Many aspiring change makers fail to understand the power of the stories they are telling themselves and the world. In fact, they can mistakenly assume they need a dramatic story to create attention.
That’s simply not true.
We may think we aren’t creative enough to tell good stories, our lives aren’t exciting enough or even that we aren’t capable of stringing thoughts together like that.
But we are – and we do. In fact, we tell them all day long.
From our thoughts on the weather, to helping a client or colleague understand the context we are pointing them towards, to recounting a memorable experience to a friend over drinks, we tell stories.
We also read books, watch movies and get caught up in real life drama based on the stories that concern us.
But by far, the most powerful stories we will ever tell are the ones we tell ourselves.
Why do the stories we tell ourselves matter?
Why should we be so concerned with worrying about something so hard to understand such as stories?
Wouldn’t it be much more productive to focus on what’s wrong right now and consider how we can fix it?
All of this is true – and according to leading researchers, that’s the point.
We are story telling animals. We make sense of our world through them.
So unless you are planning on whipping out that breakout autobiographical memoir by noon tomorrow, why should you care enough to consider what stories you are telling yourself?
That’s a fair question.
You and I are intelligent, thoughtful and engaged leaders and change makers. We deserve intelligent and meaningful answers to the questions that arise when we consider why stories are important to developing who we are and what is possible for us to create in the our world around us.
So, because you are so brilliant, here is why you deserve to be telling yourself brilliant stories:
Those stories can be as subtle as what we feel is wrong with the shape of our thighs to why we will never be able to attain the measure of success we secretly long for or have a fulfilling relationship.
The stories we tell ourselves are as real to us as the feeling of rain on our face. They take on shape and form in our minds, directing our perceptions of the world around us. Through those stories we decide how to see our world, estimate our abilities, and approach our relationships and connections.
Some of those stories inspire us to do better, to become greater and to reach further. Some of them, however, entice us into playing small, to back off from personal or professional growth, and to even sabotage relationships and opportunities.
All because of simple stories that we cling to and press play and repeat on, over and over again.
But how can we change something if we don’t understand why it’s important in the first place?
Without a story of fulfillment, pleasure, connection, etc., our lives look pretty bleak and sparse, don’t you think?
When we are living from the belief that we are doing good work, we tell stories to ourselves that remind us of why it’s important. However, if we are playing out a narrative in our minds, over and over again, about why nothing that we do matters or makes a difference to anyone else, the meaning is lost.
And when meaning is lost, the connection to perspective is severed as well.
2. Stories are subjective. Therefore, we are the ones that will choose which ones we will believe (no matter how many times our emotions or experience may tell us otherwise)
The ancient ruler, Solomon, once declared that everything apart from purpose was meaningless.
Stories show us how to assign purpose to what we do, based on who we are, the values we hold dear, and the dreams that we want to see fulfilled. The stories we tell ourselves around all of these things can be layered and complex – but in the end, it is simply a story that we are choosing to live out every day.
For example, if that story we believe about our worth is based around an experience of failure or hurt, without deciding we will change that story, we will continue to tell it to ourselves time and again.
3. Stories we tell ourselves can be transformed from being about the past to being about the future.
This is especially important when we seek to connect with other people, mend broken bridges and create futures together.
The past is a memory. This is kind of mind bending to consider, but when we are basing our current perception of what’s possible on a story that we are stuck in, we are not in the present. This kind of focus makes us incapable of considering what’s possible because it’s overshadowed by history.
When we are living in the past there’s no hope of change.
But when we decide that our story is going to be about more than disappointment, wrong choices or lack of confidence, we begin to understand how it can be transformed into something better. We begin to create a new story for our lives or organizations that is based less on history, and more in what is possible from this moment forward.
4. Stories can help us clarify what’s truly important to us and how we can shape our future on those values and beliefs.
For example, perhaps you are scared of public speaking. The thought of a microphone in front of your face causes your palms to immediately sweat and you feel the back of your neck get clammy. Why do you feel this fear? Is it because you are not the kind of human who should be speaking in front of a microphone? Is it because you are incapable of attaining the mastery of public speaking?
No, it’s none of those things at all.
It’s simply a story you are telling yourself about what is possible for you to do.
That story isn’t serving your best interests in creating a future that looks different from the past. However, it is serving you as a protective measure against something you believe will hurt you or is unsafe for you. The reasons that you are telling yourself these stories can be as unique as your life experience:
- Perhaps it was a bad speech class experience in grade 5 and you felt ridiculed when you stood in front of people
- Perhaps it was a careless word that was said to you around your abilities to communicate or speak
- Perhaps it’s rooted in a deeper connection about how you even view your abilities in general
Where it came from helps you untangle it, but it isn’t the end game. Nothing changes moving forward if we only stay focused on the past.
From the very earliest of our learning experiences, we have been taught to see a problem and focus on how to fix that problem. It has served us over the years to be sure. It’s how we integrate everything from math concepts to critical thinking skills. This is how our world continues to function in the day to day of going from moment to moment.
But what if you considered for a moment what life could look like without that fear or avoidance? What would be possible for you if that avoidance of embracing something wasn’t part of the stories you tell yourself around your abilities? And most of all, how do you even begin to change those stories that you know are inhibiting your ability to do or become what you truly believe you are capable of accomplishing?
Good news! This is the fun part! Stories can be edited. They can be transformed.
They can become the very thing that propels us forward into what we wanted all along: to become the best version of ourselves.
All around us are amazing people who make decisions every day to change the stories they are telling themselves around their potential, their leadership and their work. I hope you are one of them.
What say you? Do you want to learn to change your personal story in a way that gives you clarity on what you want in your life and helps you to uncover the self confidence you need to be the person you know you TRULY are capable of becoming?