08/21/2013 05:43 EDT | Updated 10/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Is This Mistake the Reason You're Unhappy?

In my first blog, I talked about the power of accepting responsibility, of making choices, and of coming to the realization that whatever situation it is that you've suddenly 'found' yourself in and are unhappy with, you got yourself into...which means you can get yourself out.

What if I were to tell you that the success of your journey towards reclaiming your personal power will largely hinge on stories?

Life is about stories. The stories we tell each other. The stories we tell ourselves. Our stories define who we are.

As we grow up, events in our lives propel us to create stories about the world and our relationship to it. For example, if, as a child, we told our parents small lies and consistently got away with it, we might create a narrative that tells us that minor deceptions are useful. We have crafted a story about ourselves, others, and life in general based on our past actions and decisions. We will use the stories we've developed to determine what or who is right, wrong, good and bad.

This isn't a process that we're necessarily aware of. Our stories lie deep inside us -- so deep, in fact, that we often don't realize that they're having an effect on us, or that they can be changed. This is a problem.

The Problem With Storytelling

The problem with our stories is that they're based on the past. Think about the lying example: The story was created when you were a small child, but your adult life is probably still being guided by the same narrative. Maybe the story you've told yourself about the harmlessness of lies has led to dishonesty in your relationship, or on your tax forms. It's quite possible that your propensity for 'little while lies' is creating problems for you now.

Most of our stories are significantly more complicated and nuanced than this, and can imprison us, leading to decisions that are no longer effective. Rather than helping to explain our world, they're holding us back.

We often take a few bits of information, gleaned from friends, the media, hearsay, or what we think we saw or heard, and create a narrative. Then we tell it to ourselves as if it were the truth. It may or may not correspond to the truth, but it's our reality, and it affects the way we feel and what we do as a result.

If we are struggling in some area of our life, we need to put our story under the microscope, question its validity, and ask ourselves:

Is it true?

Let's take a simple example: You send an email to a colleague requesting something, and he doesn't respond. You start telling yourself all kinds of stories. He's an inconsiderate idiot. He doesn't value my work.

But what do you know for sure? You know you sent an email, and you know your colleague didn't respond. The rest is your own conjecture. You made it up. The fact is, you don't actually know why your colleague didn't answer.

The first antidote to the story trap is to get rigorous on the reality check.

Check out the facts. Email or call your colleague and say, "I was concerned I hadn't heard from you." Take responsibility by saying, "I sent an email, and I'm not sure it got through." Don't blame your colleague by asking him why he didn't respond. Maybe your email was caught in a spam filter. Maybe he got so busy that he forgot, or didn't have time, to respond to your message. Maybe the reason had absolutely nothing to do with what you thought, or with you.

Separate fact from fiction.

Once you realize what is and isn't real, you automatically gain power. You are no longer making decisions on the basis of a negative story that may not be true. You don't waste time complaining that your neighbour or boss is treating you badly. You don't create a black cloud of resentment that can turn anyone off, including your friends. By separating fact from fiction, you can change the way you perceive the picture.

As you move forward, you need to look at your stories carefully. If you can identify the part of your story that is not true or that reflects your past rather than your present, you can take it off your list. It will cease to have power over you. And that's where your power begins.

Keep an eye out for my next blog, in which I'll share with you the next step - and Power Tool #3 from my new book, The You Factor - in regaining your personal power and creating for yourself the life you've always dreamed of.

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