Wisdom//

The Power of the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Learning from and embracing your stories that have gotten you here is going to be essential to moving forward.

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Shutterstock

Stories hold power. They help us make sense of the world, the complexity of being human, and in the end, what it means to be ourselves. 

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives are extremely important. Of course, there’ll be parts we’re proud of — and some we aren’t. But together, they make us who we are. So regardless of how the last thirty days of your life have played out, we’re going to dig deeper into the person you’ve become, the story that’s led you here, and what kind of ending you’re after. 

Our whole lives, sometimes unbeknownst to us, we’ve been crafting a story about who we are and who we aren’t. It’s like a book that’s never been written down—a narrative that we’ve told ourselves, and that others have witnessed through our actions or words. It informs our confidence, our self-esteem, our self-love, our expectations, and our compassion for ourselves and others. 

Some of the stories we’ve told ourselves help us stand taller and walk prouder. Other stories that we’ve heard in our inner monologue can cause us to shrink and retreat in defeat from life.

It’s critical that we tell ourselves the right story. The right story, or stories, will eventually provide us with a strong foundation to weather any success or adversity. So how do we know which story to tell ourselves?

To use a metaphor from those home improvement TV shows, before we “open up the space” in our lives by tearing down walls, we must first understand which walls are critical to keeping the house standing. Similarly, there are load-bearing stories in our lives—the supporting stories that serve as the foundation for who we are.

One of the toughest things for people to acknowledge is that their story isn’t exactly what they thought it would be at this point. When you first dreamed up your story, maybe life wasn’t filled with the challenges and hardships you experience today. There was a time when you believed in yourself. You had limitless potential, big dreams, boundless confidence, and high aspirations for yourself. But at some point, you arrived at a train station (a major decision point in your life), got on a fast-moving train, and never asked where it was going.

This is the proverbial train that most of us get on. And before we know it, the train changes tracks—again, and again, and again. Your eventual destination is where you stand today. Maybe where you’re standing is amazing. Or perhaps you’re not sure it’s the right place for you. Nowhere is this more evident than in the communities that some of us choose to belong to.

Once, I read a Facebook post where a “friend” asked the seemingly simple question: “What’s your first thought when you wake up?” More than 130 people commented, and their responses included: “This again . . .” “F*ck my life . . .” “Ugh . . .” “Not again . . .” “Is it the weekend yet?”

The comments made me sad, because I know firsthand what it’s like to wake up with similar thoughts about the day to come and feeling stuck. 

At some point along the way, maybe while you were living life and checking off the boxes society asked you to check off, you got stuck in your ways. It’s possible that you’ve become unwilling to change your mind, holding on to what once was, even when encountering new information that says otherwise. The routines that you created for a purpose (though you can’t exactly remember what that purpose was) have become a hamster wheel that holds you back from your true potential. Today, you’re looking for a way to step off the wheel, find your footing, and take control once again. 

Chances are, you’ve let yourself indulge in your worst self-doubts: Have I passed my prime? Am I in the wrong relationship? Did I miss my big opportunity? Will my kids always be so challenging? Why have I been eating gluten-free food all these years? 

When you browse the social media accounts of friends, colleagues, and influencers to distract yourself from life and seek inspiration, you walk away feeling dejected and exhausted. Apparently, everyone is “winning” at life, hustling hard, traveling to exotic locations that you’ll never visit, eating five-star meals, and getting into peak physical shape. That is, everyone except you. 

Inside, you know it’s not fair to compare your “real life” to someone’s curated social media highlight reel, yet when you do, your anxiety spikes to an uncomfortable level. You feel as if you’ve been abandoned and forgotten. More than ever, it’s hard to relax and take those deep breaths that serve you all too well. 

Here’s a little secret society doesn’t want you to know: even if you’ve felt like life has been beyond your grasp up until now, you’ve always been in control of your story. Odds are, you probably have just been on cruise control, following the crowd. Today the opportunity is to focus less on external factors, and more on what we can do internally to find peace with who we’ve become and where we are before we can move forward. As I heard someone once say:

The world isn’t full of victims. It’s full of volunteers.

No matter where you stand today, odds are that you greatly undervalue and underestimate your wealth of experience. The fact is that everything that’s happened in your life has led you to this moment. Every story, every decision, and every memory shapes who you are now and who you’ll choose to become. Your path is uniquely yours. Learning from and embracing your stories that have gotten you here is going to be essential to moving forward.

Your story is remarkable, even if you don’t know it yet.

Adapted from STOP LIVING ON AUTOPILOT copyright © 2021 by Antonio Neves. Used by permission of Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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