To be human is to be a storyteller. We are autobiographical beings that weave a narrative around what we do so that we can make sense of our lives and where we see ourselves fitting in the world. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves work for us, and sometimes they keep us stuck. The curious thing is mostly, we often don’t recognise the stories we tell as stories. We either take them for granted or accept them blindly without questioning them. At some point life redirects us and we are more or less forced to look at the cost of those stories and unproductive thought patterns behind them.
Every coach worth their salt has a coach. I remember in a coaching session, when my coach Lucy was poking around for something to ‘transform’, generally, those kinds of conversations start with what’s been going on and what is top of mind... Earlier that week, I had gone and bought a new business shirt. Now, there’s nothing unusual about purchasing a business shirt. What made this noteworthy was the shirt was on sale, and when I went to pay for it the sales assistant charged me full price. And, I said nothing and paid the undiscounted price instead.
Lucy asked me why I said nothing.
What began was an enquiry that unearthed a long-held thinking pattern that had been holding me back for years. I reflected back and examined my own thoughts at the moment I went to pay. Often, if you pay attention, you can tune-in to things that otherwise go unnoticed. I heard myself say to myself…
“I must have got that wrong..”
And yet, I had clearly heard the sales assistant tell me there was 25% off that rack, and yet the moment she charged the full price and I invalidated myself with “I must’ve got that wrong”. That was enough to silence me. Self-doubt had won, again! Here’s the crazy part though. I did it to myself.
The additional cost of the transaction? $40
So, I started to think back when else I might’ve done that. I have learned to trust what my mind throws-up in an enquiry and I saw myself sitting in the OBGYN’s room when I first went in to discuss fertility treatment. I was 34 and had been trying to conceive for some time and decided that it was time to seek professional help and undergo IVF. I walked into her office with that express intention. All it took was for the doctor to suggest an alternative course of action that resulted in me not pursuing IVF for 3 more years. In that time, I put myself through needless emotional stress, again.
Because I didn’t even question it. I didn’t ask why she was suggesting the alternative or for how long. Instead, I went along with it.
She was the expert, right?
In my head, the same thought pattern was there. “I must have got it wrong, she’s the doctor, she knows best”.
Additional cost, thousands of dollars and 3 years!
I continued down the rabbit hole following the thread to see where I might end up. There’s always an event that triggers this stuff and after which we tend to repeat the pattern. I tracked the thought pattern all the way back to 9th grade and a maths test. In year 9, the entire grade sits an exam to determine which class is suitable. I had a smart group of friends, and the students were organised into three groups: Advanced, Intermediate and Ordinary Maths. The cutoff mark for the Advanced group, which ALL my friends made it into, was 85%. Guess what mark I got? When I tell this story, almost always people guess the answer.
It got a mark of 84%, and so, I went into the Intermediate group.
There was always a possibility of moving up. I’d only missed by 1 per cent after all. Here’s the crazy thing though. I decided that I was “smart, but not quite smart enough”. I had gotten it wrong, and all my friends hadn’t.
They knew better than me.
That event, and more importantly, what I decided about my maths result, set in motion a thought process that had until this point, limited me. As my good friend Kylie Zeal says, Words are like keys… especially the words you say to yourself.
“Watch your words. Like a key unlocking a door, there are words that unlock a world of possibilities. And, like a key, a word can lock you out. It can paralyse you, keeping you exactly where you are, never moving forward”.
Zeal, Kylie. Dance on the Ashes
Everybody was smarter than me. (This is doubly true if they are a Doctor or have letters after their name). I hadn’t trusted what I heard with my own ears, and so I had a long-held pattern of self-doubt. Doubt can be crippling, and it can keep you stuck. As I had seen, I hadn’t been prepared to question the price of a business shirt. That turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.
The more I looked, the more I saw evidence of it. The more evidence I saw, the more the cost on me added up.
The thing about these thought patterns is they just don’t disappear. They will rear their ugly head and have their say when you least expect it. I still hear myself say to myself…
“You must have got that wrong; they know better than you!”
Here’s the difference though… Now I catch the thought BEFORE it can do any damage. I have conditioned myself to do the opposite and when I hear any of the variants of “You’ve got it wrong”.
It’s simply not true!
“You’ve got it wrong” is my cue to know that I’m on the right track and I pay ZERO attention the opinion being voiced. It’s the opinion of a 9th grader after all. As a result, my confidence has soared.