What would you do if you found out that all of your limiting beliefs about yourself weren’t true? And that they couldn’t hold you back anymore?
Well, this recently happened to me. And it’s been a pretty wild ride. Like life-changing. Too big for me to keep to myself. So let me walk you through what the heck I’m talking about, what I experienced, and how you too can create a momentous shift in your life.
What’s a Story?
A story is a set of limiting beliefs about our abilities, worth, and experiences that we accept as true and feel with absolute certainty. Unfortunately, many of us tend to loop on stories that do not serve us. There’s a lot of negative self-talk, which we often don’t even realise we’re doing. Long-term, this negative thinking can have a profound impact on our lives by shaping our self-perception and limiting our potential.
For example, we may tell ourselves stories rooted in being unworthy, not attractive enough, weak, stupid, lazy, too shy, unlovable, incapable, unambitious, bad with money, unable to start a successful business, a failure, not deserving of happiness.
Most of us have been repeating these same stories to ourselves for years, if not decades, usually starting in childhood. They are usually based on past experiences, cultural messages, and critical comments from others, and can be limiting and detrimental to our mental and emotional well-being. They can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, and can prevent us from reaching our full potential.
Fascinatingly, our stories actually create neural pathways in the brain that get reinforced and more entrenched in our belief system as they loop in our thoughts. It’s a vicious cycle. The more we repeat these stories to ourselves, the stronger those neural pathways get, and the more we believe them – and the cycle repeats. Eventually, they become self-fulfilling.
Stories, Shame & Shadow
Here is an example to illustrate how stories unfold.
Family, friends, and teachers commonly label a cautious child who is a bit slow to warm up to people as shy. Even though the child is still very social and doesn’t necessarily feel shy. After a few years of being called shy and being told not to “be so shy,” the child starts to identify with the trait and believe it. The child learns that shyness is viewed negatively and attaches shame to this aspect of their personality. They start to worry about being judged socially and become even more cautious around others, which only reinforces the belief that they are shy. Over time, this belief becomes their story.
As a teen, the child would blame their shyness for not being popular enough, asking questions in class, or auditioning for the school musical. The crazy thing is, they were never shy to begin with. It just became their story. And this story was shaping the trajectory of their life.
People often refer to our negative stories as our shadow. Typically picked up between the ages of 0-14, shadow aspects are core beliefs rooted deep down in shame. Anytime you were consciously or unconsciously shamed for something as a child, or witnessed someone else being shamed, your ego developed your shadow, your story of why something is bad or why you can’t do it. Shame, shadow and stories cause us to abandon our true authentic selves, replacing them with beliefs around low self-worth.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life
As Tony Robbins famously says: “Beliefs create and beliefs destroy”. They are that powerful. But they can also be fake news. Negative stories aren’t based on facts. They are just that – stories. And you can re-write them anytime to rediscover your authentic self and live up to your true potential.
Just as there are negative stories, there are positive stories too. Stories like: I am beautiful, strong, successful, confident, fun, kind, capable, worthy, loveable and enough. Now that’s more like it! Think of how the world would open up to you if these core beliefs were running the show. And they can.
Positive stories have the power to transform our lives. Rather than hold us back, they shape how we see ourselves, influence our thoughts and emotions, build our confidence and guide our behaviors. When we tell ourselves stories that highlight our strengths, achievements, and positive qualities, we start to see ourselves in a more favorable light. And most importantly, we start to believe them.
The Neuroscience Behind A Positive Story
The power of positive stories to improve our lives goes a lot deeper than standard self-help rhetoric (repeating affirmations, The Secret, etc). Their success lies in the process of neuroplasticity. Our experiences and thoughts create patterns of neural activity that can become hardwired over time. This is one of the major reasons why old, pessimistic stories and shadow aspects can have such a strong hold over us and why we believe them so strongly. But these deep pathways can be rewritten.
When we change a story, we create new neural pathways in our brain. So by telling ourselves positive stories, we are essentially rewiring our brain to see ourselves in a more positive light. By repeatedly focusing on our skills, talents, and positive qualities, we strengthen the neural pathways that support these positive beliefs until the old pathways gradually fade away and lose their power. This can help to counteract negative self-talk and limiting beliefs, making it easier for us to see ourselves as capable, confident, and deserving of success. In other words, in high self worth.
The child (now adult) above, who grew up to believe they were innately shy, may choose to believe a new story. That they are cautious in new situations but also social and outgoing when they feel comfortable. They will start to view their interactions with others in a new light, building and strengthening new neural pathways, and developing a positive feedback loop from the positive experiences that reaffirm their new set of beliefs around their social skills. The external world around them didn’t change, just how they see it.
i. Negative stories and shadow lower our self-esteem and keep us in fear and lack.
ii. Positive stories increase our confidence and sense of self-worth. They inspire us to take messy action, pursue our goals, and develop a growth mindset.
iii. You are in control of your limiting stories and shadow aspects. They are not facts nor grounded in truth. They are just long-held beliefs.
iv. Your stories don’t own you. It is scientifically possible to rewire your brain with new, positive beliefs and stories. It’s never too late, you’re never too old or too damaged to change your story.
I find it incredibly exciting to know that so many of the beliefs that hold us back in life are within our own control. And by making a conscious shift, we can change our stories at any time. In my next post, Rewriting Old Stories That Hold You Back, I will dive into the details of how we can do this.
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.