This week, I’ve been thinking about how sometimes the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we have heard about ourselves can be limiting. Even worse, the stories we tell ourselves can lead to our getting stuck, like those black dotted squares in Candy Land.
There is great power in owning our stories and rooting our identity in them. Our stories grow in power (for better and for worse) the more we repeat them. I have stories about how I became an artist, how I act as a mother, my role as the youngest sibling, or my relationship to work. It feels secure to know who I am and how to present myself to others. But all of stories, unless they are like the film Roshomon, only tell one version. They are confined to one perspective. What’s more, if we get locked into a story that happens to be limiting, it could become damaging to us.
For instance, I am struggling with the story titled: “I am terrible at marketing story”. I am wondering what would happen if I start telling myself a different story. Maybe, I can write one that goes like this, “I am intelligent and creative, and willing to learn and experiment with marketing. This could be a way to expand my creativity while growing my business.”
The first story might be true, but it certainly doesn’t help me grow my business or get better at marketing.
The first time I experienced this power of changing the story was as a freshman in college. I had matriculated with a sense of dread that I was going to gain those freshman 15. You remember those 15 lbs. from beer, late night pizza, and cafeteria soft serve? They would likely be the first 15 on my way to being an overweight and unfit adult. I had been telling myself this story since I was a chubby child. In fact, my story was informed by another that I apparently asked for a diet coke at age 3. The implication is that I have been weight conscious since a toddler. Another story that was repeated while growing up was that our family joked about being a “fat family”. So, as a result of these negative stories, I didn’t exercise, hated running, and drank a lot of diet coke.
Then, a few weeks into being a first year, while walking through the arched doorway of my dorm, it hit me that I didn’t have to believe that story. I challenged myself to start running. Soon, I was attending fitness classes with friends and eating salads for lunch. In fact, I didn’t gain those freshman 15, and I brought jogging and fitness with me into adulthood.
I realize this sounds super obvious. Maybe everyone has moments like this as we take our first steps into adulthood, but still, I testify that reshaping your stories is a simple powerful tool.
Another story that I’ve been thinking about lately is the story that I am too emotional. This is a story I have heard my whole life. I am easy cryer. Not just at movies and weddings, but at work, at school, and in public. My tears are easy to come by, but instead of feeling like my emotions are a weakness, a betrayal, or a vulnerability, I am choosing to look at them as a superpower.
Listen, my emotions make me feel more alive, better able to be empathetic, and more expressive in my art, My emotions help me to connect with others, too. So I plan on telling my new story of me as emotional superhero on repeat until I have rewritten the whole book, and new patterns have formed in my brain.
When rewriting our stories, It’s good to question the source. So, I might wonder why is being emotional considered a weakness? Where does this idea even come from? Well, that’s another blog post, but realize that if a story is keeping you stuck, try rewriting it and see what happens. Of course there is the danger of ignoring a true story in favor of a superficial one. Superficial stories will also keep us stuck, and they have the potential of hurting others. Unfortunately they are much more difficult to recognize because in seeing the true story we might have to recognize our own pain, but there is hope in being able to incorporate that pain into a new story that involves healing.
Have you had experience with rewriting your stories? or getting stuck in a story?
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.