I've always been fascinated by people's stories. It's certainly no accident that I became a helping professional, educator, and writer. Listening to others share the intricacies of how they've come to be the people they are is captivating. We are all like walking novels, with twists and turns, comedies and tragedies, dramas and mysteries, and the occasional fairy tale. Too often it can feel as if the story we live is one that has been written for us, one that is predestined somehow, one where we have limited control to script a different plot.
What if it turned out that we were holding the pen all along? While we don't write our entire story from intro to conclusion--we don't get to choose all the settings, circumstances, and characters--we do script how we interact with them, and particularly how we interact with ourselves. Each day, every moment, we are scripting our own self-stories. Our self-story is scripted from all the things we tell ourselves through our internal dialogue about who we are, why we are or aren't good enough, what we are or aren't capable of, and what possibilities the future can hold for us.
In my work, I've learned that many of us script self-stories that are unkind, perhaps even cruel and limiting. We tell ourselves we aren't good enough for the stories we truly want to be living. I scripted this kind of disempowering self-story for myself for many years, and it led me to regret, self-esteem issues, worry, anxiety, and panic attacks. I recently did a TEDx Talk titled, "Re-Scripting the Stories We Tell Ourselves," sharing how I've spent the last 15+ years positively re-scripting my own self-story and working with others to do the same.
Here's eight practices to RE-SCRIPT your self-story from one that limits your plot to one that continuously expands it:
1. R - Release Rumination: Do you ever find yourself replaying in your mind the challenges, traumas, or tragedies you've experienced in your life? Have you ever lost minutes or hours in this kind of spiral of negativity? Catch your ruminating thoughts as they begin and release them. We cannot act upon the past. Concentrate your thoughts and actions instead on what you can positively control in your story right now.
2. E - Engage vs. Evade: What growth-enhancing actions have you avoided because of fear? Fear that you weren't smart enough, athletic enough, attractive enough, successful enough, brave enough? When we keep evading experiences out of fear that we are not yet enough, we never give ourselves a chance to feel enough as we are. Engage in growth-driven adventures anyway. You might surprise yourself, and at worst, you'll learn something you can use in the next chapter of your story.
3. S - Seek Strengths: Can you list 10 things you are great at and why? People are often quite skilled at rattling off their flaws, but frequently struggle to identity their talents. Seeking out our strengths is not egotistical, its critical for empowering our stories. When we know what we are great at, we can use those strengths at work and in the community to do good and feel good. Make your strengths list!
4. C - Challenge Catastrophizing: Have you ever found yourself contemplating all the ways something could go wrong with your plans or in your future overall? Have you let that worry stop you from moving forward? The ambiguity of the future can be hard to cope with, and we often mistake worry for control. But, instead of positively controlling our futures, we just waste time scripting mental catastrophes that will likely never happen. Challenge your catastrophizing thoughts. What evidence exists in your previous experience and current information that confirms your worst case scenarios? What evidence suggests there will be no catastrophe at all. Script successes instead and you'll be more equipped to plan how to achieve what you want.
5. R - Restrict Regret: Do you ever berate yourself over decisions you've made or things you've said or done? We all have less than stellar moments. Nobody gets out of this life without mistakes, but beating yourself up over them over and over accomplishes nothing. We can't change what we've already done. We can, however, apologize when warranted, learn, and do better next time. Restrict how much time you spend on regret. Use mistakes to drive your growth moving forward and create interesting plot twists in your story.
6. I - Invite Imperfection: Have you achieved perfection yet? Me neither. And we're never going to, because once we've decided how we define perfect, we keep changing the definition so we can never reach it anyway. Invite imperfection in, treat it like a guest you are trying to make feel comfortable. Laugh with it. Embrace it. Our idiosyncrasies are part of what keeps our stories so interesting.
7. P - Pursue Passion & Purpose: If you could use your strengths to fix one thing in the world, in your community, in your workplace, what would it be? What would you do if money or fear of failure weren't concerns? What activities do you love so much, you lose track of time doing them? What motivates and excites you? Once you have the answers, do more of that, whenever, wherever, and however you can. Plan short- and long-term goals and actions to make your passions and purpose key themes in your story. A passion-fueled, purpose-driven story helps us feel great about who we are.
8. T - Think Thankfully: What challenges or mistakes are you now thankful for in your life? What strengths, passions, and purposes are you grateful belong to you? What experiences or people in your world are you thankful for today? Use every part of your story as a source of gratitude. Train your brain to see the good within and around you. Thinking thankfully and practicing gratitude re-scripts our story from a tragedy to a triumph.