Want to change the quality of your life almost instantly? It’s easy – change the way you talk to yourself about your life. Our lives are mostly comprised of the stories we tell ourselves in our own heads. Events occur, and we perceive them and make meaning out of them by telling ourselves stories about what happened. The story is powerful in a couple of ways – first, it’s likely to affect your future actions and decisions, and second, it will definitely affect your mood.
This can play out in even the smallest things. It’s easier to see this with an example – you have decided to create a morning practice that supports your highest energy and begins the day with a period of peace. Say you get up late one morning, and instead of the meditation and healthy breakfast you had planned, you scarf down a breakfast sandwich from your local drive through on your way to work. You could tell yourself any of these stories (or a million others):
Option A: “I can’t believe I am such a loser; I should have gotten up earlier. I am going to have to work even harder at this whole life transformation thing.”
Option B: “Damn I’m so resourceful. I’m grateful that fast food restaurant is on the way to work and I was still able to eat before I began my workday. Tomorrow I will try for meditation again.”
Option C: “I’m not sure that mediation and a healthy breakfast are going to work for me. Maybe I should try to meditate at night instead and just eat breakfast on the way to work.”
It’s easy to see that each story will make you feel a certain way, and each may lead to a different result. However, there is way more story involved in this example than these three options. This is where I think story ‘work’ becomes a lot of fun – detecting the stories behind the stories. In our fictional example, I think the storytelling starts way earlier than the breakfast sandwich – I think it begins with deciding to create a morning practice. The stories that could be going on here too are numerous – these are some potentials:
Option A: “I need to start off my day in a more peaceful way, and the best way to do that is meditation.”
Option B: “I need to meditate more because I’m not calm enough, and everyone says the best time to meditate is in the morning.”
Option C: “If I meditate and eat a healthy breakfast, I will eat less throughout the day, be thinner, and be more attractive.”
Option D: “Creating a calming morning ritual will help me endure my horrible job.”
Next week we’re going to revisit this topic and play with changing our daily stories, but for this week, I only want to focus on finding the stories behind your daily life. These might be so deep in the background that you don’t see them immediately. In order to help with that, try this out this week and see how it goes for you:
Step #1: Create a gathering place for all of your story notes. You might carry a small notebook, or email yourself when you notice a story, or – my favorite – create a Google doc that you can access from anywhere to record your notes.
Step #2: Pay attention to when you feel like crap. Whenever you find yourself frustrated, angry, upset, bored, disappointed, sad, etc. this week, you can bet there is a story involved. Just note what story is going through your mind and any feelings or actions that resulted from it.
Step #3: Pay attention to when you feel incredible. This, too, is likely a result of an internal story. (At first pass, this might seem depressing, like you’re fooling yourself into being happy. In fact, I think its good news. More on this next week when we look at changing stories.) Again, note what story is going through your mind and any feelings or actions that resulted from it.
For steps four and five, set aside twenty minutes to do some writing…
Step #4: Pick a longstanding, chronic problem you have. We looked at this a bit a few weeks ago in a post about solving problems. In this case, though, I’d like you to focus on the story you are telling about yourself as it relates to the problem. For example, I used quitting smoking in that last post, and one of my thoughts around it was, “the withdrawal symptoms are so horrible I will need an iron will to quit.” The trick here is to ask yourself what that means about you. In my case, it means I didn’t think I had the will to quit. It might boil down to stories such as these: “I don’t have a very strong will. I am not capable of experiencing prolonged discomfort without trying to ease it. I have always been focused on instant gratification.” Write down any stories you have about what having this problem means about you.
Step #5: Pick something you’re really good at, or an accomplishment you are proud of achieving. Again look at the stories you are telling about yourself related to this skill or accomplishment. I’m good at math, and the stories I tell myself about this are, “This is no big deal, and something I didn’t have to work at to achieve. It just is, and it’s minimally useful at best.” I didn’t realize I was so dismissive of my math skills before writing this. (Clearly I can benefit from next week’s exercise!) You, too, might find that your stories about your accomplishments, skills, triumphs are not the joyful stories you may have expected. That doesn’t matter for the moment – the important thing is just to know what they are.
Next week we get to start the fun work of transforming some of these stories, but first, we have to know what they are. To give yourself some extra motivation to do this, commit here publicly to trying it. Tae the tiny step #1 – pick any form of recording option – and leave a comment below letting us know how you’re going to keep track of your thoughts this week.