How to change the story you’re telling yourself

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Blog

How to change the story you’re telling yourself

Follow Along:

Many of us carry heavy baggage from our past, defined by a story we’ve constructed, often filled with shame, blame, and self-limiting beliefs. But the stories we tell ourselves about our past aren’t set in stone. They’re more like narratives we’ve crafted over time, often with a narrow focus that limits our potential. And one of the most powerful things that you can learn to do is to rewrite your story. By reframing our stories, acknowledging our own resilience, and understanding our trauma responses, we can break free from our self-imposed limitations. Rewriting your story can transform your life and I’m sharing how you can rewrite yours.


The story you tell yourself


Consider the story you are telling yourself now. It’s likely one-sided with a narrow view of what happened in your past and one you’re holding onto like it’s the absolute truth. The thing is, if you zoom out or you change your attention to other parts of that story, you start realizing there’s more to it than you thought. You’re not just one type of person who always does things a certain way. 


You don’t even have to change the whole story. You can reframe how you look at the story and ask yourself, “How do I retell this story in a different way? How do I stop rehearsing the story that I’ve been telling myself for decades?” For many of us, the story we’ve landed on without much reflection is not usually a good one, and it’s one we carry with us throughout our lives. We allow it to dictate what we do, what we go after, who we are, who we’re allowed to be, who we’re allowed to love and the things we’re allowed to dream of. 


One of the most dangerous and one of the most powerful sentences that you can construct is “I am [blank].” Whatever you fill in after “I am” becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes this thing that your brain then continues to look for evidence for. When you start realizing how malleable it is and you start realizing how much you can change it, that opens up your life.

Telling myself I’m lazy


For me, the story I told myself is that I was lazy. But when I started to reframe this story for myself, I started realizing how much evidence I had to ignore in order to keep that story propped up. I had to ignore the fact that I was a straight A student through college and I never missed a school day. I always got all of my work done. I started tutoring and have had a job since I was 14. I was in various clubs. I graduated college and went to a top 10 law school, which requires a lot of work. I routinely worked 70-80 hours a week as a lawyer. No matter what was required, I would do it.


Obviously I had enough energy to be able to be successful in my life. To have taken on this identity that I am a lazy human being was laughable when I looked at what I had accomplished. And yet I had to ignore all of that, everything I had accomplished, in order to continue to tell myself and everybody else that I was lazy. 


Reframing the past 


When I started really looking back at my childhood and looking back at that story of laziness, I realized that my body learned very early on to shut down in hard or stressful situations. I was born during the Iran-Iraq War and there was obviously a lot of stress on my family as a kid. This was a time where my nervous system was being developed and had to figure out a way to survive to handle all of the chaos that was happening in my life. Now looking back at this time in my life, I have learned that I cope with trauma by going into a freeze state. When I’m very stressed, I shut down completely. My body puts me to sleep to be able to handle all of the chaos or the stress. 


And after learning this about myself, I’m grateful that this is how my brain decided to protect me. My body cared about keeping me alive. And when there was so much anxiety and stress happening in my body, my body just shut it down. This shifted so much of how I looked at my own childhood and how I reacted to things.


I have so much gratitude and understanding and curiosity instead of shame and blame and anger at myself. Instead of dwelling on, “Why can’t I just be different?” I’m able to hold space and make sense of a lot of my past. I can accept that I have this natural ability to self-soothe and that I’m not just a lazy person. I’m able to see myself as a resilient person that learned how to survive through my hardest times. And that’s something to be so proud of. That’s something to be so grateful for. 


This was a really big shift for me. This place of gratitude is what changed my story about being lazy. When I finally started understanding my coping mechanism, how much it has helped me get through my achievements and hard times, I started seeing my story as one of resilience, persistence, and work ethic. It changed how I looked at myself and what I thought I was capable of.


The first chapter


You can do this, too. I recently helped a 1-on-1 client rewrite her story and do the same thing. I had her write her story in chapters and she started with her childhood. She wrote about how she slept through her whole childhood and had taken on the story of laziness. It was a short chapter that described the problems she faced at home and how she slept all the time. She titled this first version, “Sleeping Beauty.” 


When we dug into it and talked about her life, the more we talked about what she actually did. We were able to discern how much she actually did in her childhood and how much she did to survive. Her story became this very long and beautiful chapter about her childhood years. How she tried to survive it by creating relationships with teachers at school and joining student leadership council so that she didn’t have to be at home at certain times. When she was home, she would choose to sleep so that she wasn’t engaging in what was happening. She wrote about how grateful she was to her younger self for not doing more self-destructive things like drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.


Realizing she used sleep to maintain her sanity and manage stress the best way she could as a kid, gave her gratitude for her past self. When I got the fourth and last version of her story, I cried over the difference in how she told the story. Our stories are so different when we no longer blame ourselves for doing the best that we could with what we had. 


Every single one of us has the same negative story that is not the full truth. One that we look through with a lot of shame and blame. When you can really give yourself grace and gratitude for the past, it changes how you approach your future.


How to rewrite your story


In order to start changing your story, I want you to write out your life story. However you want, you can write it out. What I typically encourage is to write it out in different chapters. You get to decide the chapters that you want to write. Don’t be a perfectionist about this.


Title the story that you are telling about yourself right now. Title the chapters. How would you title it right now? What is the chapter about your childhood? What is the chapter about college? What is the chapter about your first relationship? Write out all your thoughts about it.


Write it out without editing. What do you think about yourself? What do you think about other people? Are you playing the victim in this? Do you think it’s other people’s fault? Are you angry at yourself? Do you have a lot of shame? Let it come out.


After you write this first go at your story, I want you to rewrite it with you as the hero of the story. If you are the hero of your own story, how would you tell that story differently? How would you look at the things you’re not proud of? Or the things you wish were different? How were those the ways in which you survived what you survived? How was that the best that you could? What is the story that’s empowering to you? What is a story that serves you? How do you retell that story? 


You can rewrite your story as many times as you want. I promise that when you start to rewrite your story, you start seeing how easy it is to change a story about what you thought was a fact. And you can do this about anything. You can do this about relationships that you’ve had. You can do this about events that have happened. You don’t need to change the facts of what happened, but you can change what story you want to tell about it going forward. 


The evidence is already in front of you


This work is so important. When you start rewriting your story, it’s amazing how much baggage you can let go of and no longer need to carry. You can sit with the knowledge that you did the best that you could with what you had and be proud of yourself for that. This gives you the freedom to do things differently. All the evidence is already in front of you. You’re not just a one dimensional person that does things this one way. You can provide yourself with what you need, understand how your nervous system reacts, and have grace for your past. Just changing one story can help you see yourself in such a different light. If you want my help, join us in the Quitter Club where we do this work together.