During your childhood years, story time was that beautiful moment you might have looked forward to at the end of the day.
The moment a parent sat alongside you, balancing a storybook on their knee, lights out, whilst cocooned within the covers, you closed your eyes and fell asleep. It all felt warm, fuzzy and a perfect ending to a childhood kind of day.
During those times, stories were experienced as giving us the ending we always wanted. Boy meets girl, prince rescues the princess, the hero rescues a poor farmer trapped in a doomed location.
There was a magic to it, as we allowed our imagination to roam free and sprinkled fairy dust on the story.
As we reach adulthood, these took on a different form. They became dark, mysterious and included a dialogue that would put any top Hollywood screenwriter to shame.
By this, I mean the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can become. Creating a narrative based on our perspective, making up an interpretation which slots right in.
You might recognise some popular ones;
‘I’m not enough unless I have a partner’, ‘People like me don’t have an ability to make money,’ ‘If I don’t keep people out of my life, they will take over,’ ‘I can’t be in a relationship and have a career,’ ‘Everyone else has got it together except me.’
They inform the decisions you make, the habits and behaviours you embody, and the way you show up in life. You attach to that story as if it was a contract that can’t be broken, yet never questioning its validity or truth,
Stories are a central theme of our universal psyche, and if you want to make any change in your life, you need to become aware of which stories are powering your life.
Questioning their validity and truth.
The issue is that the imagination is so much more compelling, which is why fiction books far outsell non-fiction books. Harry Potter will always outpace any other biography.
Our imagination will always outsell reality.
R. Scott Gornto in his book ‘The stories we tell ourselves,’ stated;
Many of the stories we tell ourselves are fabrications woven together with little more that the barest of threads and the smallest of needles.
We are unconscious storytellers swimming in stories we unknowingly make up, which feed our anxiety about events that have not happened and may never happen, but we think them out as descriptions of reality. They become the hidden mechanism by which unhappiness, relationship problems, frustrations, anger and disappointments grow.
In my coaching practice, when a prospect attends a consultation, I want to ascertain if they are ready to detach from their story. The last thing I want to become is a parental figure attempting to pull them away from the comfort blanket they have constructed — whilst they, behaving like toddlers, hold on for dear life.
Yet coaching my clients alongside their stories is fascinating, and it’s like having my own private showing at a blockbuster movie premiere. The dialogues are so compelling, that I’m often hanging on to the edge of my seat, popcorn in hand, imagining I’m in some movie theatre.
I recently worked with a client who had a story which said ‘I can only become involved in intellectual pursuits.’
He had once heard his mother belittle someone who had taken on a creative profession, and he made up a story about the type of person he had to become. He was highly creative and multifaceted, but he pulled away from this and instead gained countless degrees, qualifications and was constantly enrolled in courses in the hope that this would make him feel worthy.
It wasn’t working.
He was tired of consuming information yet feeling less connected to his purpose. He was unhappy and remembered how the only times he felt joy was when he was engaged in creative endeavours, such as painting, acting and writing poetry. He was living through something he had heard decades ago, and this was being kept alive through his actions.
I asked my client;
Who would you be without your story?
His eyes lit, up and he shared his desire to teach, start acting and wanting to set up a writing platform so that he could share his poetry out in the world. He needed to start giving himself permission to create a new way of being that slotted in with who he really was. He stopped taking more courses, consuming more information and instead began to create a new dialogue which would lead to a fresh reality. This led him to begin to make small changes to pull away from the life he had led up to then.
A few years ago I was writing a novel. During this time, I chose to change the thought process of one of the main characters, and the moment I did so, I had to re-write every single scene that followed. Once the internal dialogue changes, everything in your life begins to change, because you start to make different decisions, you start to open up to new possibilities. It’s like opening a new book, everything is different.
I used to have an incredibly compelling story which had powered most of my life.
My main story (which deserved it’s own premiere and red carpet) was when I told myself that ‘women couldn’t be successful.’ This powered most of my life and made me feel there was a limit to how far I could go professionally. I never bothered to look around at those women who had reached their potential.
You only have to look at Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, JK Rowling and many other incredibly influential women to know that my story didn’t even have a foundation of truth.
Not even an ounce.
And at times it doesn’t have to, because we are powering the story regardless, and it’s a great way to make an excuse about why you haven’t gone as far as you could have done.
You can always use the story as an excuse, like that best friend who covered for you when you skipped class.
It only came to light a few years ago when I was asked to speak at a women’s event in The Hague. As I mingled with the others, it suddenly hit me, as if I had been struck by lightning, that the women around me had built multi-million dollar businesses in countries such as Nigeria, India and the Middle East, some which came from oppressive cultures.
Yet I was born in a Mediterranean country and certainly not in an oppressive regime.
The only thing that had been oppressing me had been the story I had told myself about what a woman could and couldn’t achieve, and it was doing a great job of keeping me exactly where I was. Until I stepped out of it, the moment I realised it was a lie.
Imagine Cinderella, if she would have been attached to her story of being just a poor girl who deserved nothing more than to be used as a maid by her stepsisters, she would never have stepped out, gone to the castle and engaged her prince. Even more currently, Meghan Markle who married Prince Harry. Had she hang around the Markles in Florida with a story of ‘this is all I deserve in life,’ she would be in exactly the same position as they are.
I always ask my client to reflect on one of the following three questions;
Imagine that the story powering your life is a movie. Enlist your imagination, give it a title, who are the characters, what is the dialogue?
If you could rewrite the story, how would you change it?
And finally the simplest one;
Who would you be without your story?
This brings creativity into the equation and the childish element of imagination and possibility. More importantly, it allows you to step out of the circularity of the same dialogue spinning around your head, because at times we are so entrenched that we can’t lift up our eyes to see what else is available, open up the channels and imagine a life without it.
If there is an element in your life that you want to change, it’s completely possible to do so when you step out of the dialogue you have made up, question the stories that are powering it, and imagine how life could change if you created a new more powerful one based on the truth.
Originally published at www.micheleattiascoaching.com