If you spend any amount of time around these parts, you know that Brene Brown is one of my personal heroes. She was my gateway drug into the world of whole-hearted living and made me realize how much of my life can be influenced simply by how I treat myself.
One of the concepts that she often preaches about is the idea of “the story we tell ourselves” — it’s the story that our mind makes up to explain outside circumstances and situations, and these stories may or may not reflect reality. One of the examples that she uses is when a work colleague seems to be short with me, maybe the story that I automatically believe is that I did something wrong and so he blew me off or that he thinks I’m a jerk because I disagreed with his idea. I then go to his desk and say, “This is the story I’m telling myself … ” and explain what I’m thinking, and he replies, “Oh no, I had just gotten a phone call from my wife that distracted me” and all of a sudden, my story falls apart. My story may have explained what happened, but failed to actually sync up with the rest of the world.
These stories, they happen automatically. They’re just our way of making sense of the world around us, but honestly, we aren’t always very good at making them real. And believing these stories can really become an obstacle to doing something you want to do or moving forward in a different way. Because, see, we don’t just have stories to explain the behavior of other people, we also make up stories to explain why we act the way we do.
So, like I mentioned last week, I hurt my back last Friday — badly enough that I was pretty well relegated to sitting around for the rest of that weekend and very slowly working my way back this week. And it’s been difficult, because I had made such a good start on my rest-of-the-year goals and I was motivated to keep pressing on and then, in the span of one deadlift, I went from totally pumped to feeling like a deflated balloon. A deflated balloon that whimpered every time it had to get up after sitting down.
See, the story I tell myself is this: whenever things are going well, something will always happen that will keep me from moving forward and reaching my goals. Whatever this “something” is, it will derail me, I’ll lose ground and lose track of what was so important to me just a moment ago. That “something” will stop me from doing what I need to do and I won’t see any other way around it. I’ll be a failure. I’ll quit. I’ll lose all progress previously made and be back at square one where, at some point in the far future, I’ll have to start over yet again, after whining and complaining and generally bemoaning how unlucky I am.
This is an easy story for me to believe; it’s not like it hasn’t already happened many times. And I always start again, feeling like THIS is the time that everything will go smoothly. Of course, that’s just another story I’m telling myself. Do you know anyone who has completely smooth sailing on any sort of project or goal? Yea. Me either.
I need to change my story.
My new story is one of fake it ’til you make it. My new story is that I’m a person who perseveres in the face of challenges. That I don’t give up. My new story is that I might have to tack this way and that against the wind, but it’s always with the goal in sight. My new story is that even if I have to just tread water, not making progress, I’m at least holding my ground. My story is that even though the journey might not be smooth, I understand that this journey is important and just staying with it and not abandoning is a win.
Adopting my new story won’t necessarily be easy, but my new story tells me that I’ll be able to do it (how’s that for a little circular logic?). The goals that I had set out — move every day, eat mindfully, strength train — will have another overriding goal: don’t quit. Do the minimum, acknowledge and forgive any missteps, just don’t give up. Do what I can with what I have. I don’t have to be perfect — hell, if perfection were the only thing allowed, I would have been out a long time ago — I just have to keep trying.
So far I’ve managed to do my minimum — walking a mile — every day. It’s a sixteen day streak and I’ve got two months more to go to hit my goal. Just a mile a day might not seem like much, but that’s what I’m talking about — it keeps me feeling like I’m on-task and doing something even when most everything else is out of my reach at the moment.
Changing our story is something anyone can do. What stories do you tell yourself that limit you? What do you think about yourself that’s “just the way I am” rather than looking at it with a little curiosity and wondering, “how could I change that story?” There’s a lot of power in recognizing our stories, and also recognizing that we are the creators of these stories; being the author means being able to go back in and edit the heck out of them, rewrite the ending or even re-jigger the whole damn thing.