Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Have you ever noticed how you can get caught up in your own story and the narrative you tell yourself about a situation and life? Whether that's a health challenge, relationship breakdown or loss of a job.
It's the story we tell ourselves around these experiences that shape the way we live and how our future plays out
Take the example of a relationship breakdown. A person will form a story about this situation. They will start to formulate beliefs about themselves, other people and even future events. This may result in them feeling hurt, betrayed and angry. Which are not useful emotions to hold on to. When we get stuck in this faulty thinking it can lead to us adopting different identities, roles and within that, the dynamics of the situation will play out.
When we adopt a role we start to form an identity. For example, if we decide to play the victim we will start to adopt certain patterns of thinking and acting out in the world that we may not be consciously aware of. To get stuck in this narrative. To allow our mind to shape our story negatively is something that will impact our perceptions negatively, form limiting beliefs and ultimately send us on a negative path.
Here are a few other stories people tell themselves about events happening in their lives:
“Everyone's life is better than mine.” This is so often triggered by social media; this story leads to constant comparisons which leads to unhealthy emotions of envy and jealousy.
What about the “ I am an imposter'' story? This could be a situation where someone has been promoted in their career and they feel they are not worthy of the position they hold.
Here's another, the “I'm an unlovable person story.” This is where a person in the past may have had a series of relationships that have fallen apart and they start to formulate some beliefs about themselves and their future.
Another one is the “nothing will work out for me story.” This is where we get stuck in faulty thinking and predict our future in a negative way. The glass is half-empty.
In these moments it's how we talk to ourselves, it's how we shape our story that will influence all aspects of our life going forward.
The best way out is to edit our story and shape it in a compelling way. We may like to rewrite a chapter in our life but in these moments we have to take responsibility. Even if you think you have been treated harshly or life has dealt you a bad hand. It's you that has to change.
Whether it's a breakdown in a relationship, a change of career, a loved one becoming sick the most empowering thing to do is look at it as an opportunity. A challenge to rise to. It's a blank page to reveal new aspects of yourself, to come forward and to rewrite your story.
In a way it's about reinventing yourself, shedding your disempowering beliefs. It can be about new beginnings, new adventures and new endings. We can decide how our story goes. We can be the hero in our world with endless possibilities and happy endings.
So how might we interrupt our story, stop a chapter and move on?. Well, there are a few ways and one I have found particularly useful is expressive writing.
The expressive writing technique is carried out over 4 days. The purpose is to get it all out on paper. You start with a blank page and pen and simply write a stream of consciousness about your situation. Whatever comes into your mind you write it down. You must write for around 20-30 minutes each day. No editing just setting it all out. Your thoughts about the situation, your concerns, your beliefs. What emotions do you have? What about the other people that play a part? What are they thinking? Can you put yourself in their shoes?
Once you have done your 20/30 minutes you just put your journal away. After each day, notice how you feel about the situation and your future. Do you feel more hopeful? Less anxious?. The next day don't read what you did the previous day, just write. Once your 4 days are up place your journal away and come back to it in a week or so.
This is the time to read it again and reflect on it. The questions to ask yourself here are:
What story are you telling yourself?
What patterns of thinking are expressed?
How would you change your thinking going forward to make this change an opportunity?
Ask yourself what good things can come from this situation?
This technique is simple but so effective it took me away from a pit of despair to a life of hope and possibility. You can find more information on expressive writing in the following book; Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, James W. Pennebaker.
All of us carry stories in our heads about our lives, why things went well, why things failed, whose fault something was, why someone treated us a certain way. Stories can define us. Before you get stuck in your narrative. Decide how you want your story to go because it will manifest your future. When you change your story, you change your life.
- Matthew Beeston