As human beings, we are built for story. It's why Netflix is popular, politicians get elected, and retailers don't just sell you a bathing suit but the accompanying lifestyle of frolicking in the sand near the ocean. Story helps us define our identities and connects us with others. Long before the Internet existed, we figured out how the world worked by listening to the stories of our elders. As author Philip Pullman states, "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."
Stories can be motivating. Think about the coach's speech before the big game in any sports movie you've seen. Stories can also be demoralizing, such as when we tell girls they are no good at math or tell boys that it's weak to show emotion. The stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful stories of all since the constant soundtrack running through our heads provides lots of reinforcement.
In order for us to live our most fulfilled, happiest lives, it's important to make sure that the stories we tell ourselves are helpful. Here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure your story is serving you well.
1. Would you tell your story to your best friend?
Would you tell your best friend that she won't reach her goals? Or that she deserves her hardships? Of course you wouldn't! So why are you telling yourself negative things all the time. Be your own best cheerleader. I have a bunch of notes taped up in my office that say things like, "You've Got This" and "Love Your Life." Tell yourself all of the positive things you tell your good friends and soon you will start believing them.
2. Are you the hero of your story?
This one is really important. Think about your life. What role do you play? If you are the villain or the victim or the sidekick, you aren't going to do anything great. This is your life; this is your story. Put yourself in charge of making great things happen: that's what heroes do.
3. Does your story have a happy ending?
When writers set out to tell a story, they know if they are writing a romance novel or horror story. Some writers even write their endings first and then work backwards. Pick your ending now. And decide it's going to be a great one. Then you can take deliberate steps to make plans and take action to get you there. I'm a big fan of using storyboards for my writing and vision boards for my life. Visualizing how you want things to turn out is a very helpful tool.
Look for evidence that life is good, success is likely, and love is available for all of us.
4. Do you believe a hero must endure hardship to succeed?
A lot of us believe that life is harder than it needs to be. We were brought up on "don't be too big for your britches" stories like the one about Icarus, who plunged to earth after flying too close to the sun. If you believe that it's hard to be successful, money is scarce, and people can't be trusted, you will find that in the world. You don't have to be the hero in a Greek myth, enduring countless trials and tribulations. You can be the heroine in a Jane Austen novel, living a lovely life with a happy, tidy ending. There will always be setbacks, but try to see them as temporary challenges on the way to success. It's a mental trick, but it's an effective one.
5. Do you believe the universe is good?
Right now, the post-apocalyptic dystopian setting is very popular. While the notion that life is bleak and hopeless sells books and movie tickets, it's much more useful to believe that the universe is a kind and benevolent place. Look for evidence that life is good, success is likely, and love is available for all of us. Trust me, I know that this is not easy some days.
For years, I've struggled with anxiety and PTSD that sends my brain a fairly constant message that the world is a scary place. I work really hard to see the positive things in life. I take photos and keep gratitude lists that provide me with hard evidence that the world is generally good. Keep a daily gratitude journal for a month and see how your story starts to shift.
As you change your story, you start to change your life, as your belief in what you can do drives you forward. As C.S. Lewis stated, "We are what we believe we are." Make sure you believe something great.
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