"Stories", you say, "what's the point of writing about those?"
The point is that the stories you are actively writing and rewriting are dictating your life. Humans have forever used oration and story-telling as a way of passing down our history and the lessons we have collectively learned, so it's no surprise that we do the same thing internally.
There's nothing wrong with having stories - it's human to do so. The problem happens when our stories start preventing us from attaining what's next. At this point, they stop being helpful, and start hindering us.
For years, I've operated from a story that people will find me boring, awkward or a loser. From that story, there was no such thing as comfortable silence. There was no such thing as a pause in the conversation without any significance. Every time conversation I was having with a stranger fell quiet, I would work as hard as possible to bridge the gap and generate more conversation. It was exhausting on both sides of the table.
Can you imagine the impact this would have on me as I transitioned into a career as a professional coach? Coaching requires giving people space. It requires allowing them the time to sit and process the question you've asked. From that place of managing my story about myself, you can see that not only am I spending a ton of time over here on my side of the table (instead of being present with my client), it's also impossible to allow this space to exist. That story that had gotten me to where I was today, would no longer be helpful in what was next - it was now a hindrance.
Take a minute and reflect on what stories you tell yourself about the following things:
You may have found it difficult to separate story from reality. "Sure", you might say, "I have it that money is scarce, but that's because it really is scarce". Sure, I had an interpretation that people felt I was awkward to be with, but that's because they really did!
Once we've created a story, we act to keep it in place. I had a client explain to me that she didn't want to call people and ask them about herself because it would come across as needy and clingy. It was desperate and not the way she wanted to be perceived. But when we looked at it, she realized that not only did she actively gather and create evidence in support of this story (noticing the people that were desperate and needy, as well as judging people that might ask her the same question), but that it was actually her own story projected outwards everywhere.
That thing that you're worried people are thinking about you? That's actually you projecting your fears onto them. This is how a story works. It's how it holds sway over us.
And here's the real kicker: some people will find me awkward, and some people will find my client needy. There's nothing we can do to change that. Manage that story as much as we want, people will reach their own conclusions about us, free from our best attempts to have them to do otherwise.
So what do you do? You write a new story.
Decide what you want that story to be, and then start acting as if. Because the good news is that there is nothing apart from your own observation. You chose that story originally (maybe based on some evidence you'd gathered, maybe based on your family's own stories, maybe something else entirely), and now you can actually choose something different.
The challenge is in actively choosing. Your resistance will show up by focusing on the evidence that proves your current story. When I started to act in the face of my story that people thought I was awkward, every single pause felt like an eternity. It felt incredibly awkward, because it was: I was doing something different. (Do you think it felt natural and easy when you learned to walk? What about when you first learned to ride a bike? Driving a car?)
Here's a few specific things we can do:
- Stop entertaining the old story. Look for places that you are keeping that story present, and acting in accordance with it. If you believe that every time you ask for acknowledgment, you are showing up as needy, ask for it anyhow. Acknowledge the fear, if you have to. Look for situations where other people ask for acknowledgment, free of that judgment. Ask other people how they view asking for acknowledgment. Notice every time you think to yourself "Boy, I deserve some acknowledgment right now" and then grow resentful because you haven't gotten it, and choose something different.
- Start gathering evidence in support of your new story. When I started allowing pauses, my job was to notice what was actually generated in those pauses. Instead of focusing on everything I perceived to be awkward, I had to focus on what it actually created between me and the other person. (For one, I didn't have to work so damn hard). You know what else I noticed? Sometimes it is awkward talking to someone new - and that's fine too!
- Ask yourself if you're satisfied living in a world where that old story is true. Because the truth is, you've created this world. There are billions of people on this planet, and they each have their own stories. The poor but happy person has chosen a different outlook than the stressed but wealthy person. If you don't like that old story, but can't let go of it yet, start bankrupting it. Notice the cost of your stories. What isn't available to you from that place?
What are some of the disempowering stories that you are currently repeating to yourself? If you got to choose a different story, what would it be, and what would be possible if that's the way world really was?
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