Change Your Story, Change Your Life

When I was twenty-nine years old, I became vice president of marketing for Thomas Nelson. It was a huge step up in my career. At the time, I thought I had arrived at the pinnacle of success.

Someone Writing a Story - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/btoldi, Image #9548889

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/btoldi

But I was in over my head. Or at least that’s the way it felt. I was just waiting for other people to come to the same conclusion.

I struggled constantly with anxiety and fear—anxiety was the daytime version; fear was the nighttime version.

This manifest itself in my body in two embarrassing ways: First, I sweat profusely. Second, my hands were always cold—ice cold.

Before attending important meetings, I would wear two t-shirts, hoping that I wouldn’t sweat through both. I strategically selected my clothing, based on which colors would show the least amount of perspiration.

I would also step into the bathroom right before the meeting began, and frantically run hot water over my hands. I would then dry them vigorously, praying that they would warm up. I dreaded having to shake hands with anyone.

At some point, I realized that the problem was not in my body, but in my head. I was telling myself a bad story. Mine went like this:

You are too young for this job. Worse, you don’t have the experience. Who do you think you are fooling? It’s just a matter of time before everyone in the company sees it. When that happens, you will be out on the street—right where you should have been all along.

I would never say this out loud, of course. It was just the sound-track that was playing inside my head.

Things didn’t change until I became aware of the story and took control of the narrative. I started telling myself a different story.

I think almost every problem we experience can be traced back to the stories we tell ourselves. There may be a good reason for these stories, but in the end they produce bad outcomes.

It comes down to this: Change your story, change your life.

Let me suggest five ways to take control of the narrative in your head:

  1. Recognize the voice in your head. It doesn’t matter where it is coming from (your parents, a teacher, an abusive spouse); just recognize that it is happening.
  2. Jot down what the voice is saying.It might be something like:
    • “You’re too young.”
    • “You’re too old.”
    • “You’re uneducated.”
    • “You’re over-educated.”
    • “You don’t have enough experience.”
    • “You don’t have the right experience.”

    This could be literally anything. Listen carefully and write it down word-for-word.

  3. Evaluate whether this story is empowering. Is it enabling you to accomplish the outcomes you want or is it preventing you from doing so? Be honest. (Sometimes, people are addicted to their problems and the stories that create them.)
  4. Write down a different story. I’m not talking about a bunch of positive thinking mumbo jumbo. I am talking about telling yourself the truth. And often, this is simply a matter of shifting your perspective.
  5. Start telling yourself the new story. Every time your inner narrator begins telling the old yarn, stop him. Say, “No! That’s baloney. Here’s the truth.” Then repeat your new story.

Once I realize that this is what had happened to me, I crafted a new story. Mine went like this:

Yes, you are young. That gives you tremendous energy. You also don’t have a lot of experience, which is why it is easier for you to think outside the box. God has provided everything you need to be successful in this situation. Even if you fail, you will learn something from it. You can’t lose; you can only quit. And you most certainly are not a quitter!

This changed everything for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but more quickly than I expected. The physical symptoms gradually disappeared. Now, instead of focusing on the behavior I want to change, I focus on the story I am telling myself.

How do you think your behavior or outcomes are linked to the story you are telling yourself? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.VirginiaBasyeCarr.com/ Virginia Basye Carr

    This is exactly the message in my Bible study that was just published this year! For me, I spent 10 years in a pit of depression after losing a job that I loved and on which I based my identity and importance. After I started taking every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5) and started thinking about the 8 things listed in Phil. 4:8, God marvelously lifted me up and out of that pit. The end product is “Change the Way You Think…Winning the Everyday Battles of the Mind.”

  • Jyoti Pandey

    I would share my blog that I wrote after a confidence shattering experience on the road while driving. The language that we speak to ourselves is very overpowering…

    http://perspective-jyoti.blogspot.com/2007/11/power-of-visualization.html 

    would love to hear your comments…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great example of overcoming a traumatic experience. Thanks for sharing it!

  • CarlaB

    This is so true. It is similar advise to Daniel G. Amen in “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” and also what Pat Parelli (Parelli Natural Horsemanship) says so simply, “what you focus on expands.”  I have begun to notice when I hear my brain repeat something and ask myself, “do I believe this? if no, then what do I believe? ok, now focus on that” and as I change my focus I begin to act and think differently. 
    Your steps are very helpful in this reframing my thoughts and becoming aware of my emotions and their impact. Thanks! Your comments are so empowering.

  • Nzkramsay

    Thanks for this Michael. I too used to be a ‘negative talker’ internally and verbally. Someone pointed it out to me so I began to only verbalise positive statements. My brain soon followed automatically, and a new voice took over – one of nurturing and encouragement. Now, it’s like having a mental ‘cheerleading’ team. 
    I recently discovered though, that it’s important to really believe and mean what you’re saying – the words have to be coming from a place of truth to really resonate. I elaborate on this here http://weatherwithyou.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/taste-your-words-before-you-spit-them-out/.
    God bless,
    K Ramsay

  • Stefani

    Your honesty is endearing and your courage, inspiring. I suffer from intense shyness that makes me fear public speaking. And that fear makes me loathe myself, only making the shyness worse. As I now run my own business, it’s something I’m working to change. This post helped me a lot. Especially the line, “you can’t lose, you can only quit. And I am not a quitter.” that will stay with me. Thank you.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Stefani, taking the risk to be a business owner definitely shows your courage!  You really can’t lose, if you don’t quit!!

  • crwhere

    deleted

  • http://www.coachingreallyworks.com/ A Stone

    I’m very glad you shared this.

    As a coach I’ve seen so many people living with similar
    dis-empowering beliefs.  It doesn’t have to be about something as big as
    you faced.

    I know for me it can tend to be little things but those small things can have a big impact on our lives.

    So much starts in the mind with that mental image of ourselves as Dr. M. Maltz put it. Change the image change the results.

     

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  • http://www.possesshispromises.com/ Karen

    Thank you for this post. I, too accepted a job that I was qualified for on paper, but once I had been there for a few weeks, I told myself that I had gotten into a position that I could not do well. God had opened the door to this job, and I had prayed, “Father, slam the door shut if you don’t want me to step through.” He didn’t, and I did. Almost six years later, my responsibilities have expanded, and God is continuing to open doors that would have remained shut if I hadn’t changed my story. Thank you for reaching out to others to share this spot-on principle.

  • KevinIvey

    When the student is ready-the teacher will appear. Years ago, Covey ‘appeared’; some time ago, in the midst of a trial of faith-you and our blog appeared. 

  • http://keriwyattkent.com/soul Keri Wyatt Kent

    Mike, this truth snagged on my conscience: “Sometimes, people are addicted to their problems and the stories that create them.” The resonance both frightened and inspired me. Huh. 

  • Wendy Fox

    Wow!  I can’t tell you how much this article has helped me!  I did exactly as you suggested, and I really learned alot about the things that make me feel anxious.  I have a long way to go, but at least I can clearly hear the voice and what it’s saying, and that’s where my freedom begins.  And I learned that as I listen to what the voice is saying to me, it actually disarms the fear instead of increasing it.  Can’t thank you enough for sharing your story.  You have helped me more than you know.  God bless!

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  • smallsteps35

    i have had a bad couple of years since the person i was suppose to marry left me for someone else. I was crushed. I became an alcoholic and I was in jail like every weekend for like 6 months. I was so frustrated with my life and I did not care where I ended up. I lost 35 lbs. I was healthy 180, and at the depth of my depression I was reduced to a ghost at 145 lbs. I packed up all my things and left the place all this had occurred. i have begin a new life with someone else, but I do have to admit the magic I had with the other person is undeniable. I have started trying to change my story. When I am alone I act out scenarios that I know would make me happy and now I will began keeping what I would refer to as a manifestation journal. I will wrote about thing I pretended happened to me today… and see where it goes.

  • Sam Pasco

    Some really good advice here Michael! To get that voice inside our heads in sync with who we know we truly are in Him…now that’s an achievement…thanks for sharing!