We can be own best enemies, our harshest critics and the most artful self-saboteurs. Words can quite literally create realities and worlds. Take the Declaration of Independence as an example. You create your life by the stories you tell yourself, in your thoughts and actions. The stories we tell ourselves profoundly influence our experience of the world. Furthermore you might not fully aware of the stories you tell, especially the self-sabotaging ones because they are automatic and dwell beneath the surface of our daily busyness.
Here are some examples of common self-sabotaging statements or stories:
- More is better.
- You will ever be able to _____.
- Nice girls don’t______.
- You’ll never measure up.
- We do not get angry in this family.
- There’s value in guilt.
- Less is better.
- It is better to be feared than liked.
- You’ll never be a leader.
- To show fear is weakness or foolish or childish.
- Big Girls/Boys don’t cry.
Anything ring a bell for you? If not, feel to insert your own, there are endless possibilities because our self-saboteurs are very resourceful and creative. The story may even change based on the circumstance at hand.
Changing your reality also starts with words. Creating change takes time practice and a long frank look in the mirror to simply notice what holds us back and the role that negative self-talk plays in our lives. By shifting your normal and automatic ways of thinking and doing you can create lasting change. That will take effort, so it is best not to complicate the process with lots of strain. First you notice what is going on, you do not, I repeat do not, need to figure anything out. Instead apply the Zen Theory of Change.
“I free myself, not by trying to be free,
but by simply noticing how I am imprisoning myself
in the very moment I am imprisoning myself.” ~ Lao Tzu.
In other words, notice what is the natural order of things in your life and thoughts now. Work with these things, not against them. Forcing change is what sets up and re-enforces resistance. Ever notice when you have tried to change NOW that suddenly all you can think about is what you want to change, why you cannot change it, or how hard it will be to change it, or everything will be fine just as soon as this other thing gets done, or what the heck one more cookie will not matter?
Stop. Be still. Breathe deliberately, fully in a way that feels natural to you. Consider what is getting in your way, what you would like to be and why this is so important to you. Simply notice what is going on in your mind. What you are thinking. What you are feeling. Thinking and feeling are not the same things. Notice what happens in your body. Are your shoulders jammed up by your ears? Maybe your heart is racing at the thought of making a change?
Already you are addressing the first two steps to retell your story and create lasting change. Step 1: Acknowledge what causes you concern. ‘My annual review is coming up and I just know that by supervisor is unhappy with me. She’s had a funny look on her face when she saw me at lunch yesterday.”
Step 2: Examine what story you are telling about these concerns and look for evidence about why your concerns are founded and unfounded. “Oh my God, what is she fires me? That’s it she’s going to let me go. I will not be able to pay the kids tuition, etc.” Got yourself all worked up? Yes, perfect, now flip that scenario around and play with other possibilities. “ Really, maybe she was distracted at lunch, or had just eaten something that tasked foul. Could be she was looking at someone else. Maybe she’s worried about her kids, they started a new school.”
Let’s move on to the other three steps.
Step 3: Weigh the consequences you get from your story. If you focus on the bad things might happen you’ll never get to see what good things might happen. “Well if you focus on what might happen, especially what bad things might happen you’ll never get to see what good things might happen. You had a fine review last year and she always let’s people know when she’s concerned ahead of time not at the 11th hour.”
Step 4: Retell you story in a new more positive, proactive voice. “This year I have taken on new responsibilities and it’s been a learning process. I can look at the performance goals I set a year ago and see how far I have come. I am ready, willing and able to do even better in the coming year.”
Step 5: Live out your new story and see how your energy changes. “ I am going to be proactive here and do everything I can to do my job well.”
There is no magic formula to change you story. Other people have described various ways to do so. I offer the metaphor of Storyteller for your life because as an adult are the primary author for your life. You can choose to take the same actions, do the same things, think the same way, and use the same excuses, over and over. Or not. Will the narrative you tell and the actions you take always flow beautifully? No, not likely. Will the experience be interesting and beneficial? Yes. So go find your rhythm, listen to the story is offering and tell your best story now as well as you can.
To push past the whisperings of anxieties fed the self-saboteur is worth the effort. The short-term pain of growth is a price worth paying for the long-term gains of personal agency and the profound contentment of knowing you honestly put your whole effort in to something.