People tell themselves stories, and then pour their lives into the stories they tell.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could wave a magic wand and the world would fall into line, just the way you want it to be?
Well, in a way, you can. Not by controlling everything that’s happening externally (and anyway, how exhausting would that be??), but through working with what’s happening internally.
The world you see isn’t the world “as it is.” It’s the world you see through the lens of whatever stories you tell about it. The shape of those stories determines the shape of that lens, which in turn determines how you experience the world you see through that lens.
And that’s good news!
Why? Because when you change your story, how you experience the world changes! So to change the world (or at least to change how you perceive it), you can skip the backbreaking and ultimately fruitless grind of trying to make everything around you match how you want it to be, and simply sculpt your stories.
The power of story management
During a session yesterday, a coaching client and I were talking about taking advantage of this story-generated lens. As we talked about the impact of our stories, the idea of “story management” came up. In a nutshell, story management is about cultivating more life-enhancing stories and shifting out of life-constricting stories.
Conceptually, it’s really simple. If I cultivate more stories that feed a positive view of the world, and reduce or eliminate the stories that feed a negative view, the world from my perspective changes, often dramatically.
Of course, like many conceptually simple ideas, this one can be easier said than done. It’s not a flip-of-the-switch solution. In fact, story management is really a lifetime approach. If you’re still breathing, you probably still need to work on managing your stories.
We all have limiting beliefs about ourselves or the world around us. They’re usually marked by words like, “I can’t…That’s not…They won’t…” or other negative assessments about people, ideas, possibilities, etc.
Worry is a life-constricting story. Anger (sustained past its useful role as a catalyst for action) is a life-constricting story. “I’m not good enough” is a life-constricting story.
With story management, your first task is to be aware of these stories. Often, they’re operating in the background. We’re so used to their “reality” we don’t even think to question it.
Once we have shined a light on them, we can start to question them. We can either explore alternative ways of seeing things, or we can simply let those stories go.
Shifting out of your limiting stories can have a hugely positive impact on your life, but it’s only part of the picture. The other opportunity to sculpt your stories is to add to and feed the life-enhancing stories.
Again, the first step is noticing. When you are aware of your positive stories (e.g., “People are basically good,” or, “This situation is crappy, but I always learn from these challenges”), you can more consciously reinforce them.
Often, finding more life-enhancing stories is the result of your work to change the life-constricting stories – you swap one out for the other. So if you’re looking for a great way to start exploring possible life-enhancing stories, you need look no farther than the constriction. Every time you notice a life-constricting story at work is an opportunity to practice finding a more positive perspective.
Another way to manage your life-enhancing stories is to feed and nourish them. Provide them with the nutrients they need to thrive. One example of how to do that is focusing on gratitude. Gratitude nurtures a positive view of the world that both generates life-enhancing stories and makes it easier for them to thrive.
It’s not all fluffy bunnies
One final bit of advice for your story management efforts. Don’t mistake cultivating life-enhancing stories for living in denial of what’s challenging or painful.
It’s not about experiencing only sunshine and fluffy bunnies. It’s about more consciously shaping your experience of the world to one that is more expansive than constrictive.
Pain is an inevitable part of life. Fighting that pain – shoving it down, pretending it doesn’t exist, railing against it – has an enormously constrictive impact. Allowing the pain, on the other hand – acknowledging it, being with it, feeling compassion – lets its energy move through. You don’t get stuck there.
Consider this quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” When you change your story, you change your perspective. And when your perspective changes, so does your world.
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