When things go haywire and life takes a scary, irritating, messy turn – how do you talk about it?
What tale do you tell your friends (and yourself) about why the marriage is ending?
How do you describe the 30 pounds you gained or the loss of your job?
What is the story you tell?
When we’re caught up in what feels like a negative circumstance, it’s easy to draft a negative, dramatic, victim story around it. This gives our bad-news story energy. We use words like “unfair” and phrases like “there is nothing I can do.” We go on “attack” and “fight this” and as our fictional plot thickens the obstacles we are facing begin to feel insurmountable, overwhelming and real. Though, still, the drama is just a story we’ve created.
I thought of this a lot when I was diagnosed with melanoma. I knew that how I talked about the experience to myself and others would go a long way to determining how well and managed the illness in the real world.
If I told a sad story about sickness and despair and anxiety – I could create that in my life. Or, I could create the resilient, survivor story. I imagined my story ending with me on Oprah talking about how I transcended the diagnosis. Heck, if we are making things up, might as well go for it, right?
We get to decide how we talk about our life experiences. We get to choose the words and outcomes in the stories we tell. So, why not go with the story line we’d like to live?
Using Stories, Words to Empower
The words we use have a direct impact on the lives we live. They contribute to a belief system that determines our reality. Whether the beliefs are true or not, we often act on them and that creates tangible outcomes.
When we say, for example, “that it’s impossible for me to lose weight,” our behaviors usually rise up to support that belief, by, say, creating a craving for ice cream that makes it hard for us to lose weight or causing us to feel depressed and prone to emotional over-eating. What if you said instead “I make healthy food choices”? That could also be your story, and one that would contribute to positive action.
One way to rid ourselves of the limiting beliefs and shift out of our negative mindset and bad-news scenarios is to rewrite the story the way we want it to be.
Start by declaring what is – without judgment. Just say what happened. Then, pick the story you want to tell.
“I have a melanoma on my knee. I will have surgery to remove it.”
That’s all it was. There didn’t have to be any drama. No judgment. No scary prognosis. I could just say what I knew, in that present moment.
Do the same when you draft your own story -- leave out the opinions. Drop the blame. Let go of the victims’ vocabulary “there was nothing I could do” and “I can’t believe this is happening to me” or “I’m so unlucky.” When you stop the thoughts and words about how life isn’t fair you drop some of the drama that only builds the worry.
Still, even when you stop telling the tale of despair, you may feel sad, or angry or frustrated. That’s fine. This isn’t about suppressing your feelings, it’s about sorting out what’s real from some embellished story line.
Next you can create a story declaring how you really want your life to be. This can be fun. Imagine the clothes and the money and the good health and the wonderful people in your life. Identify the obstacles, but visualize yourself working through them. Make it all a part of your new story. Not only will you feel better, but surprising things will happen.
A positive story line can boost your resilience. It contributes to optimism, self-awareness, motivation and inspired action -- all things that can help you cope with whatever situation you face.
The Questions We Ask
Even the questions we ask ourselves contribute to our success (or not). In a study led by University of Illinois Professor Dolores Albarracin, participants were asked write "I Will." or "Will I?" before beginning work on a task. Those who wrote the phrase “Will I?” did better getting the job done.
The unconscious formation of the question "Will I" effects motivation, researchers deduced. By asking the question, people were more motivated to take on the task at hand, Albarracin says.
Other experiments showed that simply asking the question “Will I” boosted “intrinsic motivation,” according to the study, which appears in the journal Psychological Science.
"It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behavior, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives," says Albarracin in the report.
And this research again points out how powerful the words we use are – even when they are just rattling around in our heads. Our inner voice can motivate, empower, encourage, inspire. Or it can tear down, weaken, and hurt us.
So, go with the voices that encourage. Write the story that will inspire you toward a better reality. Ask the questions that lead you in a positive direction. And when you catch that inner critic or Drama Queen, the one that says “everything is falling apart” or “you can’t do it” acknowledge the noise, be compassionate, and then escort it out that mental door.
You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to play it over and over. You don’t have to become what it says you already are. It’s just a story. Revise it into something better.
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