We all love a good story, don’t we?
Story telling has been around for thousands of years and is one of the most powerful forms of communication.
Stories are powerful because they stay with us for years. Most of us can remember our favourite books as a child or cautionary tales from particular family members. [I was always badgering my Granny to tell the one about her brother losing a tooth because he hadn’t been sitting down properly in the car!]
They can also help us problem solve by taking us away from rational, logical thoughts for a while and tapping in to our imagination and creativity.
As adults we consciously consume stories via box sets, films, the news, social media and we create and share stories when we speak to friends and family.
But how conscious are we of the stories we carry around about ourselves?
I sometimes use stories as a metaphor with clients. We might talk about characters, themes, chapters and titles. They can play with perspectives on past chapters or look ahead to what is, as yet, unwritten. With busy, complicated lives, thinking about “their story” is an exploration of how they see themselves and what they choose to include or omit.
Earlier this year, I realised I’d been carrying around a story about myself for a long time. It wasn’t often at the forefront of my mind but when the conditions were right, it was be a persistent, weighty presence.
It’s title was “Nearly but not quite”.
The details of the story aren’t important but I’ll share a brief synopsis: coming second (aged 14), being a deputy (aged 18), missing out on that job (aged 22), not winning the lottery (age now).
Can you see a pattern?
A small number of very specific (but quite insignificant) situations from my formative years, had been woven together to form some kind of twisted “backstory” which then made sense of the other times in my life where I experienced disappointment.
Rather than focus on what I had achieved, how much effort I’d put in or what I’d learned, I focused instead on what I’d missed. Each situation was “nearly, but not quite” until that became (in my mind) ME being “nearly, but not quite”.
This is a prime example of confirmation bias. I believed something was true and my mind then sought out and retained information and experiences which confirmed what I thought, ignoring anything that might have offered an alternative perspective!
In coaching we explore whether thoughts/feelings/stories serve us and, if they don’t, choosing to let them go and replacing them with something else.
Clearly my story wasn’t serving me. So, what could I replace it with?
There are so many options:
- What if I choose other experiences from those years? Those outcomes were part of opportunities I was fortunate to have and can now appreciate!
- What if I choose to focus on other years? Or other feelings? All those times when I felt safe and loved and respected.
- What if I imagined my story being written by one of my family or friends? I wonder which of my Granny’s cautionary tales I would have featured in?
All of those stories would be real and true and yet they would look, sound and feel totally different from “nearly, but not quite”.
I haven’t decided on my story yet but I have, definitively, let go of the old one and it feels great.
What stories might you be holding on to and how are they serving you?