Do you ever feel like the Universe is hitting you over the head with an idea or concept – something that you need to spend more time exploring?
I’ve been feeling that way about the concept of ‘Story’ lately.
I live for stories. I’m a dedicated consumer of books, movies, and television. I listen to audio books and podcasts while I drive or do housework, and I love hearing stories from people’s lives. On top of that, I’m an English teacher! I. Love. Stories.
But stories are also so much more than the fictional texts we’re used to thinking of them as. It’s not all “once upon a time..”, fantastically catchy Disney melodies, or Netflix binging. Stories are how we understand ourselves and our world. Stories have power.
You see, the story you tell yourself about your life and your experiences is what shapes your reality. You can I can be together for the exact same event at the exact same time, and come out of it with entirely different stories, leaving us with entirely different impressions. I could leave traumatized, and you could leave renewed, with fresh inspiration and insight.
It all always comes down to Story.
Stories are how we define ourselves to the world, figure out who we align with/relate to, and how we determine what is hardship in our lives and what is success. When you decide that someone else is being a total you-know-what and you’re steaming with rage? That’s a story. When you feel super insecure and stressed because you think your boss has decided you’re incompetent and annoying? Story. When you decide not to tell a family member about a new development in your life, or an exciting new risk you’re taking because you just know they’re going to be all shaming and judge-y about it – yup, you guessed it, that’s a story.
Not to say your stories aren’t valid or that your entire life has been a woven fabrication of insecurities, it’s just something to be aware of. You need to get to the seed of the story. That person you’re super mad at? What is it they triggered that makes you so angry? Is there a pattern there, or an underlying issue? Why is it you feel insecure at work, and what about your boss’s response to you triggered a fear of being seen as incompetent? Where does that come from? Why do you fear the shame and judgement? Why does that person’s opinion have that much power in your life, and are you looking for evidence of something?
It’s totally normal to feel all those things, but our lives become so much better when we realize that our perception might not match everyone else’s and that, if we can change a story, we might be able to change some hardship for ourselves.
You may or may not have noticed already that I’m slightly obsessed with Brené Brown (still totally waiting for her to adopt me!) and she has this concept in her Rising Strong process that I just love, involving Story. She teaches us to use the phrase “The story I’m making up is…”. So when you feel triggered by something and you’re reacting with fear, rage, anxiety, sadness, etc. you can address it by saying “The story I’m making up is….” and, by framing it that way, it helps you gain perspective. You can write this down for yourself, or, if it has to do with another person (which it almost always does, I think the majority of our hardships are based around the value we place on being loved and accepted), you can actually say this to them and it gives them an opportunity to clarify their understanding of the situation without feeling attacked or victimized. I think this is a really wonderful strategy that takes things a bit further than “I” statements and helps us target conflicts and struggles in our lives in a much more productive and healthy way.
For example, if someone keeps inviting you to coffee and then keeps rescheduling last minute, it’s totally fair to start to feel annoyed and frustrated. However, instead of giving them the cold shoulder, talking behind their back to everyone else about how flaky they are lately, or eventually blowing up on them and telling them off for always wasting your time, you could have a productive conversation with them. It could go something like “Hey, I’ve noticed that you keep rescheduling on me and the story that I’m making up is that you don’t value me or my friendship, and that you don’t think the things I have going on in my life are as important as yours.” This gives the opportunity for the other person to a) realize how you feel and b) clarify or explain what’s been going on for them. It might be that they’ve been struggling with their mood, or that they’re totally overwhelmed with work, or that their relationship is pretty rocky right now and every time you’re supposed to go out is when they’re in an argument and don’t feel like they can leave things that way. Or maybe they just truly didn’t realize the problem and can apologize and then do better. Regardless, it’s actually a great opportunity to build connection and empathy and can diffuse a brewing conflict. I highly recommend checking out Brene Brown’s work if you’re interested in learning more about this strategy – particularly, her book or audio book “Rising Strong”.
Story isn’t just a defining factor in our relationships or conflicts though. Story also determines our perception of ourselves. Anything you feel insecure about, or lack confidence in, is likely because you’re playing a looping story in your head that tells you those things. The same goes for what you’ve decided you’re good at, or like to be identified by. That’s the story you tell yourself, and likely most people you meet. It could be stories of being a dog or cat mom, of being a prairie girl or from the big city, of being a hardworking but underappreciated nurse or teacher, it could be of being musically gifted, or of being a coffee addict. It could be of being particularly good at organizing, or at being a great public speaker. Whatever you tell yourself most often is what will become true for you, and it’s also how you’re inviting the rest of the world to view you.
I know, personally, the stories I’m putting out to world (and to myself) – about myself – are: that I love books, reading, and writing. I’m an aspiring yogi. I can cook and love food. I have come from struggle. I am working on redefining my relationship with my health and my body, but it hasn’t been easy. I want to be an organized, tidy person but I’m more of an organized mess. I need colour-coding to keep my life together. Coffee fuels my soul. You have to earn my trust to have access to my stories.
So what stories are you putting out there? What stories do you want to start re-writing?
Just some food for thought.
With love and gratitude,