We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. Unfortunately, much of the time, these stories don’t make our lives bigger or better. Sometimes our stories limit us in small ways (“I don’t eat Indian food” or “I’m not the kind of person who goes hiking for fun”). Other stories act as a lens through which we see the world (“I never should have left Los Angeles and given up on acting” or “I don’t know what I’m passionate about and it’s driving me insane!”). These stories–often very similar to limiting self-talk–influence our lives to an extent beyond imagination.
Here’s a sampling from some people I’ve talked to:
I’m a city person; I couldn’t live anywhere but a large city. I actually don’t think I could live anywhere but New York! • I’m going to be a director. • I’m an artist. • I’m an entrepreneur. • I like asking for things. • Netflix is my boyfriend. • I have low self-esteem. • I don’t like going to classes at the gym; it’s one more thing to be late for. • I’m a morning person. • I’m a night owl. • I’m not the kind of person who goes to India.
I dated my soulmate two years ago, but I screwed everything up. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about anyone again. • I don’t know what my passion is and it’s driving me crazy. Everyone else seems to have a calling. • I have to get married by the time I’m thirty. • I am so behind the people I went to high school with. •If I’m not interested in a task, I’m incapable of doing it.
I’m annoying. • I’m a bitch. • I’m a failure. • I’m a screw-up. • I am not living the kind of life I planned on. • If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would do so many things differently. • Everyone acts like I have so much agency in my life. I don’t feel free at all. • I suck at life. • I fully suck. • I’m such a fuck-up. •
We frequently tell stories about ourselves that serve as the “elevator pitch” that we repeat to ourselves, about ourselves. We all have a self-concept, and it becomes the lens through which we see the world. That story can be positive (“I’m a graphic designer in Boston. I’m known for wearing bright colors”) or glass-half empty (“I live in Boston. I left a corporate job to become a full-time freelance web designer. You wouldn’t believe how little money I make”). These stories—even if we don’t often consciously think about them—can greatly affect the way we see the world around us. It could be a difference as drastic as living in full color or seeing the world in sepia. When the story you tell yourself about yourself is negative, it’s bigger than limiting self-talk; it can become your worldview.
Everyone can benefit from being more aware of their self-talk and examining the stories they tell. For people with anxiety and OCD, it’s especially important to be conscious of your self-talk and to be aware of your “story.” People who struggle with obsessive thinking often have the tendency to get “stuck” on a thought that they believe to be true. If that thought is your story, you’re going to be repeating it to yourself a lot. It’s in your best interest to make sure it’s a true story, and a good one.
This is what’s game changing.
It is entirely possible to change your story. In writing a new story, we can design the way we want to show up in the world. This includes, but is not limited to: how we want to feel, how we want to make others feel, how we express our talents, and how we experience our own company. We can change the flavor of our self-talk. When we do so, we interact with ourselves in new ways: we experience more self-compassion, we learn to soothe ourselves, and we act with greater self-efficacy.
Here’s a starting point to do some brainstorming:
What is a story that’s problematic in my life right now?
When and where did I get this story?
Was it true then? Is true now?
Why am I holding on to this story?
Am I willing to trade this story for something better?