3 Ways To Change The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Our thoughts always start off innocently:
Sharing a funny story over brunch that has people checking their phones leads to: "I'm not funny."
Showing up late to a meeting turns into: "Urg, I'm always late."
Not landing the job you've spent days preparing for: “I'm not smart enough.”
Our brains turn our actions into stories and these stories can impact the way we see ourselves, the way we see others and the way we go on to act in the future.
However, we can play an active role in reshaping stories. One study looked at the way a group of students recounted their successes and failures.
Students who acknowledged the role they played in their victories, and the lessons learned from their struggles, were more persistent and went on to have better grades than those who saw things through a more pessimistic lens.
Takeaway: Telling yourself a positive story can lead to positive outcomes.
Say, for example, your supervisor explains that he wants you to handle a situation differently in the future.
You can tell yourself a couple of stories in this scenario:
You could tell yourself that you always mess up in this situation, however, if you create this story, the odds that you're going to nail it the next time are... actually slim to none.
Instead, if you remind yourself that there's always room to grow and decide that this is a learning opportunity, you are... likely, going to nail it next time around.
Of course, changing a story isn't easy and it requires deep and sometimes uncomfortable exploration into what you think about yourself and why you think it.
So, the next time you feel a negative narrative playing in your mind - one that isn't serving you - pause and try switching the lens.
Want to learn how to switch your lens but don't know how? Give it a try:
Reverse Lens: What Would Someone Else Think?
Seeing something from someone else's perspective can help you break free from the story in your head and make better-educated decisions. This doesn't make your own perspective less true, it just gives you a different perspective.
If we go back to the supervisor example above. Sure, we might automatically think they’re out to get us or they want to highlight a flaw or they could be giving you constructive feedback because they want you to grow and shift your actions for the better.
It can be hard to see this perspective ourselves. Ask a friend, family member or your partner for their interpretation of the situation. They might interpret it as - that’s just part of their role and it’s nothing to take personally or they interpret it as ‘they’re just protecting the integrity of their team within the organization’.
If after your conversation you feel as though their interpretation didn’t quite help you and has left you feeling worse. Ask a couple of people that you trust for their perspective. This can debunk your original negative narrative and will allow you to see the situation from many different angles.
Long Lens: Will This Matter in Six Months?
If you feel the familiar negative narrative creeping up, consider the situation you’re experiencing ask yourself: ‘how will I about this situation in say six months?’
With the same example above ask yourself: How will I feel in six months about my supervisor's comment? Will it still sting as much? Or will it feel like a drop of feedback in a pool of growth? Maybe it might even help you to feel more equipped to handle another situation that came your way?
Wide Lens: Issue Aside, How Can I Learn From It?
Finally, creating a story that leads you to learn from a situation can be beneficial.
Going back to our example, what can you learn from your supervisor's feedback? You may need to be more prepared in those situations, or more thoughtful about your approach?
Here, evolving a negative narrative to a positive one can drastically improve the next time you're met with the same situation as well as the next story you tell yourself.
Try asking yourself: What's the lesson? Notice and soak in the lesson, and your stories will start to serve you, not hold you back.