What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

Several years ago, I heard the CEO of a major corporation speak at a leadership conference. He begin his speech by telling us that he wasn’t a “gifted speaker.” He then rambled for a solid hour. Clearly, he was unprepared. It was painful.

A Woman Whispering in a Man’s Ear = Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bobbieo, Image #216159

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bobbieo

He had fallen victim to “The Narrator.”

Inside of each of our heads lives a storyteller. He narrates the events of our lives in real time.

But The Narrator does not merely provide play-by-play commentary. No, he specializes in color commentary—constantly offering his opinion about what everything means.

For example, The Narrator inside the CEO’s head had convinced him that he didn’t have a speaking gift (whatever that is). As a result, he didn’t bother preparing. After all, what good would it do? He didn’t have “the gift.”

If he had merely rejected The Narrator’s version and had told himself a different story, he could have experienced a different outcome.

For example, he could have said to himself, I’m not a great speaker—yet. But I can improve. I’m going to work harder to prepare. I really want to have a bigger impact on the people who hear me.

You and I can create a more empowering inner narratives by following five steps:

  1. Become aware of The Narrator. Half the battle is simply waking up and becoming conscious of the commentary running through our minds. Most people are oblivious to it. It is especially important to be alert to it whenever we experience adversity or trauma. Ask: What is the story am I telling myself right now?
  2. Evaluate the story the Narrator is telling. Many people confuse The Narrator’s voice with The Truth. But The Narrator is only offering one perspective, based on previous experiences and—too often—fear. We don’t have to accept the version of reality The Narrator is telling. Instead, we can “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Ask: Is this storyline accurate?
  3. See the story from a larger perspective. The biblical character Joseph was a man who had a dream and then unbelievable setbacks. I’m sure The Narrator was telling him, Every time something good happens, something worse follows. Get used to it!

    Instead, Joseph saw it from God’s perspective—so much so, that years later he could say to his abusive brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Ask: How does God intend this situation for good?

  4. Affirm what you know is true. You can either live life based on past experiences, current feelings—or transcendent truth. This is why it is important to immerse yourself in the scriptures, to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As one of my mentors often says, “Most people doubt their beliefs and believe their doubts. Do just the opposite.” Ask: What do I know to be true?
  5. Write a new script. We don’t have to be passive spectators in our stories; we certainly don’t have to be victims. While God is ultimately sovereign, we have agency. (I heard this term for the first time from my friend, Don Miller.) In other words, our choices matter—more than we think! They can affect the outcome. Ask: How can I make the choices that create the best possible story?

When we lose the plot, we we lose our way. Life becomes meaningless. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can take control of the narrative, ask God for wisdom, and tell ourselves a different story—a better story.

Question: What disempowering stories have you told yourself? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.jdeddins.com JD Eddins

    This is great advice.   I work at a drug treatment center for young men and know from personal experience as well as the lives of over 600 young men who have been through our doors that unless you change you story the Narrator has been leading you on up to this point then things will never get any better.  Remember, only you with the power of God, can defeat The Voice.

  • Carmenerichards

    Thank you for your message today Michael. I don’t know why after thirty years of Christian experience, I am still surprised when the Holy Spirit uses the thing you least expected to speak directly to my situation. I have struggled with the paralyzing narrative of, lack of formal education and unique voice or something to say which has not already been said. Of course it is the word of God which countermands all our fears and doubts, and reminds us, everything we are and do has its source in Him. Ephesians 2:10 – thanks for the encouragement to do our part and prepare for our work, be it writing, speaking or waiting tables. The results belong to God.

  • http://www.shannonmilholland.blogspot.com Shannon Milholland

    This is solid truth, Michael.  We all have a tape which plays in our heads.  I love the way you titled it the “Narrator”.  The narrator of the story often doesn’t play a direct.  We have a choice to listen or not.  We decide how much power the narrator has.  Very empowering!

  • http://twitter.com/ashleighallen Ashleigh Allen

    Love it! This was really encouraging. Thanks for such a great breakdown of how to take every thought captive for Christ!

  • http://findingforwardmotion.com Tony Elam

    I am basing my self employment of of this concept so to speak.  Even though I am doing my best to help others I am still quite aware of the junk I tell my self sometimes.  I think to often that no one is listening, or there is someone so much better for the job.  I think who will listen to me?  I ended up nearly homeless due to what I told myself.  I have to constantly work at it, but that’s what I tell others.  I hate hearing I am “I am too old”, or “I am too young” or some other bad script.  I love #4 in this post it’s one of my favorites.  I love the way you frame that.  Good post, thanks!

  • http://leftrightorg.wordpress.com/ Brittany

    The most important question you pose is this:  Is this storyline accurate? My priest often says that we are quick to tell ourselves the stories we want to hear in order to feel better about ourselves and the world we live in. I have to agreed. After all, in this world of social media, spinning and promoting the best versions of ourselves, or further, our stories, has become second nature.  In fact, its very likely that the CEO you heard speak wasn’t  so much doubting his ability to speak, but instead had told himself a very inaccurate (read: inflated)  “story,”  one in which he was the star and infallible and therefore did not need to prepare for the speech because he was so wonderful after all. 

    We avoid conflict so often cut ourselves off from people that hold up a mirror  in order that our true selves might be revealed. Because of this, I think it’s important that we’re intentional about surrounding ourselves with critics and encouragers, in addition to Scripture and our internal narration. This is especially true for people in positions of leadership — they must be willing to have accountability and not just be surrounded by individuals that will stroke their ego. 

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Sometimes we tell ourselves these stories in order to excuse ourselves from the consequences of our actions.

  • Becky

    Brennan Manning calls the Narrator the “Impostor” …. (in his book, Abba’s Child)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Brennan is such a wonderful author. My concept is a little different, in that The Narrator isn’t positive or negative; he’s neutral. He can be the voice of encouragement—if we train him.

  • http://www.thegiftofmondays.com/ colleen laquay urbaniuk

    great advice.  along with The Narrator is his brother The World who loves to offer advice and limitations as well. i’ve always told my boys, don’t listen to the world and what it says you can’t do.  focus on the gifts God has given you and choose your attitude toward life.  our choices and our attitude towards them make all the difference!

  • http://www.ConflictRemedy.com Lorraine Segal

    This is such valuable information about the power of stories. One approach I take to helping people deal with conflict, is to look at emotional triggers (hot buttons). A piece of this relates to becoming conscious of the story we’re telling ourselves about the other person; then choosing to replace the negative story with another possibility thats more positive. I find this very valuable for myself and clients.

  • Canderson

    So true. And so important for all of us to reflect on.
    I love this short talk by Andy Murray and the commercial included in the video.
    Beware the Voices

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    What a great post! I was just thinking about this very thing this past week. I was in the middle of preparing to take a big test and I was discouraged because it was hard and I did not feel prepared. I took a break from studying and started making a list of the people that I wanted to thank that has helped me to study for it. In the process it built my confidence and I passed the test the first time!

  • Jolie101415

    A long time ago, when my marriage was falling apart, I became depressed because I could not imagine how I could live another story, much less a story of possibility. I felt as though the waters were raging around me while hanging onto the thinnest of trees bending in the wind.  Hanging on for dear life _was_ the story I lived for a long time until I realized I had to not look behind me, trust each moment in front of me, go forward not expecting giant leaps but measured steps that would keep me on the road even when I felt I was faltering. Making difficult decisions (to end a destructive marriage) no matter what my old story told me and not necessarily believing I could do it but knowing God  could. 

    Today, I sit back realizing that I have happiness in my hand and it rarely flies away. I don’t have what I thought I would have at this age (not things) but still satisfied in my soul. I have projects and things I believe in that benefit others (books for inmates project and video project of ‘God Experiences’ of others who have let God change their lives, also). I can see the mistakes I have made through bad choices but I can also see God’s hand in getting me through it all. 

    As M. Scott Peck says in “The Road Less Traveled”. Life is difficult!   At times……

  • http://shellywildman.net Shelly Wildman

    Oh wow, do I need this right now. I am going back to work tomorrow after a 5 year hiatus. I teach college writing, and for some reason I have been listening to the voice that tells me that I’ve been out of the classroom for much too long, that I won’t be able to connect with the students, that I’m not smart enough to do this. My husband and kids have been a wonderful support, but those voices . . . 

    Thank you so much for writing this. I really needed to read it tonight.

    • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

      By now, you’ve been back and hopefully it’s been awesome. If you get a chance, fill us in.  :)  Blessings.

  • http://twitter.com/mgdobishinsky Michael Dobishinsky

    I am powerfully drawn to the story of Joseph in the Bible. The script he seemed to be following looked like it always would end in defeat. But God used his story to do powerful things for His people and bear witness to us generations later.
    http://www.thecolorofsound.edublogs.org

  • VGilmore

    WOW! Very powerful! I have NEVER responded to an online post or blog before, so, here goes. I want to be a writer, a successful author. However, I don’t believe I am any good at writing. I feel like my dreams and goals are far bigger than I am, and I will never accomplish any of them.

    • VGilmore

      That being said, I am a great writer, and am now trying to retrain my mind to KNOW the truth about my gifts and talents.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        Sometimes you just have to train yourself to believe the truth.

  • Kim Tisdale

    This is my pet peeve.  I hear speakers do this all the time.  I think they think they have to do this to get praise at the end via …. “Oh no, you are an excellent speaker” “Why would you say you are a bad speaker?”  Or if they are unprepared or don’t know their content… they get forgiveness because they are out of their element.  What they don’t realize is the content is lost because the audience shifts focus from quality of content to quality of delivery.  

    There is a delicate balance.  I don’t need a juggler or stand up comic to keep my attention.  I want a subject matter expert with a passion for their topic.  I’ve all but stopped attending breakout sessions at technical conferences even when I pay for them.  I go by, pick up the documentation, and read it to myself.  I much perfer the voice in my head to the monotone drone reading their powerpoint word for word. “Bueller…. Bueller”

    I preface these comments with the fact that I’m afraid of heights so I’ll step off my soap box now… have a great week! 

    Kim

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      I hate it when people read their PowerPoint slides word-for-word.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        That is the worst. There should be a law!

  • Gordon Moen

    I appreciated your thoughts on the narrative we tell ourselves and its influences.  I sent a copy to my son to encourage him to have more positive storyline in his life as he returns to school to work towards his life goal.  Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/Loralea123 Loralea Seale

    Don’t forget that the Narrator often speaks in the first person, and sounds a lot like our own voice.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great point! That’s true.

  • http://twitter.com/SharleneSones Sharlene Sones

    Great comments — I’m getting to this late in the game but have a couple of thoughts to add:

    I love your points, Michael. Sometimes as Narrator we’re not consciously aware of the stories we tell ourselves. It took me over 30 years to understand I told myself “I’m not a good test taker.”  But, as you point out, it gets easier to identify some of these stories once we become aware of the framework at play.  Just paying attention to the my own “self-talk” tends to reveal a lot! But, feedback from others can be very helpful (actually, i find indispensable as long as it’s with a trusted source). As Narrator we do have a viewpoint that’s often not reflected by “the audience” if you will. How others see us and the stories told about us can be important (and liberating) to understand.

    All this is self-reflection can be further complicated by the fact that our stories are often deeply rooted in our core values and beliefs. I find the best way to shut people down is to challenge a belief!  Yet, that’s part of what we’re called to do — awareness of our narrative can help us decide what to keep and what to shed.  Get the big red pen. You are the author of your story and you can edit away.  I do this kind of work with organizations and entrepreneurs — and it’s amazing how it holds fast and true:  we are the stories we tell.

    I’d urge you to check out Annette Simmons.  “The Story Factor” is one of the classics for organizational storytelling.  And the bonus: she’s a gem.

  • Miked

    Great story and ideas…. Take God and the bible out of your comments. The message gets lost a bit by all the preaching. Let people decide their own thoughts on religion and keep the great lessons coming.

  • mdmaurer

    Yes, falling victim to “The Narrator” is something I catch myself doing. I love how you describe it here.  Good points to think about. #2 is highlight for me. Comparing it to Truth is what I needed to hear today. Thanks!

  • Willi Haemel

    Thank you again for this timely reminder. Everything went south in a hurry yesterday as I “bought into” the script of my narrator on what I was witnessing. How do we see? I realised a short while ago it was not with my eyes, but with my mind. With a life times collection of what I have heard, seen, bought into, and “judgements” (meanings I have ascribed to)  I have made about all of these experiences.  This, I believe is the challenge of being transformed by the renewing our minds. Thank God He is with us daily to give us HIS perspective, His truth on what is really transpiring. 

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Mike! As I read this post, I am reminded of the saying by Winston Churchill during World War-II: “Sure I am, this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”

  • Itzach Stern

    “The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days waiting for better ones ahead.” and the quote simply portray how important it is to live our lives to the fullest, eat ice cream, long distance walk, chat, laugh now because to live is to cherish.

    quotes about letting go

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  • Jrbdanish58

    Michael, new to your website & blog. Found it in the middle of the night and could not stop reading. I’m 59 and aware a change is coming into my life. This article helped me understand the difference between the narrator and navigator. Which am I going to follow? Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Welcome to my blog. I really like your nomenclature: “navigator” vs. “narrator.”

  • Mike Fairman

    Trying to imagine how much better my life and the lives of all those whom I love would be if we all followed this advice.

  • Gmpresley

    Think you, Michael

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  • Dee

    i have tried many different avenues in my life , some time appears to have failed sometimes i can see why other times i cant. I am taking things easy as i am losing my sight but still dont want to do nothing , when these times of failure come its very diffcult to stay positive i have had many times of feeling like gviing up my narrator is saying whats the point someone or something will mess it up for you. This time im talking my positively to myself saying take your time dont panick and dont get near your goal and throw it rather than lose it just go through it x i guess im learning ot trust myself sometimes im utterly surprised when people believe in me more than i do , so heres to working it out 
    sorry for they typo im a touch typer x 

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