Everything you believe about yourself is made up. Literally. Your stories about who you are, how people perceive you, what you’re capable of, how beautiful or handsome you are? They exist only in that head of yours, and no where else.
If you are very perceptive, some of what you believe about yourself might generally match up with how others perceive you. But at least half of the time, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe something to be true, you think others think that thing is true, you behave in a way that reflects that made-up “truth” (we humans don’t like cognitive dissonance), and then what happens? All of a sudden, without even consciously realizing it, you take on a trait you feared you had, but never really did in the first place.
Some people refer to this as the power of storytelling. “Storytelling” is one of those words that has gotten a lot of air time recently, and for good reason. Our lives are stories—mental constructs that we create, use as decision-making filters, and assume to be true.
The problem with the growing trend of “storytelling” is this:
The focus becomes about the story your telling rather than the story you’re living. It’s kind of like a physical fitness trainer who spends 80 hours a week on the road talking to people about the importance of health and fitness—but not getting enough sleep, nutrition, or exercise as a result of an insane travel and work schedule.
The problem with storytelling is that the focus is on the “telling” and not the “doing.”
Personally, I don’t think telling a better story is what matters. LIVING a better story is what truly counts.
So how do you live a better story? Start here:
1. Identify exactly what negative “stories” you have about the way you are, the way the world is, and how other people perceive you in it. Any story you have about yourself that does not make you feel like your best, write it down.
2. Once you’ve identified what your negative stories are, take a trip back in time. Figure out the moment(s) that contributed to the story. Where did you learn it? When? From whom? It’s important to understand exactly how you got to where you are. It’s much, much more difficult to turn a story switch on and off quickly if you’re in a pitch black room.Understand why you believe what you believe about yourself.
3. What are your triggers? What situation(s) bring up the negative story? For instance, if you have a negative story that you aren’t beautiful, when do you feel that way? Every time you look in the mirror? When you’re drinking? When you don’t exercise? When you eat certain foods? Write a detailed list of your triggers for each negative story you hold to be true.
4. When do you feel the opposite of that negative story? Using the same example above, when do you feel beautiful? Who are you around? What are you doing? What are you working on? What time of day is it? What time of year is it? Get as specific as possible about the happy triggers that help mitigate or deplete your negative story.
5. Next is a visual exercise. Imagine yourself in trigger situations. Play the scenario out in your mind with the negative story. Then, recall a happy trigger. What does it look like, in that same situation, to switch the belief to be incredibly affirming and positive? What are you doing? What do you say? What is your body language like? Envision the positive-outcome version of the negative trigger incident in your mind in as much vivid detail as possible.
6. Practice this exercise for 3 minutes a day. Choose one negative story to change, and focus on changing it for a few weeks by meditating on a different outcome. All it takes is 3 minutes a day. If you have trouble remembering, learn to be conscious of when you are in a negative trigger situation, and use a real-time example to stop and take 3 minutes to envision a much more positive storyline, feeling, and outcome. Repeat this process until it starts to become second nature. It sounds crazy, but I’m telling you, that visualization shit works.
7. At this point, you should be well on your way to reversing the negative story. By doing this simple exercise, you’ll learn how to spot negative story moments more quickly, and stop them in their tracks. But, every now and again, you’ll come into a situation where a deeply seeded negative story is plaguing you and you can’t pull yourself out from the mud. In this kind of moment, be extremely patient and kind with yourself. Don’t try to surpress or ignore or numb the feeling. Observe why you feel that way, what’s triggering the bullshit, and just engage with the moment as an active learner-participant of your own story constructs. What you resist persists, so if you want something to be different, you have to let yourself be comfortable with that icky feeling first.
8. Find people you admire who have a very positive story version of your negative story. So, for the beauty example, the person you might admire is Beyonce, or a very confident friend. Study what those people do. How do they carry themselves? How do they speak? What is their body language? How do they engage with the people and universe around them? Keep these people in mind. They will serve as very effective, in-the-moment inspiration.
9. When you have a negative story moment, train yourself to think immediately about that person who has a very positive version of that story. Ask yourself, “What would __________ do?” Then behave accordingly. To be clear, this isn’t a “pretend to be someone else” tactic. Think of it as a quiet mentorship—you’re learning from people who have developed incredibly positive and affirming stories.
10. Who do you want to be? Write down, in detail, what positive stories you want to learn and adopt. Once you know what those are and you have a clear picture in your head about the woman or man you want to be, that’s the last and most important question you should consistently be asking yourself: “Is this bullshit story a reflection of the person I want to be? Not in the eyes of anyone else, but for me?”
If the answer is no, then change that shit immediately. Remember the image of your sense of self being a series of perceptions that exist, quite literally, only in your brain. While it is by no means easy to shift behavior, it is not nearly as hard as you might think when you’re clear about who you are and what you want.
Because it’s true: the only thing standing in between you and what you want to do and who you want to be is thinking that your bullshit stories are real and unchangeable.
They are neither.
So, go change the crappy ones you’re living with.
*Big “Thank You” to Amber Rae for inspiring me to write this one. Love you.
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- ichinchen22 said: Hi, Melissa. I am an International undergraduate student from UCR. I read your posts every day. Most of the time, they are so helpful. I also learn a lot from you and Amber Rae. I think that I am happier than before. Thank you, Melissa:)
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