My grandson and I have a bedtime routine when he stays over, and part of that is taking turns making up stories. There’s plenty of laughter as we freeform it. He often tells of superheroes and video game stars and once, a silly pufferfish named Grandma. One time, I just started talking, and suddenly there was a flamingo named Bettie Ann, who lived at the San Diego Zoo. She chatted with all the other animals and with shy twins named Melissa and Max. They all became lifelong friends. The end. I believe L and I share a hope to delight each other with whatever springs out of our imaginations.
There are cherished stories we remember from childhood, and maybe later, stories we make up for the kids in our lives, infused with our own experiences and wonderings, and hopefully with some magic and something new to discover.
Then there are stories that are less helpful. When I was going through coaching training, we often talked about “capital S stories.” These can be unkind things we tell ourselves, like my nagging doubt that I had intellectual depth, or an outdated self-perception, like a person saying they’re not responsible with money, which is no longer accurate. Those Stories are not only hurtful for the way they can erode self-regard, but for how they can hold us back. If I one day decide I want to go to grad school, for example, I’m much less likely to do that if I’m hanging on the the belief that I’m intellectually shallow. If my hypothetical friend Maggie still believes she can’t save to save her life, maybe she’ll act accordingly and miss a chance to set some money aside for an amazing vacation, or a down payment on a house.
A few ideas
Here are some things that could help. Some are variations on ideas I learned in my training.
- Notice when you say things like “I could never” or “I’m not the kind of person who . . .” Those could be an indication you’re dealing with a Story.
- Ask yourself if the Story is still true. Or maybe it was never true?
- Journal about your Story. Try asking yourself a question: when do you first remember telling this Story to yourself, what is it giving you, what could life look like without that Story, or any question you think could be helpful. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write, seeing if you can just keep the pen moving, no censoring yourself. Notice any emotions that come up, or sensations in your body, and if it feels right, make a note of those, too.
- Let your imagination take over for a bit. Get in a comfy spot, make yourself a cup of tea, and let your mind go to a place where you are you, minus the Story. How does that feel? Are there any small steps you can take to get you closer to that feeling?
- Reframe your Story, if possible. Is there another way to view it?
- Treat yourself with kindness. If you’re beating yourself up about your Story, take a few breaths and ask what you’d say if a friend came to you with this same Story.