t end up in the bottom of river somewhere or as part of the sex slave trade. We tell stories to share awe like the story about climbing to the peak to watch the sunset and the resulting transcendent experience. We tell stories to create boundaries clearly laying the story about how the last guy that tried to grab your ass got slapped. We tell stories to brag in an acceptable way – like when I tell the story about climbing the Grand Teton in one night – it’s a mix of look what I did as well as a great story. I could go on and on….but the key here is that we CREATE the stories – the perspectives and angles, even in the retelling we create the scene, the moral, the meaning. Now, most of the time they are our best attempt at honest creations, but they are definitely created from a chosen perspective and the reality is that we have the ability to change our perspectives, on all our stories, in order to be happier.
We are the Gods of our stories. We are the creators who define who we are and what we will do and where we will go. There are a lot of stories going on around us. The story we create every day as our narrative of living unfolds. The stories other people create, about themselves and about us, and about the world. But the very most powerful stories, for which we have complete control, are the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, define the potentiality of our existence and the reality of our experience.
If you wake up in the morning and you remind yourself that it’s going to be a fantastic day and you are looking good, feeling good, and bent on creating some love in the world today. You’re going to be heading out, starting ripples in the story of life that will create beautiful things. This is just the start of your day’s story.
If you start out the day with the voice in your head, –that sounds like fact by-the-way—focusing on your insecurities, creating stories that you’re not enough, you’re too fat, you’re too old, you’re too short, your friends don’t really respect you… well, you can see the difference. The day starts/the story starts, according to the way you let it start. You get to create your reality.
Zen Habits website – suggests 3 steps for learning to get away from the stories we are hooked on. I’ve taken their suggestions and mixed them with my own experience and understanding of the process – here are my two-cents:
First step: Start noticing the stories you are creating about the events that go on in your day, and the people you interact with. START NOTICING.
It’s important to become aware that they are stories you are creating and to notice how they are affecting your happiness or unhappiness. Notice when you get stuck on a story and it plays over and over in your head. Notice the power that creates within you. What story are you creating right now about your current situation: Is it critical and fault finding, or are you finding the good and the positive going on around you? Just notice the story.
Second step: What can you do? 1. Consider the story as an option – a filmy possibility, a dream possibility – one way of telling it. 2. Then, consider another option in how you might tell or frame the story. What are other ways of looking at it, other possible perspectives? Is your interpretation really a fact? Did you boss really say he hated your work or did you just interpret his foul mood that way?
Third step: Don’t react. Sit with the story, don’t cling to it. Don’t lash out – even if you’re caught up in the story. Just be aware of the moment and story as it is without interpretation. This allows you to just be with it and be less attached to it. When you can get to a place of accepting possible options openly consider which story serves you best. Which story approach creates happiness for you and those around you? Then choose the story approach that serves you. This is not about ignoring reality or sticking your head in the sand, it’s about realizing the power of your own mental creations to create your world and your experience, and then choosing how to create it.
The Love Your Story podcast had its roots in the fact that I had let the events of my life create a space of shame about how my life seemed to have turned out. I wanted to find out if other’s lives had turned out as they expected, and my preliminary qualitative doctorate research indicated that 19 out of 20 people’s lives had NOT turned out as they expected.
Life is messy, across the board, and that’s okay – but there is a mental badassery in actively creating your life story; in actively reframing the parts of your story that feel broken and hold you back; actively seeking to create your best story and actively loving yourself and your story, because you can!
Questions: 1. What stories have you made up about yourself? – Remember, you’re going to think these are facts. Let me ask it this way – What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? When you think about doing something new? When you think about you?
We can create stories that generate fear, that paralyze us, like my brother’s and sisters and I did. The poor harmless neighbor standing on the other side of the door had no idea the ruckus they had caused that night 35 years ago. It was probably someone coming to say hello to my mother, or someone checking in on us, but through our words and our body language, we created a story about the situation that quickly turned to fear, violence, and chaos. Or we can create stories that empower us, that help us conquer the world and whatever small part of it we inhabit – and by conquer the world I mean the worlds of fear, of lack, of judgment, of shame, of not-enough that are a part living this thing we call life. To me, that’s what I see as conquering the world because once we have conquered the limitations and stories that create a limited and sad world for ourselves, we have indeed conquered our own world.
When I created the Love Your Story podcast, that’s what I had in mind. Opening conversations about topics that will help us to create our very best life stories – because we can. We ARE THE CREATORS OF OUR STORIES.
Thanks for tuning in today. If you haven’t already, please subscribe, rate and review the podcast. And, if you’re interested in one of our new – top notch t-shirts, they are available now on the website. Also your challenge for the week –Everyday this week try to get super aware of one of your stories and run through the 3 steps mentioned in this podcast. The more you practice, the more aware you become, and the more you gain the badass skill of creating your biggest, best and most satisfying life stories on purpose. See you next week on the LYS podcast – oh ya, and share this with a friend – spread some good in the world.
Mental Badassery: becoming Aware of the Stories We Tell Ourselves; Leo Babauta; zenhabits.net/narrative/