We all tell ourselves stories. They help us define the world around us. But they can also keep us stuck.
Our brains are marvelous machines. The two halves have very different functions. The right side is responsible for receiving information just as it is, without judgement. It feels very peaceful to live on the right side of the brain. We can reconnect with this non-judgement by practicing meditation or creating art.
But...judgement is necessary for functioning in the world. The left side of the brain filters, categorizes and judges incoming information to figure out if it requires our attention or not. We would never get anything done if we had to stop and assess every single thing we encountered before we could move on.
The left side of the brain says that’s a tree, no threat there. That’s a cat, probably not a problem. It’s job is to put as many things into categories as possible specifically so we don’t have to think about them.
So, we create stories, which are really short hand for understanding our place in the world. The problem is that our situations change and a lot of our stories actually need to examined and reassessed on a regular basis. These stories often start with phrases like “I am not a…” or “I have always been…” or “That person never…”
One of my stories that I’ve been re-examining lately is “I am not an athlete.” All of my siblings were athletes, they were on organized teams and were thin and ran around a lot. I did none of those things. I was a quiet bookish, fattish kid. So I understood that I was not an athlete. In my 20s I had a very physical job and was in really good shape but I still didn’t play any sports, so I was “not an athlete.” For the last 15 years, I have had a desk job and struggled with autoimmune health problems, so I have definitely not been an athlete.
Now, I am training for a triathlon. Almost no one does that. Most people tell themselves the story that they can’t do a triathlon. But for some reason I thought I might be able to do it. So now I swim a mile a week, regularly go for 15 miles bike rides, and attempt to run on a regular basis. Am I an athlete now? I’m not sure because I’m not on a team, and I’m not thin. But my definition might be changing. I’m definitely in better shape than I was a year ago.
One of the reasons that it’s super important to reexamine our stories is that it’s almost impossible to change unless you believe you can. If, like my husband, you believe you can’t dance, you will never be able to dance. If you are attached to the story that you are an unhealthy person, you will have a very hard time becoming a healthy person.
But if you are willing to change the story to maybe I can dance, or maybe I can be healthy, or maybe I can be an athlete, then you make space for new things to come in and new patterns to establish themselves.
It takes effort to dislodge our stories, sometimes quite a lot of effort. I have found that it’s super helpful to surround myself with people who don’t believe the stories that I hold that keep me stuck, who are willing to point out to me when I am holding myself back for no apparent reason, and who hold space for me to tell some new stories.
Being that person for my coaching clients is one my favorite parts of the job. Seeing people begin to light up with their own possibilities is one of the greatest gifts in the world!