In my previous article we looked at what stories are, how they develop in childhood and how they hold us back. Fortunately, we are in control of our stories – the good, the bad and the ugly. And that means we have the power to change them at any time. Below I’ll share my top strategies for owning and rewriting old, negative, looping stories. So that you can start living more authentically. Free from the restraints of your shadow and other “I can’ts”.
But first, I want to share one of the stories I rewrote about myself this past year. And boy, does it feel good!
How I Became Sporty in my late 30s
For the first 37 years of my life I believed that I simply wasn’t sporty. Some people have loved playing soccer since childhood, kill it at team sports and make running 10km look like a stroll through Whole Foods. That’s never been me. I’ve always been more of a yoga, ballet, zumba kind of girl. Intensity, cardio, heavy lifting? No thanks. These more intensive athletics always felt so difficult and unnatural for me and I just couldn’t keep up. Because I’m not sporty. I was raised believing that I was good at math, and could get straight As if I tried, but my family agreed that I just wasn’t born sporty. Today, I call B.S.
Turns out, this is just another one from my long list of stories. One that I’ve been telling myself for a very long time. And one that my loved ones, friends and teaches unconsciously reinforced. Thanks guys. In reality, I was born just as capable of physical activity as anyone else. I may not be Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps material, but I was born just as sporty as the next non-Olympian. The only thing holding me back was my story and the strong beliefs I created around it for decades.
Once I had this revelation, it was time to look inward. Where did I get this idea that I wasn’t sporty? Was this true? What are the facts? I journaled and reflected and decided to overwrite my old thinking patterns. To replace them with a new story that I would start building now. Next, I got off my butt and went for a run – something I had done here and there over the years and hated every time, finding it too hard (side cramps, anyone?). I started with a short jog, alternating with walking, and each day I went it got easier. And with that, I shed the last remnants of my old story and replaced it with my new one. Every day I go for a run, my new belief about myself grows stronger.
My old story: I’m not sporty, I don’t like sports and I’m not good at sports. I can’t do it. Fear.
My new story: I am sporty. I am just as capable as others. I am good at sports. Just start. I am strong.
Now, on to how to change your story.
Here are the strategies that have had the biggest impact on overwriting my entrenched, negative thinking and creating my new narrative. I suggest using these tools in the same order they are written. Each section will prepare you for the next step of your journey.
Uncover Your Negative Stories
Your mission is to get rid of all those negative scripts running on repeat in your head and to replace them with positive stories that propel you forward. This starts with identifying which negative stories are holding you back. Where do you have shadow and which shadow words trigger you most? Prepare a safe and calming space for yourself to do some self-reflection. Don’t rush this process. Take the time to really think, go deep and question which stories dominate your life. You will probably uncover things that you never realised were there. Journal or write these down as you go. Make a list of your current stories.
Own and Reframe your Stories
In the words of Manifestation expert Lacy Philips, what you don’t own, owns you. Before we can make changes, we first have to acknowledge and accept our stories. Owning our shadow is essential to reprogramming those negative, old beliefs. Your past is a part of you and deserves to be accepted in order to heal. Learning to love every imperfect piece of yourself is integral to creating a shift into high self-worth on a subconscious level, and creating new stories that stick.
Try the Reframing technique. Is there a way you can look at this shadow aspect of yourself in a new and more positive light? For example, last year I learned that I am an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. This newfound knowledge helped me understand myself so much better and explained why I often do things the way I do. In fact, it changed how I saw and interpreted so much of the world around me. Proving that once again, so much of what we believe are just assumptions, not facts.
I realised that HSPs are more cautious physically and mentally, and tend to prefer solo sports (without balls flying at their heads) and less physically stimulating activities, like running, yoga, dance, karate and swimming. My dislike of playing soccer as a child had nothing to do with being innately unsporty. In fact, I am actually disposed to prefer other kinds of physical activity. But I have always been just as capable at sports as everyone else.
Where are you misjudging your abilities?
This one is a biggy. You might not naturally gravitate to journaling, but putting your thoughts on paper can work wonders for getting to the root of old wounds, and then letting them go. One story at a time, start writing down anything you can think of that is associated with your old, negative narrative. How does it makes you feel in your body? What emotions do you associate with it? Where was this behaviour modelled for you in childhood (or later)? Did you parents, friends or society as a whole repeat this messaging over and over again? Do you hold shame around this shadow aspect? Have patience and keep at it, this is a process.
Here is an example. You don’t start your dream business, telling yourself it’s because you’re lazy. You usually end up watching Netflix instead of working on your business plan. But after digging deep, you discover that it is really fear that is holding you back. Growing up you were modelled that entrepreneurship is too risky, whereas working for someone else is the safe and smart move. You may have witnesses a parent not succeeding in business, having lost lots of money as a result. The more you understand the root of your stories, the less power they will have over you.
Change Your State
So, you have decided to change your story for a better one. Now what?
According to Tony Robbins, the easiest and fastest way to rewrite your story is to change your energy. What he calls getting into a peak state. He recommends doing this by changing 3 things. First, you need to change your physiology (your body) through self care, fitness, posture and increased movement. These physical states support a positive, empowering and strong emotional state. So get up and do a few jumping jacks right now…I’m serious.
Next, change your focus. Because “where focus goes, energy flows.” Make it a habit to focus on your new story, the positive aspects of your experiences, the things you want and and the goals you set, rather than what is holding you back. What you focus on determines your reality, how you experience the world around you and which emotions you feel.
Finally, change your language. Words hold so much power. Be selective with how you use them. How you talk to yourself internally and how you speak with others out loud determine the emotions you feel and how you see the world. Tony advocates using words accurately rather than exaggerating for effect. If you are a bit frustrated but say that you are pissed off, you will actually start to feel the more extreme emotion and vice versa. The more you start to catch your negative language towards yourself, the more you will be able to alter your your internal dialogue to maintain your new story.
Sometimes simply a change of location or environment can help you jumpstart your new story, whether that’s taking a vacation or simply going for a walk in nature. When I started jogging last Summer, I ran by the ocean and ended each session with a barefoot walk along the beach in the sun. It was magical and quickly became something I looked forward to in the mornings. Getting out of your old routine gets you out of your old story and makes it easier to build new, positive habits.
Find Your Why and How
For me to develop the new habits associated with new stories, I’ve found it super helpful to have motivation that genuinely resonates with me, as well as a clear action plan that I can realistically execute. Listening to fitness episodes of the Huberman Lab podcast really helped me understand my WHY when I decided I was sporty. I want to be healthy and active into my 90s. Working backwards from that number, I got a better understanding of where my fitness needed to be today if I want to reach this long-term goal. I also learned very specifically what I need to do on a weekly basis to get there. I went from avoiding gyms to enjoying my time there a few days a week. Now I am excited to witness my progress and be actively living out my new story – as a treadmill warrior.
Get 1% Better
Your new story might feel like a momentous switch, especially when it involves striving for what seem like huge goals. Break those down and know that if you can get just 1% better, you are already doing fantastic. All of those 1% soon compound to massive improvement. Don’t believe me? Read James Clear’s powerful book Atomic Habits to learn how the world’s best sports teams have been using this approach to quickly go from bottom of the ranks to win industry championships.
Intentions, Not Affirmations
Repeating affirmations to yourself (new stories) without doing any of the work above probably won’t get you the results you want. Old spiritual bypass techniques of repeating affirmations are not backed with the energy or powerful intentions required to make a mental shift. So don’t confuse a new story with an affirmation. This doesn’t work. You need to put in the effort.
i. Before we change our negative stories, we first have to identify, accept and own our old shadow aspects and beliefs.
ii. Use journaling or whatever process works for you to better understand your old stories, your triggers, and be able to reframe them in a more positive light.
iii. You will know that you have integrated your shadow when the words you associate with it no longer have energetic power for you. Your old story around it will loosen its hold over you.
iv. Change your state and your environment through movement, self-care, focus, language and location.
v. Figure out why you want to change your story and what aligned actions you can start taking today to live it. You don’t need to make a lifestyle 180 to get started. Overambitious new habits usually don’t stick. Incremental 1% improvements will manifest into massive change.
Disclaimer – The information on this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only. It should not be taken as professional medical or health advice. Please consult your own doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist or healer, and do your own research before making any health-related decisions. We try to provide accurate information on health, mental health and wellness, but it may not apply directly to your individual situation.