“I will never make the team.”
“I’m not smart enough.”
“I will never get the job.”
“I’ll never lose the weight.”
“I’ll never meet the right guy/girl.”
“No one will ever love me.”
“I’ll never have or be enough.”
“I’m not good enough…”
Have any versions of these stories ever found their way into your mind? Do you ever catch yourself throughout the day putting yourself down – whether saying the words out loud or reciting them internally?
A few months ago in my post about Owning Your Headspace, I mentioned the statistic that on average, our thoughts are believed to be 80% negative, and 90% of what we think is the same as yesterday… Looking at these two statistics together – even if they are off by 10-20% – that is a suffocating amount of negative stories that we may be telling ourselves each and every day.
No wonder the average stay average…
So let’s never let average live inside ourselves.
What I’m calling you to do today isn’t easy by any stretch… Personally, it’s taken years of professional coaching, self-discipline and dedication to battle my negative stories in order to come out on the winning end (some of the time).
These stories entrench themselves in our mind and look for every opportunity to prove to us why they are right.
I’m here to tell you that they are dead wrong – but only if we take the action to interrupt those stories, and put in the work to write new ones.
We are the authors of the stories that go on between our ears, so lets get’s writing (or re-writing)!
Re-writing My Stories
I could write for days about all the negative stories I told myself throughout the years (don’t worry, I won’t).
I will tell you one story that I’ve specifically battled for the past 3 years (and still do from time to time). I chose this story for one main reason – perspective.
So what is my story? Well, in short… “I’m just a project manager.”
I know, right… just a project manager? It’s an impactful, important, and well respected position… so who do I think I am?!
Well, in my case, that was almost the right question. More specifically, who did I think I couldn’t be as a result of being ‘just’ a project manager?
My story was grounded in between where I wanted to go in my career and where I already was… In short, I left a position as a manager of an IT Operations team to join my current firm – a brand new IT Consulting organization – as an IT Project Manager.
My problem… well, I got in the habit of telling myself that because I was an individual contributor, and no longer managed people, that I couldn’t be a leader. Sure, I had people supporting me to accomplish projects, and for whatever reason it just wasn’t the same feeling. When I was a people manager, I was able to schedule one on one’s and help my team work on their professional development. I was able to direct our team to accomplish initiatives and process improvements, and so on.
My story limited what I believed I could or could not do because of my role… because of my title. As a result, it limited my potential for making a positive impact.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to tell this story as an example of perspective. As someone reading this, what I am describing probably sounds silly. Honestly, I hope it does. That’s good!
All of these stories we tell ourselves are a matter of perspective. Just as I look at my role as less than something else, someone else can start in the exact same role and feel like they can change the world! The reality is that both of us would be right. Henry Ford said it best:
“Whether you think you can or you can’t… you’re right.”
If I believe I can’t do certain things because of my [insert limitation here] then I won’t. And if someone else believe they can change the world while in the same exact shoes, then they absolutely will!
We have to change our stories if we are ever going to reach great heights in our lives. There are no easy fixes. If we continue on with a limiting mindset full of negative stories that hold us back, then even the great moments that do happen to us will be short lived.
In my case, if I don’t change the story in my head, I could be promoted to Vice President of Awesome tomorrow with hundreds of people under me, and after a while still feel limited and not able to do certain things because I’m not the CEO of Awesome. We need to attack the root cause (or root story) and not just battle the symptoms. Let’s fight the winning battle!
The First Steps to Writing a Championship Caliber Story
Now that we have a better idea of what these stories are, we can begin taking the first steps towards identifying and rewriting better stories to create a better future – for ourselves, and those around us. Sharpen your pencils, grab plenty of erasers, and let’s get to work.
Become an observer
Many of the negative stories we tell ourselves are so ingrained in our subconscious that we don’t even notice that they are being played on repeat. We must first take the time to observe and listen to what is going on between our ears.
Take stock of what you are telling yourself. Meditation is a great first step – focused quiet time and reflection is helpful to see what thoughts come up for us. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will be to recognize these stories as you go about your day. As you recognize them, write them down. Acknowledge that they are real, and getting in the way of where you want to go.
Start asking the right questions – especially, “Why?”
Once we are able to better observe these stories, we must begin questioning why we tell these stories to ourselves. Was it a result from a single event or series of events? Is it an insecurity? Something someone said to us months or years ago that hit a cord and stuck around? Whatever it is or was, start questioning the validity of whether it is still true, was ever true, or most importantly needs to continue being true in the future. Begin asking yourself several iterations of ‘why?’ and you will be surprised at what you can find out.
Once you understand why you are telling yourself these stories, begin to question why the story can’t be changed. Had trouble losing weight? What other strategies are out there? Not finding love? Where are you looking for it? How can you approach this challenge differently? Don’t think you will ever get the promotion? What skills are missing and how can you gain the knowledge to gain proficiency in them?
The key point is to understand the ongoing activities that aren’t working and create a new action plan to achieve different results! Never forget:
“The Definition of Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Unknown
Interrupt the story
Now that you are recognizing all the negative stories and have a better understanding of why they keep running through your head, it’s time to interrupt the story as you begin shifting your thinking towards more productive endings.
This step can be as simple as you want it to be – in short, when you recognize that you are telling yourself one of these stories, tell it to ‘shut up’ in your own way. Yup, that simple. As soon as you notice it, say it to yourself or out loud: “Stop!”, “Shhhh!”, “Be quiet!”. Take your pick.
Don’t believe me? How about a more reputable source like Captain America (Chris Evans). Check it out. Do whatever you need to do to break up that story as soon as you observe it.
Begin authoring your new story
Now it’s time to begin our internal re-write. Whether in your head or on paper, begin to list out all the reasons why you can achieve what you desire, why you are good enough and/or why you do deserve better. Whatever your story is, list all the reasons contrary to what you used to tell yourself. Chart a path towards what is possible and then take that first step.
Tell your new story throughout the day, everyday
Just like your old negative story was ingrained in your subconscious, your new, improved, and positive one can be too – and quite honestly, it needs to be.
Again, whether on paper or in your head, dedicate the time to repeating and reinforcing your new story – all the reasons why you can and will succeed. Why you will lose the weight, find love, get the job, make the change.
Call it what you will – declarations, affirmations, mantras. As long as you put in the reps, you will begin to see those mental muscles begin to grow. Those muscles will force out the negativity and make plenty of space for your new stories and positive headspace. Put in the reps!
My Story Today: In Progress
I want to briefly close with where I am today on my earlier story. The good news is that I’ve made positive progress, and remain committed to the hard work that is required in the future.
On good days, my story is that I am whatever I need to be to make a positive impact. No limits – just impact.
On other days, I’m still ‘just’ a project manager / contractor / etc., and I limit the possibilities of the impact I could and should be making. I could look at this as a failure, or that my old story remains. I choose to see it differently…
The important part around my progress is that I notice the difference between those two types of days, and therefore I can take the steps necessary to continue to interrupt the story, and write a new and better one.
Discussion Question: What story continues to hold you back from the future that you want for yourself? Focus on that one story and use the guidance above and start writing that new story!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."