Since we spend all our time in our heads, we can become a bit tone-deaf to what we are actually saying to ourselves. It’s easy to unconsciously talk trash about ourselves and others, rattling off the negative narrative, utterly unaware of our actions. Keen curiosity is the first step in challenging your negative stories. It takes a little effort to start to notice when the chattering monkeys get wound up and then to get curious about what they are saying.
Curiosity Leads to Awareness – excerpt from StoryJacking.
Mallory was a lovely twenty-nine-year-old woman with a master’s degree in Psychology. For all intents and purposes, she looked like someone who was moving forward in her life; she seemed like someone with many options.
When we started working together, I asked her, “What brings you to my office?” Mallory began to tell me how she still lived with her grandma. She was working at a little dress shop in the mall, and she didn’t have the confidence to get a “real” job. She was scared, anxious, and, most of all, depressed.
Mallory had lots of stories about how her parents were critical and frustrated with her because she had an excellent education, and they felt she was wasting it at the dress shop; she felt a lot of judgment for not getting on with her life.
As part of our work together, I asked her what she was saying to herself. Her response was classic, “I’m not saying anything to myself. I want to move on; I am just not able to. I don’t know why; I think I’m broken.” She then rattled off all her diagnoses. My focus of curiosity became the underlying snapshot story, “I’m just not able to because I am broken.”
After Mallory and I talked about the idea of snapshot stories, I asked her whether she would be willing to play with me around this idea of noticing her internal dialogue. She agreed, so before our next appointment, Mallory planned to write down all these little thoughts that were her snapshot stories.
Two weeks later, a very different person came into the session. Mallory sat down and handed me her journal; it was almost full. Then Mallory looked at me, and with all seriousness, said, “If I heard someone speaking this way to another person, I would call it emotional abuse.” Ding, ding, ding!
Wake Up to Your Narrative
Certain words are like lightning rods for negative narrative awareness. Part of the process of developing your self-awareness is to choose a couple of words that you are going to pay close attention to.
Keywords to Notice in Your Negative Narratives
• Must, need to, got to, have to, ought to, and the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s (these words are often associated with Expectations or Demands).
• Never, always, completely, totally, all, everything, everyone (these words are often associated with Predications).
• Awful, terrible, horrible, unbearable, disaster, worst ever, (these words are often associated with Magnifying).
• Jerk, slob, lazy, creep, hypocrite, bully, stupid, idiot, crazy, @X%*^#$! (these words are often associated with Labels).
Questions to Challenge Your Negative Narrative
Once you get good at noticing the keywords that pop up in your head, it’s time to start asking yourself questions. This isn’t a place for self-judgment, the fact that I am writing this is because you are not alone. This is just how the chattering monkey mind works. Set to the side any self-criticism. Use these questions as your prompts to a more positive and productive narrative.
- Am I distressing myself unnecessarily?
- How can I see this in another, less distressing way?
- Is my thinking working for or against me?
- What are the ways to think about the situation that might be more helpful?
- Is my focus on what I can change or what I cannot change?
- What can I say, think, or do to improve the situation?
- What am I demanding “must” happen?
- How am I making myself a victim in this situation?
- What facts or viewpoints do I still need to gather?
- Is this something I prefer to happen, instead of something that absolutely needs to happen?
- Am I making the situation more terrible or horrible than needed, could this be ordinary terrible?
- How has my own perfectionism or inner critic gotten turned on?
- What of my values do I need to use to support moving forward with grace?
- What needs to change in me to respond the way I want?
You Got This!
Setting a realistic expectation of change is essential. Very few of us do any real self-improvement in a day, week, or month. We need to take baby steps and put one foot in front of the next.
Noticing patterns that you have established over the years, is just plain going to take a bit. So, set a realistic goal for changing your negative narratives. You might agree to spend 2-weeks just noticing. Then start to ask yourself 1 question. There is no need to ask all 14 questions, choose 1 or 2, and get good at asking yourself those.
Start where you are, and trust yourself to do the work. You got this!