Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves and believe are true. Self-defeating narratives steal our joy by preventing us from exploring new possibilities like going after our dream job, making new friends, and having fun adventures. In short, these stories take up residence in our mind and impact how see ourselves and what we believe we’re capable of doing.

Sample Narratives

  1. I am not paid much because I am not worth much. I don’t deserve it.
  2. My partner doesn’t find me attractive anymore.
  3. I am a fraud.
  4. I can’t understand project budgets.
  5. That woman is out of my league.
  6. I can’t go to the movies by myself.
  7. My friend is mad at me.

As we approach dismantling these narratives, it’s important to remember that feelings aren’t facts.  We once believed the world was flat. That was wrong. And, Michael Jordan didn’t make his high-school varsity basketball team, yet he became one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  So even if a narrative was once true, that doesn’t mean it stays true. Thankfully, there is a way out.We can challenge these narratives in two steps.

Step 1: Identify And Explore Your Story

Brené Brown shared a phrase that is particularly helpful ‘The story I am telling myself is…’.  Using this wording helps us separate our feelings from the facts. It’s a reminder that what we’re thinking isn’t necessarily true. So start here:

  1. What is the story you’re telling yourself?
  2. Why do you believe the story is true?

Step 2: Counter Your Story

Countering these narratives can be hard. We may be so scared that the narrative is right that we don’t try anything that could prove otherwise.And, we may self-sabotage by making the story a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we test the narrative and develop a counter:

  1. Can you find a time when the story wasn’t true?  (e.g., ‘The story I tell myself is that I am bad at managing project budgets’, but I do a good job managing my personal finances; and managing a project budget isn’t that different. So, if I apply myself, I can do it.)
  2. If the story you’re telling yourself is about someone else, ask them if’t is true. (e.g., ‘The story I am telling myself is that you aren’t calling me because you’re mad at me. Is that true’?)
  3. Is there something you can do in the future that would disprove the story? (e.g., ‘The story I am telling myself is I can’t go to the movies alone because people will think I don’t have any friends.’ I went to the movies to see if that was true and, to my surprise, I had a great time!)

When you test the story, and find it isn’t true it will help you to create a new story based in fact (not feelings). We are naturally prone to internalizing and remembering more negative feedback and experiences than positive feedback and experiences.   Knowing that this bias exists reminds us to make an extra effort look for the positive possibilities. We may find that some of our stories are true. However, we’re likely to find that a lot of them are not. When you are open to the possibilities, the possibilities open. Let’s take a look at our stories and see what we find.

“Whether you think you CAN or you think you CAN’T, you’re right” – Henry Ford