8 Steps to Rewriting Your Story
I’ve written and commented a lot on rewriting your story. I’ve mentioned different pieces of it but I thought it might be useful to expand a bit on the overall process and the steps I’ve used to help rewrite my own stories. You can get your free download below.
Rewriting your story is the process of taking charge of your life, its trajectory, and ultimately the quality of your relationships and experiences. Rewriting your story is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to decide to live differently. It takes courage to excavate your past stories and then dare to change them. It takes faith, hard work, persistence, and a self-gentleness that many find difficult to extend to themselves. AND it is possible. It is exciting. It is empowering.
We create stories to help us understand our experiences. Interestingly, our stories create our sense of identity, but that identity is only as true as we let it be. And our identity goes on to determine our behavior, which determines the outcome. Then, we take that outcome/experience, and create another story about it. Often the outcome reinforces our original story, and we can get caught in a pattern of story, belief about our identity, behavior, and subsequent outcomes that end up becoming self-fulfilling.
I’ve broken down the process into several steps:
1. Recognize that you’re caught in a story
2. Understand your triggers
3. Decide what story you want to change
4. Shift your perspective
5. Choose a new Archetype
6. Create a new narrative
7. Practice using tools to help you stay in your new story
8. Be patient and non-judgmental
As I’ve been working on rewriting different stories in my life, this is a process I’ve used time and again.
Step 1: Recognize you’re in a story
This is probably the most important part of rewriting your story—you must recognize you are in a limiting story. Not all of our stories need to be changed. But we all have stories about ourselves that keep us small, keep us from speaking our truth, or limit us from showing up authentically. These are the stories that need to be changed. These are the stories that keep us stuck in emotions like anger, anxiety, frustration, resentment, or in the mindsets of a victim or martyr.
When you rewrite your story, it doesn’t mean that you will never feel angry, or anxious, or that from now on life will be bliss. But rewriting your story can help you from staying stuck in those feelings.
So, how do you identify when you’re in a limiting story? There are some key phrases, ideologies, and perspectives that are good indicators of a limiting story. You might be in a limiting story if you:
find that you’re using absolutes to describe yourself, your situation, or others around you. “I am always taken advantage of,” “no one ever listens to me,” “he/she never thinks about how I am feeling,” etc.
look at life through a binary, either/or, all-or-nothing lens. I find myself in this a lot and it keeps me from seeing a world of possibilities and opportunities. “If I don’t do it perfectly, I am a failure,” “if I make a mistake, it just proves I can’t do it,” “my boss/friend/client criticized my idea, therefore I don’t have any good ideas to share,” etc.
believe things will be better only after something changes or happens. “I will be happy when I loose 10 pounds,” “I’ll have time for my partner after the kids move out,” “I’ll start on that goal when I have less responsibilities,” “things will be fine once the pandemic is over,” etc.
feel like things are never enough, whether it’s yourself, someone else, or a situation. “I don’t have enough money/time,” “my partner doesn’t give me enough attention,” “I am not ______ (fill in the blank, thin, smart, young, brave…) enough,” etc.
Action step: If you are serious about rewriting your story, then for the next week keep track of any time you find yourself in the above thought patterns. I keep a little journal (with my Wonder Woman sticker on it) just for the purpose of writing down such things.
Step 2: Understand your triggers
Once you start to realize when you’re in a limiting story, then you can move on to the next part of recognizing your story. It’s a little more nuanced and might be a little trickier to see, at first. Specifically, notice situations that trigger you.
What I mean by this, is become aware of your patterns of behavior or thought that you want to change and look for anything that triggers those thoughts or behaviors. For example, one thing I’ve recently noticed in my own life is that whenever I think about needing to have a tricky conversation with someone that might cause conflict, I immediately begin to feel tired and tell myself that I am too tired to have that conversation right now. It’s so strange. I can be feeling totally fine, having plenty of energy, but the minute I start to consider having a difficult conversation, I start to feel really tired. In this case, thinking about having a hard conversation triggers my fear of conflict and my body reacts by feeling tired, or at least my mind reacts by telling my body I’m tired.
After doing some digging, I’ve come to realize that I have some pretty limiting stories around conflict. I think that conflict is always bad (use of absolutes). I tell myself that if I make someone mad then it will be the end of the relationship (binary, all-or-nothing thinking). I tell myself I’ll be able to have that conversation when I’m not so tired (things will be better when something changes). I find all of those key phrases that indicate limiting beliefs showing up in my thoughts and the story I tell myself about conflict. Isn’t that interesting?
It can take some time to recognize your triggers. It really helps when you slow down your thinking. But often it’s hard to do on your own, because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the response to the trigger. This is where working with a coach can be really helpful.
One way to help you identify your triggers is to be aware of your physical reactions to different situations. Does your anxiety increase whenever you’re with certain people or having certain conversations? Do you find yourself feeling discouraged when you hear about the success of someone else? Do you get angry whenever a certain topic comes up or you’re asked to do a specific thing?
If you can identify things that trigger certain feelings/reactions to you, you might be in a limiting story. Be aware how your body reacts to certain people or situations. And when you notice those physical reactions, slow down your thoughts. Look for patterns. Then start uncovering the story that goes along with it.
Action step: In addition to keeping track of any limiting thought patterns, note the situation, how you're feeling physically (are you tired, hungry, etc.), and write down the story you're telling yourself.
Step 3: Decide which story you want to change
“Just decide.” Simple words to say, but curiously, not as easy to put into action. Obviously, you can’t change your story until you decide you really want to. But from my experience, it’s one thing to intellectually decide you want to change, but it’s entirely different than having that internal commitment to change. There are tons of stories I can honestly say I want to change—my story around junk food, my story around yoga during the pandemic, my story around how much I’m on my phone each day, and so on. But I have yet to embody those decisions. For now, they’re simply things I want to change, but I don’t want to change enough to actually rewrite my stories.
So, when I say you need to decide to rewrite your story, I realize it is kind of a loaded request. You also need to decide which story you want to rewrite. Some stories are easy, simple ones, others are stories you’ve been telling yourself for decades, ever since you were young. The older a story, the more it takes to rewrite it.
If you’re new to rewriting your story, I’d suggest starting small. Find a little story. I have a few suggestions of stories that I typically see people wanting to change and some I’ve rewritten for myself. Consider the story you tell yourself about:
getting up in the morning. Do you start your day by saying you didn’t get enough sleep? Do you tell yourself you don’t have enough time to get everything done that you need to? Do you start your day telling yourself reasons why the day is going to be bad or hard? This is a nice place to start rewriting your story.
the other drivers/traffic around you. Do you generally think other drivers are idiots? Do you gripe about all the traffic around you? Do you get irritated because you seem to hit all the red lights? These are simple little stories that affect how we interact with the world and sets a particular mood for the day.
those making decisions about public policy. It seems to me people either tell the story that all those in decision making positions are idiots and don’t see the importance of one issue or another, or the people making decisions are doing the best they can under really difficult circumstances, or they are 100% right and how dare anyone question them. Do you tell yourself a story about this that you’d like to change?
going to the grocery store. I know this may sound weird, but some us (ahem, me) have stories about how horrible it is to go grocery shopping, what a pain it is, and how much they don’t want to do it. In some cases, this is a simple story, but in others, this story is wrapped up in stories about food, being a provider, scarcity or abundance, and more. It might be a simple story for you to work on. For me, it’s taking a bit more work…
Action step: Once you’ve identified some stories you want to work on, rank them from simplest to most complex. If you are new to rewriting your story, choose one of the simpler stories to start on. If you have more experience with this process, then use the list to decide which one you feel compelled to work on.
Step 4: Shift your perspective
So, you’ve identified your story and are committed to the decision of rewriting it. Now what? Now is the time you start shifting your perspective.
If you think about it, all of our stories are simply different perspectives. From one perspective, rollercoasters are a blast and from another, they are horrid things. So, how do you shift your perspective? There are a couple of things you can do:
write your story from the 3rd person. This means you take an event or description of yourself and instead of writing “I did this,” or “I am that,” you step back and rewrite it saying “she did this,” or “he is that,” etc. It’s actually a pretty fun exercise. And while the physical act of writing is a powerful way of doing this, you can also just tell yourself the story, you don’t have to write it.
write about the event as if you were a reporter, or a “fly on the wall.” Step back and try to write about the facts, not how you feel about the facts. For instance, if you're rewriting a story about a particular friend, who has a habit of being late, you might think the facts are, "my friend is always late." But a reporter might write this as, "her friend was 10 minutes late. This was the third time in the last week that she was 10 minutes late." So, as a reporter, avoid giving meaning to the events, just write about the events as an observer, not an interpreter.
what title would you give to your story? What title would feel better to you? What title would encourage the change in behavior that you most want?
Play around with multiple perspectives. You can think about your story from different archetypal behaviors—how would a Nurturer tell this story? How would a Leader tell this story? How does the story differ if you tell it from a Lover’s viewpoint or a Sage’s perspective?
Action step: Start writing! Or if you aren’t interested in writing, try painting your story, record yourself telling it, sing it, sculpt it, just put your new story out there in whatever form you’re comfortable with. Remember, no one else has to see/hear it. It’s just important to start putting a new perspective out there. Giving it some sort of shape or form helps in the process.
Step 5: Choose a new Archetype
One powerful exercise to do as you start to shift your perspective is to utilize the power of Archetypes. Archetypes are universal patterns of behavior and show up in basically every culture. Some examples are—Mother, Child, Warrior, Ruler, etc. The fascinating thing, to me, is that while Archetypes are universal, they manifest uniquely in each of us. I think of Archetypes as patterns of thoughts and behaviors that show up in our personal narratives. It seems like most of us have what I call our “go-to” Archetypes. These are the behaviors and attitudes that show up regularly in our interactions with others and our basic interpretations of life.
But here’s a very important point—we have the power to choose a different Archetype if we want to.
You can use Archetypes to help you rewrite your story. Can you identify the Archetype you usually step into when you’re in the story you’re trying to change? For instance, let’s say your story is about how unfair it is that you have to do x, y or z. You hate it when you have to do it, you feel like it’s unfair, or maybe there’s some pent-up resentment. You could safely say that you embody the Martyr Archetype. So, as you try to rewrite your story, ask yourself—
“how do I want to feel/act in this situation?”
“what Archetype best embodies qualities that will help me feel/act that way?”
In the example where you’re embodying the Martyr, let’s say you’d like to stand up and ask for some help. How would you act? What would you do? How would you feel? Maybe you could use some of the Leader, Ruler, King or Queen archetypal qualities—be direct, assertive, factual, fully expecting others to comply, knowing what you deserve, etc.
To fully embody this new Archetype, take some time and write down the qualities you admire in this Archetype. Think about how this Archetype stands and interacts with people. What feelings are at the foundation? Then try standing that way, pretend you are that Archetype. For instance, think about the difference in how a Hero stands vs a Caregiver. How would a Sage feel or look, vs a Rebel?
Have fun with it! It might sound silly or childish, but I can vouch for how powerful these exercises can be. Even though I was trained as a serious scientist and mostly interested in the intellect, I have found Archetypal work to be both fun and powerful. If I can play with this and have fun, then anyone can!
And if this idea sounds intriguing but you feel unsure how to proceed, I would love to have a session with you where we can explore the meaning of Archetypes and find how they might be used in your life.
Action step: If you are new to Archetypes, read up about them here. Think about the qualities and attitudes of certain roles and consider how your story would look if you took on different Archetypes or roles. Once you’ve chosen a new Archetype, spend some time standing or thinking as that Archetype would. The next time you fall into your old story, remember the Archetype and consider how you might think/act/feel if you embodied the new Archetype.
Step 6: Creating a new narrative
Once you have it in your mind of the outcome you would prefer, then you can work backwards until you get your new narrative (based on Dr. David Drake’s work).
Desired Outcome -----> Behavior -----> Sense of Self -----> Story
What story would you need to tell yourself to get the desired outcome? Let me provide a couple of examples.
Here’s a small, easy example. Maybe you like to go out to eat with your friends every couple of weeks (back when going out to eat was easy!) and your story is that you are easy going so you’ll just go out to eat wherever they choose. However, they often choose a restaurant that is not your favorite. You can tolerate the food, but you’d rather spend your money elsewhere. But hey, you don’t want to rock the boat, so you never share your opinion. The desired outcome might be to go to a different restaurant. How can you get that outcome? By telling the group you don’t want to go to the one restaurant and would like to try this other one. That’s the new behavior. Your new sense of self is that you’re likes/desires matter as much as anyone else’s in the group. So, what would be your rewrite? Maybe it’s “I can be easy going and share my opinion,” or “there’s nothing wrong with saying no to one restaurant and suggesting a different one.”
For a more complicated example, let’s say you typically get in an argument with your teenager over a specific topic or situation. Your current story is such that you don’t trust your teenager to make a wise choice and it’s your responsibility to make sure they make the right decision. Every time this conversation comes up, you get frustrated, angry and worried. So, you start yelling, to try and get your teen to listen to you. Your teen yells back, says mean things about you, and storms off. What you’d really like is to have a conversation and share your love and concern with your teenager. That’s the desired outcome. Now, you get to think about what kind of behavior would you need in order to get that outcome. And you also need to rethink your sense of self as a parent. Is your worry and concern based in your past experiences as a teenager, or how your parents treated you, or an honest distrust of your teen because of their past actions? Figure it out. Figure out how you really want to be as a parent. Then, rewrite your story to fit it all.
Action step: Think about your Desired Outcome. Get clarity on how you want to feel, act, think, interact. Then consider what behavior you can change to get the outcome. Working backwards can be very enlightening.
Step 7: Practice using tools to keep you in your new story
Rewriting your story is not a one-off kind of thing. You can’t just rewrite your story and assume you will no longer use your old story. If only it were that easy! Rewriting your story takes practice. Every time your old story comes up, you have to remember to practice your new story.
Using a story over and over again creates neural pathways that allow your brain ease in transferring information. By rewriting your story, you are basically asking your brain to use a new neural route. And like most things in life, this takes practice because your brain wants to use the easiest, most familiar path.
The process I’ve seen with my clients and what I’ve experienced myself goes something like this:
Event triggers your story ----->
You immediately go into your story ----->
You have to literally stop your thoughts and switch to your new story
At first, success might look like “I caught myself in my story!” Later it moves to observing that at some point you’re not triggered for as long or as intensely as you have been in the past. With enough practice, you will get to the point where you experience your trigger as a small blip and move on. And eventually you might observe that “hey, I used to be triggered by this and I’m not anymore!”
Sometimes I get really frustrated with how long it can take to switch stories. I want it to happen right away. But alas, it rarely does…
So, there are some tips and tricks to help you practice your story.
Set up a visual reminder, whether that’s a sticky note or a goal board or an item that reminds you of your new story. (I used to have a picture of Linda Hamilton as Sarah O’Conner, from Terminator 2, up on my door…man, was she a badass!)
Every day practice standing as your new Archetype. Remind your body daily how that Archetype stands, walks, talk, and feels.
Keep a small item in your pocket, on your desk, in your bag, and every time you start slipping into the old story, visualize the change as you move that item. For example, I’m learning to rewrite my story about feeling responsible for managing everyone’s feelings. In the beginning, to help me remember my new story, I put a small stone in my pocket and each time I found myself feeling like I had to make sure someone was happy, I took the stone and told myself, “their feelings are their own” and I’d put the rock into my other pocket as I envisioned myself handing the responsibility back to the rightful owner.
Keep a small notebook or journal with you and each time you start your old story, take note of what is happening, how you feel, what you’d like to feel or have happen, and whether or not you choose your new story. Remember, it’s okay if you don’t choose your new story right away. Be patient.
Get a friend or coach to send you a text reminder. I had a client that I texted each week, the evening before a known trigger was coming up, and reminded her of her new story. We did this for several months until her new story become more habitual and easier to step in to.
Stop and take a deep breath (or 3 or 4) every time you start going into your old story. Then pick up with your new story.
Find a coach to work through your new story with you. Someone who can encourage you, help remind you, and celebrate the baby steps with you.
Action step: From the suggestions above, or if you have other ideas, set up things that can help you remember to practice. Experiment with different tools to find what works well for you.
Step 8: Be patient and non-judgmental
If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. I have a very strong Critic that I deal with almost daily. I am working on that story, and I’m happy to say it’s getting easier to deal with my Critic. Anyway, this last step is actually something to use throughout the entire process—Patience and Non-judgment.
When you begin to live in your new story, please be patient with yourself. You are doing something new and up against a story that may have been around a long time. Give yourself some grace. If you find you are being hard on yourself, just say, “wait a minute. I’m doing just fine. This is a process and processes take time,” or something to that affect.
Ask yourself, if I was talking to a good friend, what would I say about their efforts to rewrite their story? And then tell yourself that very thing. Celebrate the small things. If you were running a marathon you might cheer after every mile down. So, cheer yourself on as you rewrite your story, every step of the way.
And when you flounder, which you inevitably will, take a deep breath and then remind yourself that you get as many chances as you need to do this. Like Dory says, “just keep swimming.”
Finally, part of being patient with yourself comes from learning how not to judge yourself. The art of non-judgment is a life-long pursuit in and of itself. When your Critic, or your Judge, or your Perfectionist shows up, acknowledge its presence, thank it for pointing things out, and tell it to sit down, because you’re driving the bus.
Action step: Don’t give up.
Your story is your story, not your partners, not your friends, not your neighbors, and it’s not anyone who you follow on social media. It’s yours. You get to rewrite it. You get to practice it. You get to live it. Your rewrite doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s rewrite. It can’t. So, stop comparing. One thing that’s helpful for me, when I start comparing myself to someone else or some ideal, is to ask myself, “In 10 years, or even 1 year, or even 10 months from now, will the comparison mean anything?” So far, the answer is always no. This helps me let go of compulsion I have to compare myself to others.
These steps can help you find the power to rewrite those stories that are holding you back! We all can use some help and support in the process, I know I value those who support me. Although rewriting your story is work that only you can do, you don’t have to do it alone. There is support available to you. If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you, sign up for a free call. It’s my greatest pleasure to help individuals, like yourself, on this journey!