If You Don’t Like The Story You Are Telling Yourself, Tell Yourself a Different Story
The way that you interpret your life is through the lens of a story.
Even when you try to pursue truth in a systematic way and gather facts and statistics, the only tool that you have of making sense of the data in front of you is to translate it into a story.
People have been telling each other stories for as long as there have been people.
The most influential religious text in the Western world (The Bible) is primarily composed not of religious rules and regulations, but of stories.
The telling of stories is a fundamental part of what it means to be human and it’s the only way that you have of establishing an individual identity.
A Bad Story
You might sometimes tell yourself “I’m a loser.”
Guess what, that’s a story. At just three words (four if you expand the contraction) it’s a pretty short story, but it’s just a story.
You might think it’s an accurate reflection of reality because you have various reasons in your head of why it’s true. Some sort of list that looks like this:
- I’ve never accomplished anything significant
- There’s nothing that I’m really good at
- I make less money than other people my age and have a worse job title
- I want to be married and most of my friends my age are, but I’m not even dating
The “I’m a loser” story does fit those facts, but it’s not the only story that fits those facts.
A Better Story
Let’s try this one on instead: “I’m the hero of my own story and although I’ve dug myself a hole. I’m going to turn my life around and get out.”
This is a much better story and the crazy part is that it fits the facts just as well as the last one did.
You’re not sugarcoating anything. You’re fully acknowledging the mess you’ve made, you’re just deciding to do something about it.
You have no control over what’s done, but you have control over what you do next.
Same Facts, Different Stories, Different Results
The really key point here is that each of these two stories is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you think you’re a loser you’ll probably keep acting like a loser. This will get you nowhere and will cause you to feel like more of a loser.
Instead of actively seeking ways to better your own situation, you’ll likely spend a lot of time wallowing in your own self pity.
If you think you’re the hero of your story, you’re probably going to try to act in a way that make things better. Even if most of your attempts fail, some will inevitably succeed, and those will give you confidence. Your increased confidence will cause you to continue acting in a way that makes things better and a virtuous cycle will be born.
Different Stories For Different Situations
I have two almost contradictory stories that I tell myself as needed depending on the situation.
I have no idea if either of them are true. They are close enough to being true to be believable in the moment and that’s really what’s important.
One will sound arrogant and one will sound needlessly self-deprecating- and that’s actually the point.
I’m an all-time legend
When it comes to content creation, I’m a living legend. A generational talent. A master of my craft who people will be emulating for years to follow.
I’m a complete novice who has nothing on anyone
I’m also way far behind the people who have been doing this for years. They have more experience, they have more practice, they have more time and money to work with, they create better work.
So why do I have these two contradictory stories that I tell myself? Because I never know which one I’m going to need.
If I’m discouraged and thinking about quitting, I tell myself the first story. Why Would you quit? You’re a living legend! You can help so many people. Everyone will be worse off if you decide to quit. It would be such a waste.
On the other hand, if I’m getting lazy, if I’m looking to cut corners, I need the second story: You really think you can get away with not putting in the work, rookie? I don’t think you understand the situation. There are people who have been doing this longer than you who don’t have a 9–5 job or kids who can work full-time — and sometimes overtime — on their craft. What chance do you have of cutting through the noise if you don’t put in the work?
Different needs often demand different stories
I’m not at all saying you need to bend the truth or deny reality. I’m just saying that no matter how clearly you see the world, the only way that you can understand it is by telling yourself a story. And whether you’ve ever realized it or not, you get to choose the story.
Choose carefully, there’s a lot at stake.
This is the twenty-fifth in a series based on my article 30 Lessons About Life You Should Learn Before Turning 30.