Not everything we believe about ourselves is true. Our inner narrator tells the story of our life in real-time, and what they say doesn’t always belong in the non-fiction section. What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

If you want to know if something is true or not, pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel terrible about yourself, it’s probably not true. That doesn’t mean that you can’t improve on things, but there are both helpful and unhelpful ways to frame your thoughts. For example, an untrue statement may say, “I’m a slob,” a thought that doesn’t feel good to think or to say. A truer thought would be, “I sometimes put off cleaning, and then I feel anxious when I can’t find what I need.”

See the difference? One is a negative value judgment; the other focuses on a specific behavior, and how that behavior affects you emotionally. Embedded in the second statement is a solution; you could create a cleaning schedule to avoid losing things. By changing how the story is told, you can help yourself take action without being your own bully.

What about your stories?

What stories are you telling yourself, and are they helping, or hurting? In four steps, you can identify the unhelpful stories you’re carrying around, as well as the negative behaviors that come with those stories. Before we can change something, we must first acknowledge why those thoughts are there in the first place.

1. Find the root of the label

If you want to rewrite your story, you need to discern the origin story of the label you’re giving yourself.

For example, let’s use Sarah (not her real name). Sarah is introverted, and has been labeled as “shy,” since she was a child. Sarah is studying pre-law, but her “shy” label means that Sarah is often passed up for group project opportunities that involve presenting, public speaking, or taking the lead. Despite success on the speech and debate team in high school, Sarah is repeatedly overlooked by classmates. In high school, a teacher expressed shock when she won a speech competition, embarrassing Sarah and planting the seed in her mind. As that seed took root, Sarah has started to believe her own label, and became less and less confident in her abilities.

2. Identify the story you’re telling

Sarah worked to identify the story she was telling herself; “I’m not meant for the spotlight. I’m too shy to be an attorney.” The line between others and herself was blurry. Sarah was less inclined to put herself out there because her classmates assumed she wasn’t interested in speaking, and because her teacher had made it clear that her success was out of character. Eventually, she stopped trying to be an active participant in group projects altogether.

Like Sarah, when we get too caught up in our own story, we limit ourselves, failing to seize opportunities, even when we want them.

3. What are you getting out of the behavior?

Even though Sarah’s “too shy to present” storyline made her feel bad about herself, she found herself playing the role more often than not.  Why?

Ultimately, we play into these roles because we get something out of it. Or we perceive that we do, anyway. For Sarah, who doesn’t like conflict, it felt safer for her to give in to her behind-the-scenes role. If she advocated for herself, she feared she would alienate her new classmates and friends. When Sarah failed to speak up, she got to avoid doing something that scared her.

Once Sarah saw the subconscious ways she was benefiting from this storyline, the wheels were set in motion: how could she seize the opportunity to present without pretending she was someone else?

4. Rewrite your story

To begin changing her perception of herself, Sarah wrote a new story. Instead of limiting herself, her story became, “I’m introverted AND when I’m in front of a crowd I’m energetic and confident.” She also examined those around her to discern the professors and classmates who made sure to include everyone in the group process, and who made her feel supported. As she found those people and her confidence grew, Sarah started to volunteer for opportunities and to show those around her how skilled she was at debating her position.

How is the story you’re telling affecting you?

How can you change your story and behavior(s) to better reflect your inner truth? Work the exercise and get clear on your false stories. It’s time to move toward your fullest, most authentic self.