The stories we tell ourselves about our lives make a huge difference to the outcomes we achieve, to our experience of success. Read this recent blog post by a colleague on redefining success.
We choose our personal stories and the stories we choose often reflect cultural qualities we admire or which were important for the survival of our tribe. Over the years the details of these stories may change to fit better into contemporary environments. So it can be helpful to reflect on the stories we are telling ourselves.
What is a story you are currently telling yourself?
How does it help you navigate your life and support what you are currently trying to achieve?
We all love a good story. When I think of Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian, in my opinion, one of the greats of story telling, the story that springs to mind is of his hilarious memories of being a small boy shivering - chittering we would say - in woolly scratchy bathers on a cold stony beach somewhere in summer in the north of Scotland. Yes, I remember these cold beaches and scratchy swimsuits from my own childhood!
In another context - and this time I have no memory or ever actually doing this, but it seems to be part of some tribal memory - we are all sitting round a camp fire telling stories ranging from the banal to the bizarre to the creepy to the horrendous.
The stories of others can inspire us to action
Other people’s stories can inspire us in different ways.
To persist in the face of rejection
When we suffer personal or professional rejection, then remembering the stories of others who persisted in the face of apparent failure can help us to pick ourselves up and try again. The number of now famous authors who were rejected numerous times by different publishers is legion: JK Rowling had ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ rejected twelve times and was told ‘not to quit her day job’!
To follow our dream
When we wonder whether to take on a particular challenge, maybe a business idea that might feel a little far fetched, then the stories of others who followed their dream despite the disbelief or even ridicule of others can armour us to persevere: most of us will have heard of, if not seen, the movie ’Tracks’ based on the book of that name, that follows Robyn Davidson’s 1700 km trek across the deserts of Western Australia accompanied only by her dog and four camels.
To take initiative and use our strengths
When we find that through no fault of our own, we don’t measure up to someone else’s expectations, we can take stock of the strengths we do have and build on these. I’ve always liked this story (I’ve also seen a version that positions the hero in Silicon Valley) of the church warden who lost his job because he couldn’t read or write. He used his savings to purchase a small shop on the road to and from the church from where he did a roaring trade in tobacco (those were the days) initially from the church congregation walking past the shop on their way home; he and his family became very comfortably off. Many years later, an admirer commented, ‘My goodness, you’ve done so well and not being able to read or write. Imagine what you might have achieved if you had learned to read and write!’ ‘Oh, aye’, replied our hero. ‘I’d still be a poor church warden!’
What stories are you telling yourself?
What is a major challenge you are facing in your life right now?
Maybe you haven’t had a book rejected for the umpteenth time; maybe you’re not contemplating a solo trip across 1700 kms of desert with your camel caravan of four; maybe you’ve not been sacked from your secure job because of seemingly arbitrary changes to the job requirements. But being human, we all face something.
Reflect on a current challenge you face
I invite you to take a moment and reflect on something that is bothering you, even if it does seem fairly insignificant or commonplace or unavoidable.
What is a story you are currently telling yourself about this ‘thing’?
Is your story painting you as a hero or a victim?
Is it helping you move on or keeping you stuck in the same vicious cycle?
What do you like about it?
What would you like to change?
Is there an upside you're missing?
Whatever your answers to these questions, there is often an ‘upside’, something that keeps the same story in place for us even when we don’t particularly like it and it’s obviously no longer useful. Can you identify that upside? And how does that upside help you in life?
For example, one of my own current challenges is a chronic immune condition, not unusual in this day and age. I struggle with the story I tell myself about what’s going on. Do I tell myself that I am something of a hero in how I deal with this? Or am I seeing myself as a more or less helpless victim of a widespread condition? Or can I see it more neutrally as just something that has happened in my life, much like my hair turning grey? These are all potential stories that have degrees of relevance.
I had a breakthrough yesterday over lunch with a friend. We were mulling over - amongst more mundane matters relating to our respective gardens - issues of genetic predisposition and current esoteric writings on human evolution. I realised that the story that resonates most with me is that this immune condition is a part of my personal journey. I am working through it with the ultimate aim of clearing it, not just for myself, but for future generations. Whether I ultimately clear it or not is not so important. The important thing is that I put out the intention of clearing the condition and then give it my best shot because whatever I manage to do will have its effect.
If this seems a bit wacko, so be it.
It aligns with my belief in Einstein’s often quoted teaching that many problems can only be solved by moving to a higher level than the level at which the problems were originally created.
It also aligns with my belief that we live in a world of interconnected energy fields where work on one system inevitably has effects on all systems and changes the whole. By working in an aligned, focused and intentional way with my personal energy field, other related fields change just as a ripple spreads in a pond when you throw in a stone.
And it motivates me to continue to put out the intention for optimal health for myself and my family while exploring a variety of measures, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and energetic to address signs, symptoms and the root cause of the immune condition.
I invite you to explore one of your own stories about a challenge you face: and to play with that story until it resonates with you and clarifies to you what action or actions to take next.
When your story eventually does resonate with you, ask yourself what it is about the story that grabs you and how this relates to the action or actions you decide to take.