How invested are you in your story?
The month of May 2021 was National Share a Story month – and while I would encourage everyone to indulge their passion, especially if reading and enjoying fictional stories is your love, I’m also looking closely at our own stories – the ones we tell ourselves and others about where we’ve come from, and how those stories shape the way we see ourselves, believe in ourselves, and relate to the world.
As introverts, there can be many ways in which our stories can hold us back, and even stop us in our tracks. We could be going along nicely in the niche we’ve found at work, and then suddenly we’re required to do something so far out of our comfort zone that our first instinct is to recoil from it. That instinct is born almost entirely out of the beliefs we hold about ourselves as a result of our stories; but it doesn’t have to be how the story ends. You can’t rewrite your past but you can influence how it plays out going forward so you change how you live with it, and interpret your future.
Our stories are a big part of who we are together with where and how we position ourselves in the world, and given that introverts are prone to spending a lot of time in their heads and can overthink things, it’s interesting to consider how invested we can become in our own story. When you’ve spent a lot of time going over it, establishing that history and identity based on the years and events that have gone before, you begin to form views and opinions that you’ve chosen to accept as your ‘truth’. These truths are tied in with our values, and shape our morals; and the way we have behaved previously in a certain situation, and how we believe we come across to others, shapes the confidence we have in ourselves to achieve the same things in the future.
Our stories and these truths are also the foundation of the scripts we carry in our minds; the scripts we call upon to respond to the things as they crop up in our daily lives. Your response to a new challenge could be a confident mental “Yes, I know I can do that because I’m good at writing” based on what you know about yourself – or it could be a timid and intimidated “Oh, no! I’m terrible at public speaking!” – again, based on the narrative that your story and your experience has taught you.
However, whilst our story can apply some pressure on us to behave in certain ways, and frame us as someone who’s comfortable doing some things and not others, it’s still ultimately down to us to choose how we react to things. We make a decision as to how to behave, and we can change that decision. I am responsible for my feelings and my behaviour.
I’ll say that again. I am responsible for my feelings and my behaviour. Try that – It’s very empowering and shifts me straight out of the victim mode that my story may try to push me into, simply because of something that happened in the past.
I’m not saying that your story should be changed, or even be ignored. You can’t and shouldn’t do that – it’s brought the person you are now into being – but your story can be restructured, reframed, and repositioned in your head so that the lessons it teaches you open up potential for you, instead of limiting you.
I’ve watched people do exactly this: move from beliefs that limit them, to beliefs that liberate them. One example is someone who’d carried a limiting belief of ‘I’m not popular’. This was based on the friendship experiences she’d had as a child, and had infiltrated countless aspects of her life – her confidence in seeking clients, in networking, and in promoting what she had to offer. Reframed, and based on real feedback she’d had from clients, we were able to turn this into the liberating belief of ‘I am admired for my expertise, and popular with clients ready to take control of their finances’. A limiting belief, rooted in the past, is dug up and repositioned using solid facts from the present – and now the sky is the limit for her.
So how to do this for your own story? Well, one of the strongest principles for reframing your story is that your new beliefs need to be grounded in reality, not just fakery. Make something up, and your conscious mind and your critical factor - the guardian at the gate of your subconscious mind - will call BS and reject the suggestion! You also need to keep the structure you’re familiar with; as I said earlier, there’s no changing or ignoring what’s gone before.
To create a really good story with positive lessons, we can rely on tried and tested storytelling principles, which all the best stories contain. We need:
a main character (you);
a start, a middle and an end (which takes us up to the present day);
challenges and problems for the main character to overcome;
a character arc, through which the main character learns from the challenges, and grows as a result;
a positive message (or several) as a result of hearing it the story.
Look back on your story; identify the challenges, and decide what positive things you learned from each one, as well as all of the affirming experiences you’ve had: and let that be the message you take forward. Let that be the voice of advice that whispers in your ear when you’re confronted with a similar situation. Your story is you: but the true path to a happy ending is to use what it’s taught you to liberate you, not hold you back.