Rewrite the Story That Has Held You Back
What’s your story?
Is it working for you?
Some people would say their story is “I guess I wasn’t born under a lucky star” or perhaps “I’m a drama queen!” and might not realize that they believe this story so thoroughly that it’s holding them back from achieving their goals. Others will say, “I’m doing pretty well all things considered” and are uncomfortable acknowledging their real story, the one that makes them feel sad, angry, unworthy, or powerless. Hidden beliefs that shape feelings and perceptions can be very constricting and sabotage a person’s conscious efforts to achieve their goals.
It’s possible to rewrite a story that has held you back, but first, you have to be honest about what it is. That’s not always a comfortable thing to do but it can also be liberating.
Are you secretly holding onto a story called “I was born unlucky and shouldn’t expect too much from life”? Or perhaps you hold a deep belief that “People like me are followers, not leaders, and imitators, not inventors”? Maybe your hidden story is called “Drama is my middle name” and it’s causing you to perpetuate unnecessary emotional dramas instead of putting your energy into creating the life you say you want to live.
Hidden stories and not-so-hidden stories that hold us back very often have been written by someone else—our families or our teachers, for example—and we’ve internalized them without consciously questioning them. Maybe your parents expected you to work hard and not aim too high above your station. Consequently, you’ve avoided stepping into the spotlight or taking risks you know you need to take if you’re going to achieve your dreams. Maybe you don’t believe that you can make your own luck, but you want to feel empowered and set higher goals than you have in the past.
Your story might not seem to be disempowering but maybe you’re fooling yourself. If your friends tease you about what a drama queen you are and you laugh at the label, be honest with yourself. Are you tired of the painful emotional roller coaster that goes along with that story?
If you’re not sure what your story is—what belief has been shaping your perceptions of who you are, what you’ve experienced, and what your future is likely to be—you can start by identifying a song lyric, book or movie title, or saying that seems to capture it. You might want to set an intention to discover your story through meditation. Pose the question to yourself, “What is my story, really?” Then let your unconscious convey its message in words, sensations, or images. Journal about the insights that come to you. You might even write out the story of your life in two or three pages. Look for themes. What title seems to fit this story?
Once you’ve identified your story up until this point in your life, consider its payoffs and drawbacks, keeping in mind that all stories have both. Not taking risks may keep you from the pain of failure but also from the joy of trying to achieve a goal that’s important to you. Being “a drama queen” can help you avoid the discomfort you would feel if you took ownership of your role in creating dramas. But it can also exhaust you given all the effort it takes to distract yourself from reflecting on your behavior patterns.
Now think about whether you want to write a new and better story for yourself. What if your story became, “I accept that I can’t control everything, but in many ways, I make my own luck”? Or “I’m the kind of person who can take risks and step out into the spotlight with integrity and confidence”? What if it became, “Emotionally upsetting things happen and are very familiar to me, but now I deal with them more quickly and with far less drama than I did in the past”?
You might want to envision yourself a year from now or five years hence, being the sort of person who doesn’t talk yourself out of opportunities or become caught up in dramas. As you imagine your future self, what are you doing? How are you handling challenges? What risks are you taking and what results are you experiencing? What does it look like and feel like to be the new you? Do you feel comfortable in this new skin, expressing parts of yourself that you have repressed in the past—or didn’t realize were there? Can you imagine feeling uncomfortable but living according to your new story anyway?
Our hidden stories impact us—often more powerfully than we realize. It’s in being honest with ourselves about what stories we’ve held onto that we can begin to not just rewrite them but create new stories of who we are, stories that inspire us and make us feel a greater sense of agency over our lives. Try it and see how it feels to be the storyteller instead of trapped in an old story that no longer works for you.
A version of this article originally appeared in New York Spirit.