The stories we tell ourselves

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The stories we tell ourselves have a phenomenal power over our lives.  They shape how we interpret events, how we experience our relationships, even what we pay attention to.

There is an reflective writing exercise that I do with my clients to close out my Success Skills Set session.  ”The problem with the mind is that it believes what it thinks” is the Byron Katie quote that lays at the top of the page.  How seldom do we challenge our thoughts? Our perceptions? Our beliefs?  Yet how we think about the world around and inside us dictates how we feel about it.  How we feel about the world inside and around us determines how we behave, and how we behave determines our future, our character, our integrity.

Examining our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us is worth some consideration.

Shortly after bringing home my new kitties, my son and I were watching them stalk, pounce upon, and wrestle with one another.  Sometimes its hard to imagine that they weren’t going to hurt one another- or that they despised each other- yet they’d be curled around one another in the blanket basket an hour later grooming one another and settling in for a nap between each others’ paws.  ”Well, that’s how you learn about the world, right? From fighting with your brothers and sisters” my only child remarked.  It struck me speechless at the time.

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When they’re not shredding each other, they’re quite affectionate.

Later, I was watching the kitties going after each other again- much stronger now, their tactics much more refined.  It was clear to me that as scrabbling siblings, they would be much more able to find their way in the wilder world than if they didn’t fight as often and as fiercely as they did.  They were more nimble, more cunning, more strategic because they were being perpetually challenged in a way that a human caretaker wouldn’t be able to imitate.

Indeed, it seemed that the natural world testified that fighting with our siblings is one of the many ways the young are prepared for the world they’ll have to navigate as adults.  So where did we get the idea that there was something wrong with our families if we fought with our siblings? How did this idea that there was something wrong with us, with them, with our families because we fought–ironically enough–intensify the fighting?  Take it from the realm of playful but informative parries & thrusts to soul-wounding experiences that damaged our sense of security and self-esteem?

Mind you, I’m not advocating parents leaving children to rip each other to shreds– managing conflict and dispute and moving to forgiveness is part of the skill-set we need to be effective and productive adults.  What I am saying is that shifting our perception of the role of fighting would enable us to manage that conflict better.  Forgiveness would be almost unnecessary–do you need to forgive the people that you see as being integral to helping you develop the survival skills that have brought you this far?

How different would our lives be if we expected this to be a part of childhood? Saw it as perfectly normal and natural, and even a part of our education and preparation for adulthood?

Shifts things a bit, doesn’t it?

The stories we tell ourselves deeply effect our lives; our motivation, our sense of esteem, our confidence, our optimism.  Motivation, confidence, and optimism deeply impact our performance and outcomes.  Oftentimes, the answer to our performance issues doesn’t lie in getting more hours of contact with the information, or more organized with our schedules, but in addressing the stories we’re telling ourselves about our capacity and capabilities.  About what success means.  About what failure means.  How many “this always happens to me”s are you carrying around? Sure, getting enough contact with the information in a way that works for us is crucial, as is developing an organizational system we’ll actually use.  But if we have these things and we can’t manage to stay on track, its time to look deeper.

Do we think success will call us to leave something we cherish behind? Are we using failure to protect our self-esteem?

What stories are you living by? Are they serving you?  To find out, just start paying attention to the stories that run across your mind.  How does your body feel when you’re in these narratives? How do they impact how you see yourself? How do they impact your relationships with others?  Just watch and see what happens.

Are there other options? Is  the story you’ve been telling yourself the only interpretation of what’s going on? What could be some other interpretations?

Paying attention to what we tell ourselves is a very powerful way to put ourselves into the driver’s seat of our own lives.  Mind you, I’m talking about paying non-judgmental attention here: to judge, we’re likely telling ourselves another story. Try non-judgmental observation of your stories for a week.  What do you notice?

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