The Stories We Tell Ourselves: The Most Common Stories You Tell Yourself
When I started out as a writer, I told myself I sucked. That I didn’t have the expertise to write. That no one would care about what I write. I even told myself that no one will like what I had to say.
I should give up, I thought, and actually get a “real” job.
I mean, who, exactly, did I think I was?
Things started to make sense, though, when I realized these were simply things I told myself. Thoughts; words with a mind of it’s own, scurrying across your head like a car on a highway.
Everyday, we tell ourselves a story about our life. And often, those stories are wrong. Each of us have unique sentences to convince ourselves that we are not enough. We all share in some version of the negative self-talk that we ignore while it leads us down the same path of regret, frustration, anger, and depression.
There was a moment when I wasn’t ready to control the stories I wrote in my head. But I am now. And it’s made all the difference.
Our thoughts control our lives. Our emotions control our lives. The words in your head control the quality of your life. So it’s crucial – in fact, it’s your job – to handle what is within your power.
The good news is that the power is in your hands and you have the agency to do so. The question is, are you going to do it?
What Are Negative Feedback Loops?
When I started out, I had a lot of self-confidence. But even with the things that I said to myself, the things that ran in my head, and the words that repeated, slowly but surely I eroded that confidence within me. Negative feedback loops are simply the result of emotional junk food habits, but one by one, they destroy you. When I was writing, all of the stories I told myself slipped nicely into one underlying theme: “I am not good enough”. The worst part? At some point, I believed it.
And over the course of my life, I’ve believed all the common stories that we all, at some point, tell ourselves:
I do not deserve…
I am not lovable…
I do not have enough…
I am not safe…
The world is always a disappointment…
Nothing ever works out for me…
I am not capable enough…
The solution? The key is to recognize the negative thought loops, go out of our way to understand what they say, question how we relate to them and what evidence they use against us, and weave a positive, empowering story instead (If we get to choose the story in our heads, why would we not make it an empowering one?). Here’s a few specific examples of common stories we tell ourselves (negative thought loops) and how to change those stories for the better.
“I Can’t Leave”
Relationship problems stem from either not finding someone to love or simply not connecting to the person you are with. So what is the story you tell? What is the underlying logic beneath the story? Can you really not leave? Is there something you feel you are lacking? Begin there and weave an empowering story that makes sense in your relationship context.
First and foremost, give yourself back your agency. You can always leave. Many of us seek relationships because, on some level, we are all lonely. We crave people, we crave connection, and many of us feel like we can’t leave a relationship.
The first step is to change the story. You can leave. In fact, you can do whatever you want. Yes, you might be feeling an acute emotional issue. Now, it’s your job to question yourself, fix it, figure yourself in relation to your partner, and logically look at the relationship. It’s your job to spin the story from a one-note devastating outcome to a multi-faceted problem to solve because that can be empowering.
“I’m Not Ready”
Another common story: say you’re moving forward. Things are going places. You finally find that woman. You find that job that gives you creative flexibility. But you think “I’m not ready?” The reasons seem normal – kids, obligations, money, ability. But here’s the truth: most people say “I’m not ready” out of fear. Maybe the reasons you can’t make the change are real. But what I found in my own research and anecdotal experience was that the reasons were simply carefully crafted stories to justify that deeper fear.
Now it’s time to ask yourself about the story you weave. Are you really not ready? Or is your fear simply covering it’s bases? What’s going, inside you? You have to ask these questions and you have to figure out which story to spin. Be brutally honest with yourself. There’s a difference between emotions swaying you in a direction and stopping, reflecting, and figuring out the truth inside you.
“I Don’t Have Time”
To workout. To go to soccer practice. To meditate. Here’s the thing: maybe you do have a busy plate. Maybe things are too hectic. But, when it comes to crafting your life and making the best of it, it’s possible that you don’t have the time to workout. But before you make that assertion, you’ve got to understand what you’re trading off when you tell yourself “I Don’t Have Time”.
If you’re battling obesity, feel depressed, and tell yourself “I don’t have time to workout”, then it isn’t an issue with time, it’s an issue with priorities. Something has got to give.
Ask yourself: how is my time really being spent? What does my day actually look like? And adjust accordingly. Stories in our head and negative thought loops take the form of logical arguments – it’s your job to bust them open and figure out the truth beneath the persuasion.
An Old Cherokee’s Tale
Years and years ago, an elderly Cherokee told his grandson about the greatest battle we all face. The grandson was eager, as he sat down and listened to the wise old man speak. He was curious – what was the greatest battle we face?
“My son” he said. “The battle is between 2 wolves inside us all.”
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith”
The grandson looked at his grandfather. They sat in silence for a minute, until the grandson glanced at him again and asked: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”
Always remember: the thoughts you feed, the stories you feed, and the emotions you feed – that’ll be the wolf that wins.