The stories we tell ourselves are our way of trying to find meaning in what so often feel likes a random, chaotic and meaningless universe.
As you might expect, psychologists have developed a theory about this and it is known as narrative theory - which attempts to show how people construct their identities through storytelling.
Regardless of the theories, the basic human compulsion to tell stories is as old as the human race. In practical terms we are hardwired to tell stories.
The stories we tell ourselves are emotionally driven and very largely reactive to events and situations. They are a form of self talk.
Late last evening I received a message from a business contact telling me that a proposal I had submitted had been rejected by his client. I was annoyed because it quickly became obvious to me that he had not read the full document I sent him and he had overlooked the 3 alternative options which I gave him, and which would have caused the buyer to take us more seriously.
I was also annoyed because I had worked hard for several months to get this guy on board and, based on past experience with other products, he seemed to be very competent.
A story formed itself very quickly in my head of the utter futility of what I am doing in my business and a feeling of deep despair and discouragement.
This narrative kept me awake last night until about 4am this morning when I reminded myself of an important truth: "You are not your thoughts".
The purpose of this article is to take a practical look at ways in which we can harness and refocus the stories that we tell ourselves in ways that are most beneficial to our well being and most resourceful for achieving the most positive outcomes in our lives.
The foundation of this is to learn how to manage and mitigate the self-limiting and self-damaging effects of unfiltered self-talk.
The first key lesson is to understand that:
Living With Your Thoughts
Learning how to live with your thoughts is an important skill because:
Framing Your Thoughts
This process is known as framing and is about communication and how you create meaning in your
communications with others, and more
importantly in your internal communication with yourself.
In terms of how we can harness and refocus our self talk framing is a critical component.
It is important because the framing process is about how you define context, make associations, establish reference
points and emotional touch points all designed and positioned to convey
the sense and meaning that you want to convey to others or, in this context, yourself.
The effect of framing in your self talk matters enormously because if you change your language - if you change what you say and how you say it - you change how you feel; and this in turn affects your results in the outcomes that you experience in your life.
Returning to the anecdote I shared above: as soon as I reminded myself that I am not my thoughts and that I have a choice about the story I told myself, I consciously made a choice to drop the whining, self-pitying story and to reframe and change the voice behind the story to a more empowering perspective of hope and positivity.
There are 3 interconnected sources of the stories that we tell ourselves.
The first two are covered in: understanding your thoughts.
1. The hardware - the physiology that creates these thoughts, and this is centred on the amygdala, a major emotional centre in the limbic system. This is responsible for our flight / fight response.
thoughts are non-rational and largely driven by survival instincts and
pleasure instincts - sometimes referred to as our "animal nature".
2. The software - the conditioning from our primary caregivers and dominant adult figures in our childhood that creates these thoughts.
This is a vast subject and there are many psychological models and interventions used to address and "repair" this conditioning.
The third source and the voice for the stories that we tell ourselves is:
3. The selves - when you refer to "myself" you are not referring to one singular entity but a very complex amalgam of many different aspects of your self sometimes referred to as the "internal family of selves" -also known as "sub-personalities".
The term "self dialogue" can be used in a general sense to describe an internal conversation within yourself between these different elements or perspectives within your mind.
The Transcendent Voice
In their unfiltered state many - if not most - of the voices that express the stories that we tell ourselves will be negative and these will be ego based and thus by definition self-serving. These are the voices that will undermine you.
There is one voice that transcends all other voices and that is the voice of the higher self.
Choose this voice.
This is the voice to listen to.
This is the voice that will empower you.
The truth of the stories we tell ourselves is subjective, it is whatever we want it to be.
Return from "The Stories We Tell Ourselves" to: Walking The Talk