Once upon a time...
27th January to 3rd February 2018 is National Storytelling Week and I’m curious to find out what your favourite story is.
My favourite book for bringing all my senses to life and caring so deeply about characters, places and situations I have never experienced is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. My favourite author is Maggie O’Farrell, for her poetic lyricism and subtlety in story-telling. I love Cecelia Ahern books to bring a touch of magic to my life, and the Harry Potter books when I want a lot of magic in my life. I read Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir books to escape to another era.
Stories are powerful, engaging, thought-provoking, enriching and can stay with us long after we have finished that last page.
What’s your favourite story you tell yourself?
Our minds are constantly chattering at us and, for the majority of us, these thoughts are going unmonitored most of the time. I caught myself one day dropping my car keys and saying in my head, “You are so stupid”. And then I wondered how many other times I was saying something similar during the day. How destructive is this? If this was someone else saying this over and over again, it would be harassment, bullying, and wouldn’t be acceptable, yet what we say to ourselves is okay?
So, what do you catch yourself saying when you do something ‘wrong’, or when you dream big, or think about trying something new and exciting:
“I’m too old”
“I’m too stupid”
“I’m too young”
“I’m too sensible”
“I’m too irresponsible”
“I don’t have enough money”
“People will laugh at me”
“Who do I think I am?”
“I am not worthy”
“I couldn’t possibly do that”
“I am a failure”
“I tried before and it didn’t work”
“I can’t at the moment because…”
“When I am fitter/richer/slimmer, I can…”
“I’m an idiot”
“I’m too fat”
“I’m too skinny”
“I’m not experienced enough”?
These seemingly ‘innocent’ statements said over and over can seriously start to dent your confidence, and build a story about yourself in your own mind. For example, if I am continuously saying “I am stupid” to myself, when I want to start a new course, my story could be that I am not clever enough so there is no point in trying as I’ll never keep up. Or maybe I achieve a promotion and then start to doubt my own suitability to do the role, feeling inadequate and inferior.
And are these stories even true? Using my example, does dropping my car keys make me stupid? Maybe slightly clumsy in that instance, but stupid? How many times are you holding yourself back because you have constructed a story, that you may not even be [consciously] aware of, that isn’t actually even true for you?
“Nothing in this world is permanent, including our stories...
“You’re the author of your own life - not your parents, not society, not your partner, not your friends, not the bullies who called you Fatzilla in junior high - and the sooner you decide to write yourself a better script, the sooner you get to live a more awesome life.” - Jen Sincero, You are a Badass
But, what if…?
I think one of the most damaging forms of story-telling is catastrophising - where you project out what could happen and focus on the [possible] negatives. For example, you see your dream job advertised. When you think about going for it, you wonder if you have what it takes, and start questioning why you think you are worthy of such a position. You think you could maybe fool them in the interview into giving you the position, but will not be able to cope with the workloads and responsibility, as you are not really qualified enough and haven’t got all the experience you need, so will eventually get found out to be a fraud and sacked, where you won’t be able to find another job, so will lose your home… This story means you could talk yourself out of going for your dream job, that you may actually be perfectly qualified, experienced and suited for.
Examine your thoughts. Would something like the following be a better story to tell yourself:
“I have spent years honing my skills and gaining experience; this role excites me and I could add a lot of value. I may not do the role the same as someone else, but that is okay. I have enough experience to do this role, but there may be things I don’t know yet. I will learn and adapt as I go and will keep developing and improving.”
Well, what if today I really was an idiot?
So what? You are all allowed to be imperfect! How many of the best stories are rags to riches? Sometimes you need some adversity, something not going exactly to plan, to make you strive, to try harder, to improve. It can be painful to make, what you perceive to be, mistakes, but it is what you do with the learning from these things that is important.
Also, I would recommend checking in with yourself to see if your ‘mistake’ has had the impact you are telling yourself it has had. When you go home at night, do you think about all the people that you have come into contact with during the day? Do you remember the majority of your conversations? I'm guessing not, yet, I would also guess that you may fixate on a particular conversation or action you have had with someone, and tell yourself that the other person thinks “I’m stupid/was cross with me because of/judged me because I said/did”. I cannot say with 100% certainty that the other person is not thinking these things, however, I cannot say with 100% certainty that they are either. We are all guilty of putting too much emphasis on what others [may] think and say about us - and when you think that you probably don’t review many conversations you’ve had, why would you think people are reviewing the ones they’ve had with you? Do you think you are really that important to them? If the answer is an honest yes, then maybe focusing on an empowering question like “How can I improve the situation when I next meet X?” could create a more resourceful state, then focusing on the negative situation that you cannot do anything about.
Are you being kind to yourself?
I frequently think about being on an aeroplane, where they give the safety briefing and say that in the event of an emergency to sort your own oxygen mask before helping others. I think the premise works here to. If you are not telling yourself good, empowering, compassionate stories can you ever tell these things to others in an authentic way?
You do have a choice on how you look at things, and the stories you tell yourself. For example, you are 3 months into a new role at work and are feeling overwhelmed. You can choose to tell yourself that it was a luck that got you through the interview, you are not worthy of the position, that you will get found out as a fraud as someone else would be much better at the role than you, that you are not good enough, that you need to work harder and longer hours to try to keep on top of things.
Or you can choose to tell yourself that you have been in the role for 3 months and you don’t know everything yet, but you are learning on a continual basis. You bring a lot to the role and you are finding out, and are open to, how these attributes can make you even more successful. You do feel overwhelmed at the moment, but you acknowledge you are learning and doing the best you can. You can commit to discussing workloads and priorities with your manager, and continue to work hard and be productive in the hours you designate to work each day.
Which of these stories would be more useful to you? Which one is going to help you be more resourceful, to feel better, and help you show up fully in the career you love?
If you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
In Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, on the Power of Vulnerability, she speaks about a ‘sense of courage’ - meaning having the heart to tell the story of who you are, to show and embrace your imperfections and to create connection with others through being authentic. If you berate yourself over imperfections, things you consider ‘wrong’ or when you are learning something new, maybe a better story to tell yourself, is that you need to be willing to try or do something where there are no guarantees, as whatever the outcome, you will learn something.
Anytime you step outside your comfort zone it is, well, uncomfortable! But it is also where the magic happens, where you grow, develop, try things you never thought possible, and can look back and say, “Wow, I did that!”. What if Elphaba had backed down? What if Jane Eyre had ever compromised on her values? What if Hermione never broke the rules? What if Katniss hadn’t put herself before her sister? What if Eowyn hadn’t disguised herself as a soldier and rode into battle? Sometimes, either putting yourself forward, or standing firm on something you truly believe in, can be the difficult choice, and it would be easier, and more comfortable, to choose a different path, the one that is ‘expected’ of you, but your story will be nowhere near as fulfilling or exciting!
You often interpret failure when your expectations haven’t been met - i.e. you didn’t get what you wanted! Conversely, you see success as achieving the outcome you wanted. In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) there is a presupposition that there is no such thing as failure, just feedback. I will often ask my clients, “if you removed failure from your story, what would you tell yourself instead”? Is this question more helpful to you when thinking about your own stories?
Please be mindful that words do have power, and you have a constant dialogue in your own mind. Use the words in your private thoughts to empower you, to give you courage, to help you explore your world, grow, improve. These amazing adventures and opportunities will come from better internal story-telling, and they may or may not turn out exactly as you had imagined, but the twists and turns in the plot, planned, or unplanned, will mean your own story will become even richer to tell!