In my Horticulture Occupations class, the instructor was discussing extending our education beyond a certificate or two year degree. She gave all the usual reasons, like better jobs, more pay, etc. but she also included how learning keeps you young. By that I mean that studies have shown that learning new things keeps the brain firing on all cylinders and can stave off things like Alzheimers and dementia. I agreed wholeheartedly, and have written blogs about the benefits of learning new things. She continued by asking if we could think of anything that held us back from pursuing our learning, which evolved into stories we tell ourselves that keep us in our comfort zone.
Stories such as “I’m not smart enough”, “I don’t have enough money”, and “I don’t have the time” can pervade our lives and prevent us from pursuing things that may be scary, such as higher education, a new job or a new partner. We become stuck, with one day after another unfolding the same way. It may be comfortable to stay in our current job or relationship. But one of my favorite sayings lately is something like “You can be comfortable or courageous–you can’t be both”. What could you achieve if you rewrote your story?
Here is my own example – my story was that I was not a morning person so I could not go to the gym in the morning. For years I went to the gym after work, got home around 6:30 and finally was able to relax after about 8:00 when dinner and cleanup was finished. This left me precious little time for other things, especially spending time with my husband. I reflected on my story and decided to rewrite it. I declared that I WAS a morning person, and it would be a JOY to go to the gym in the a.m. I started going to the gym in the morning, and guess what? It reaped HUGE benefits:
- The gym was less crowded so I didn’t have to wait for equipment so my workouts took less time.
- I met several new gym goers that seemed more “morning” than me, who greeted me by name with a smile–who doesn’t want to start the day like that? I responded in kind which switched me into a good mood immediately.
- My trainer had more time for me because he wasn’t splitting his time between a bunch of people.
- I checked off exercise from my to do list by 8 am
- My day ended at 5 pm and I had a lot more time on my hands to spend with my husband, work on hobbies, or just plain relax.
All that from rewriting a story I had told myself for a long time. Does my story resonate with you? Does it bring to mind any stories you have been telling about yourself? Do you want to make a change? Here are four questions to ask yourself:
Ask Yourself: What’s Making Me Unhappy?
The first step is to sit back and take stock. What is the area in your life that you are unhappy with? Is it your relationship with your spouse or a colleague? Is it your passionless job or your self-doubts towards an activity you would like to pursue? Is it your helplessness in taking charge of your health or the insecurity you feel about your appearance? It may be more area than one, because stories have a way of spilling over into all aspects of our lives. Tackle the one that is affecting you the most—and some of the others may start falling into place, too.
Ask Yourself: What’s My Story?
Now listen to the story that you are telling yourself with regards to this aspect of your life. What is the basis for this story? What are the experiences that form the building blocks of your narrative? Extreme stories that have “shoulds”, “always” and “nevers” embedded in them are based on extreme beliefs that are biased. Reflect on how this “story” helped you cope or advance at a certain point in your life. Notice how it is now making you unhappy and holding you back. Now, be prepared to alter it dramatically or simply let it go and start from scratch.
Ask Yourself: What Is My Intention?
Feeling stuck or unhappy is a result of misalignment with what we want in life. However, up to 90% of us don’t even know what we want, except that it’s not what we have. Gaining clarity on our goals and purpose is key to developing powerful stories that align the past, present and future. Whatever your goal, write it down and connect with it. How do you envision your life to be when you achieve your goal? What mental hurdles will you have to overcome to get there? What aspects of your story will you have to change?
Ask Yourself: What’s My New Story?
Since experiences are the raw materials with which we spin stories in our minds, it’s important to maintain a balanced and flexible outlook on life and not allow the negative—or the obsolete—to influence our way forward. Look back over your life and choose a period or an experience that will help you advance in your goals. For example, your goal of looking after your health will benefit from memories of a time when you took on a project and excelled at it rather than a self-defeating narrative of how little self-control you have. Write out your new story and replay it in your mind until it forms the neural pathways that will move you towards your goals.
As you begin to own your new story, it will become integrated with your sense of self. After all, identity is nothing but an evolving story that finds coherence with the past, present and future. Find the flexibility in your story that allows you to adapt to changing circumstances, and you’ll be able to stand up as authentically “you” through the ups and downs of life.
Rewriting your stories can be a first step to attaining the things in life that are meaningful to you and contribute to your life’s purpose. Give up “comfortable” for a bit and embrace “courageous”–now that’s a story worth telling.