Let’s play a little free association game. Quickly complete the following:
“Mistakes mean _________________”
“Exercise is _____________________”
“Money is ______________________”
If you’re like most people, as soon as you think of almost any subject, you will have an instant response based on past experiences, family history, what you’ve heard, or cultural conditioning. You have a ready-to-go opinion or feeling based on a story you have been telling yourself. Everyone has a collection of unconscious stories that form what I like to call your Personal Storybook.
Is Your Story the Only Possibility?
Think about dogs for a minute. Do you feel love? Fear? Sadness? Neutral? If you haven’t had much interaction with dogs, you won’t have a very big chapter on dogs in your storybook. However if you had a beloved pet dog as a child, you may have several chapters – some happy, some sad. What kind of story would would we find in the personal storybook of someone who’s been scared or bitten by a dog? Each person will have a personal point of view, but which one is the real truth about dogs?
The human mind is wired to build stories out of past experiences to help you survive. This ability is useful in many ways, but more often than not it fosters unnecessary limitation. Here’s the problem: We don’t experience our stories as stories; we experience our stories as “the way things ARE.”
You Have a Choice
So let’s get back to the questions at the top of the page. Are the stories you are telling yourself about mistakes, exercise or money helpful or limiting? Consider the different choices available when you compare the following stories:
“Mistakes mean I’ve failed.”
“Mistakes mean I’ve learned.”
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. ~ Albert Einstein
“Exercise is exhausting.”
“Exercise is fun.”
Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states. ~ Carol Welch
“Money is the root of all evil.”
“Money is freedom.”
Money is a form of energy that tends to make us more of who we already are, whether it’s greedy or loving. ~ Dan Millman
4 Steps to Life-Changing Stories
Step 1: Realize Your Stories Are Not Necessarily the Truth
No matter how much it seems like your story is “just the way it is”, your feelings and opinions are not facts. They are simply your personal points of view based on – and limited by – past information or experience.
Step 2: Let Go of Limiting Stories
This can be a tough one. Why? Because we are often very identified with our most limiting stories. We may even have formed bonds with others around some of our stories and it can feel threatening to leave the fold, even if for greener pastures. Find role models who have re-invented themselves by leaving limiting stories behind. Let their examples inspire you and be sure to surround yourself with people who will support your new story.
Surround yourself with positive people. To me, having a career is about being able to go to work every day without it feeling like work, because you love it so much. ~ Queen Latifah
Step 3: Choose a New Story
Create a more self-empowering story. The simplest way to do this is simply to turn the limiting story around. For example, if you feel you are too old to try something new, change your story to “it’s never too late” or “age is just a state of mind.” Usually you can find plenty of evidence for a different point of view once you release your old story. Instead of worrying about what might happen, choose to use your imagination in more positive ways. Whenever you talk about yourself or your life, reinforce your new point of view by using self-empowering language.
Step 4: Shift Your Focus
Practice shifting your focus from problems (limiting stories) to those things you would love to create (empowering stories). What you focus on tends to grow stronger. Whenever you notice yourself caught up in a self-limiting feeling or opinion, remind yourself “that’s not the truth, it’s just a story” and turn your attention to a better thought.
Is there something you want that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t do? Is that the Truth? Or is it just a story? Notice what happens when you tell yourself, “If I really want this, I can do it!” If there are objecting inner voices, investigate them. Are they the Truth or just more limiting stories?
Sometimes telling yourself that you actually can do something may lead you to realize it isn’t something you really want to do after all. Maybe it’s something you only thought you should do but your heart isn’t in it. The story of “I can’t” can become a convenient excuse. Instead of perpetuating the limiting story of “I can’t”, your new story allows you to make an empowered choice by saying, “I could if I wanted to, but I’ll pass.”
Increase Your Personal Power
The most powerful changes happen when you transform the limiting stories you are telling yourself about YOU. Make a list of at least 10 adjectives describing yourself and count how many negatives and positives. If you don’t have a majority of positives it’s time to hack your Personal Storybook.
You can increase your personal power by changing your story in any area of life where you are experiencing limitation.