The Stories We Tell

One of my happiest memories from my childhood was climbing up onto the lap of a parent or grandparent and reading a story. Reading childhood stories was a way I bonded with my loved ones. It was entertaining. And it was a way I learned valuable lessons of life.
One of my favorite stories was “The Little Engine Who Could.” Just recently I was climbing a “Fourteener” in Colorado. The day was hot. The route to the steepest part of the ascent had been long and I was panting hard as I tried to make my way up an unmarked trail over a steep field of boulders. I recall settling into a steady rhythm with a familiar cadence playing in the back of my mind. “I think I can. I think I can.”

One of my children’s favorite stories was “How to be Perfect in Just Three Days.” It is a fun and humorous story about a little boy who learned that he couldn’t and, even more importantly, didn’t need to be perfect.

Stories such as these play an important role in our lives. Not only do they entertain, but their lessons help shape how we think and feel about life.

And I’ve noticed that we don’t stop story-telling because we grow up. In fact, we tell ourselves stories every day. And the most important stories we tell are about our own lives. There is a monologue going on almost continually in the backs of our minds about the events that happen to us on a day-to-day basis. We not only go through event after event but we talk to ourselves about the meaning of these events.

Perhaps the most critical time we tell ourselves stories is during a challenge. And the most important stories we tell ourselves determine how we make it through those challenges. Unfortunately, lots of people tell themselves stories based on fear and insecurity. “Nothing ever goes right” stories. Life is one set of problems after another. They don’t see the blessings and abundance of life but their antennae is attuned to the bad.

Others tell themselves “victim stories.” They insist that circumstances and other people are the cause of their problems. They magnify the actions of others while minimizing their own responsibility for what happens.

Others get caught up in “I might lose” stories. These stories are told by people who are afraid to dream or who put off their visions in order to find security and avoid the fears of failure, rejection or discomfort. As a result, they minimize growth and joy as well as potential losses.

Lots of folks tell themselves “I’m not good enough” stories. They put the brakes on their potential because they feel undeserving of success and happiness as they focus on their weaknesses, real or perceived, as well as guilt about the past.

Others tell “I can’t win” stories. These stories assume that either choices or one’s ability to exercise those choices are limited. “I can’t help it.” “People don’t support me.” “I don’t have the authority.” People who buy into these stories believe they are powerless (not inadequate) to have what they want in life.

What stories do you tell yourself? Especially when things don’t go the way you want? When you get negative feedback? When you fail to get the promotion you wanted? When you’re laid off? When you are sick? Or you see someone who lives in a bigger house? When you get up and go to work every day?

These stories are powerful influencers of our moods, attitudes and behavior. Life is like a movie projector. We project our stories (our core beliefs) onto the world around us and they come back in the form of our experience. And the truth is you can build a case for whatever you tell yourself. You can find plenty of reasons to tell yourself negative stories or positive stories. The origin of your experience in life is not “out there.” It is “in here.”

I remember a story of young boy who asked his mother to come and watch him hit a ball. He tossed it up and swung, missing the ball. He tossed it up again, swung and missed. After tossing it in the air and missing a number of times, he looked at his mother and said, “I sure am a good pitcher.”

The good news is that, once you become aware that you are the one telling the stories, you have a choice. It isn’t always an easy choice. Especially if you’ve been telling yourself negative stories for a long time.

Most everyone who “makes it” in life tell themselves positive stories. People get through incredible adversity because they tell themselves stories that are positive and empowering. Likewise, people achieve incredible success because they tell themselves stories that are positive and empowering.

What is your dream? What do you really want from life? What stories do you need to tell yourself to live that dream? Say it out loud. Again. Write it down. Practice telling that story over and over until it becomes who you are. And, like a little child, discover the joy that can come into your life through the stories you tell.

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