What Are Your Stories?
Most people have an idea in their heads, or several, more likely, about who they really are and how they measure up to other people. How do these stories come to be? Have you ever noticed that you have ideas about who you are and who you aren’t or maybe even the kind of person you are or aren’t? In some ways, this looks like it’s helpful and maybe it even is, in some situations. We like to think we “know who we are.” That story has developed over time and is usually there in our head to protect us from what our mind perceives as a potentially dangerous (to our psyche) situation.
Although the sense that we know who we are is comforting, it also has a down side. Suppose there’s a new project at work that someone wants us to undertake, or perhaps we have a dream about doing something big, but hold the view that “I could never do that” or “I’m just not that kind of person.” Can you imagine how that affects our undertaking whatever that challenge is? It often keeps us from even trying, especially if we, like most people, are trying to avoid pain or discomfort. It just doesn’t feel good to fail or come in second!
Yet, think of most competitions you’ve ever been in, whether it’s to “get the girl,” “win the prize,” “land the big job,” etc. There’s only one prize to be had, and we live in a society that so often thinks it’s first place or nothing. Thus if you win, you’re winner, and if you come in second, you’re a loser, or almost worse yet, an honorable mention.
If we really look more closely, we realize that the idea that only one person gets that coveted first place, and all the others are then the “losers” can really set us up for feeling badly about ourselves. For example, if there are 100 applicants for a position, and you make the first or then second cut, and end up on the list of the top 10 candidates but don’t get the job, were you really a loser? Most of us are conditioned to think the answer is yes. Following that logic, there were at least 99 losers, or conservatively 9 who went home with ‘honorable mention.’
For many people, experiencing only one such event (and who hasn’t even by the time they reach 20 years old?) can be the beginning of a story that says, “I never win,” “I’m a loser,” or “Nothing ever goes my way.” At that point, the mind starts looking for other signs that you are right in your conclusion, and proof of those false statements begin to become real. Any perceived loss or slight, no matter what the mitigating circumstances, be they number of applicants or contenders or your actual suitability to have been in the running to begin with, are all factors which can set you up to fail.
So what should we do with these unhelpful and usually false stories that are in our heads? Should we listen to them telling us what we should or shouldn’t attempt? For some people, those stories are so strong that become a surefire way to not get what is desired in life – they get stopped before they even try. So many may never reaching for their proverbial golden ring.
Right about now you’re asking, “Ok, Nancy, how do I get rid of those thoughts?” There has been a lot written about how to do that, and different things work for different people, but usually they never last. Let me ask you this, have you ever tried to not think of something? Try this little experiment. Take one full minute and in that time, do not think of a black crow. How’d did you do? It’s pretty much impossible, isn’t it? In order to not think of something, you actually have to think of it in order to remember to not think of it!
That’s why I suggest to my clients, and now to you as well, that you learn to hold those thoughts in a different way. Since it’s pretty much impossible to make yourself not think of something, practice just noticing when they are there. In my next blog, I’ll talk about how you can learn to “hold your thoughts lightly” as a way of escaping the dilemma of trying to control your thoughts. In case I’ve not mentioned it before, anxiety is a direct result of trying not to feel or think something that you indeed, do think or feel! So allowing your thoughts to just be is a wonderful first step to creating the positive change you desire.