I want to be really honest about what it takes to rewrite your story. I don’t mean to scare anyone away, but it can be hard, painful work to change your story. It doesn’t happen overnight. In my experience, it can take months, even years, to rewrite some of your narratives.
There are different types of stories and the ease of changing that story depends on how deeply attached you are to that narrative. I tend to organize stories as if they’re a body of water. A story can be more of a surface story, or mid-level, on down to the depths of the bottom of the ocean. I want to focus on those stories that run deeper.
Currently, I’m in the middle of rewriting several deep stories. And honestly, it feels really
sucky right now. Part of me hesitates to share my experiences because I don’t want anyone to be scared off from doing this type of work. But I suppose if you are turned off by this, this article and this practice isn’t for you right now. And that’s okay; no judgment. I’m good with that (see the part of this article under Acceptance).
Dirt path or freeway?
Here’s the thing about our deeper stories—they’ve been around for a long, long time and have formed a well-worn neural pathway (just to warn you, I’m going to mix metaphors a bit, jumping from one to another). I often think of stories as being like paths or roads in your brain. Some are nice little dirt footpaths. You also have some sidewalks, roads, all the way up to major freeways. The more worn the path/story, the more it takes to change it. Your natural instinct is to take the road most traveled; often you go down the well-worn path without even thinking. Shifting to a new narrative is like taking a machete and chopping down a path in the jungle. It’s so much easier just to hope on the freeway.
Rewriting your story means you are trying to create a new path and convincing your brain not to go down the worn path. As you’re working on changing your story, you might find yourself buzzing down the freeway and have to stop yourself and say, “nope, I’m going down a different path.” Then, you pick up your machete and start creating that new path. And you have to keep this up until your new story/path is worn enough that it becomes the automatic path you take.
Our stories are infinite…
With that analogy, you can kind of imagine the difficulties you might encounter and the amount of work you’ll need to do. Sometimes I’ve found myself falling into the trap of thinking I just need to take my new story and use it once, then I’ll be done. I still fall into that trap—and I’ve been rewriting my stories for quite a while. When I find myself faced with continuing to have to work on a rewrite, I hear my Critic saying, “you should have this figured out already. You shouldn’t even consider the freeway anymore. What’s wrong with you? Why is this so hard?” Ironically, that’s a story in-and-of-itself that I’m working on! Our stories are infinite, intertwined, and messy.
Recently, I was working with my marketing coach, Nicole (http://www.lovewhatyoudoagain.com), and she reminded me that I was falling back into my old story about what it means to be a coach and business owner (this isn’t the first time she’s had to remind me!). I’ve been working on the rewrite of this particular story for a couple of years. And even though my new story isn’t well traveled, I am noticing small changes in my thoughts and behaviors, which tells me it’s working!
Changing the automatic
I like my new story; I believe in this new perspective and I’m anxious to incorporate it into my life. So, why after 2 years, do I still need to be reminded to take that new path? I believe it’s because our stories are often automatic and unconscious. So much so, that a lot of people don’t even realize that there is a story, let alone that you can change that story. Recognizing that makes it easier to realize that of course you fall into your old story. And you’re usually falling into it unconsciously. So, even though I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years, I’m giving myself some grace.
What does it take?
So, what does it take to rewrite a story? First and foremost, you must recognize that you are in a story. This is critical because you’ll need to be able to recognize that story over and over, until your new story is rooted in you. Then you need to believe you can change. Depending on how deep that story goes, these two steps can be really hard. You should congratulate yourself when you get through those two steps, they’re a big deal!
And after that, the hard work starts. You need to be really clear on what you believe, what you value, and what feels true to you. That can take time. When I work with people to change their story, I start with helping them unpack their values. I do this because I believe that if you aren’t crystal clear on your values, you end up creating a new story based on what someone else has told you to write/believe. Often you get trapped in the “shoulds.”
After you get clear on your values and beliefs, your new story starts to form, sometimes even by itself. But your new story is still an idea, not a path. You need to be able to recognize every time you start telling yourself your old story. Then, you make a conscious decision to start thinking about your new story. You do this again, and again, and again. It’s almost like you need to convince yourself of the new story. If you do this enough, eventually your new story becomes the automatic path you take. You’ve shifted your perspective. And ideally your new story is aligned with your deepest values and truest desires.
Practicing is not fun (even that is a story I tell myself)…
This practice part is the part where I easily get hung up. When working on a rewrite, for some reason I’m always surprised when my mind starts going down the freeway. I think, “hey, I have made a new path through the jungle here! What’s your problem? Why are you going down the freeway? You don’t like where the freeway takes you. Stop it! Now!” (Side note: I just love my Critic! And I’m only being a little bit sarcastic when I say that. My Critic is very dependable. It also fights against my rewrites. I need to write specifically about my Critic someday. Also, if you want a good laugh check out this video clip with Bob Newhart, it’s hilarious!…)
From my experience, my mood plays a big part in how easy or difficult it is to shift into the new story. And I have to remember that. I need to learn how to accept that. When I’m struggling, when my mood starts to plummet, my old stories come rushing back. It’s like trying to go down your new jungle footpath in the dark; sometimes you can barely find the path. It’s so much easier to go down the well-lit freeway. When this happens to me, sometimes I can’t find the new path. But I’ve learned that I can refuse to get the car and not go down the freeway.
For example, one rewrite that I’m working on, is my story concerning what it means to own a business. The story I’m rewriting is basically, that owning a business is hard work, I have to work at it every single day, there are a lot of distasteful things I have to do, I’m not good at it nor am I wired to be a business owner, etc. I’ve been working on this rewrite long enough that when I’m in a “good” emotional space, my rewrite is becoming more natural. But when my mood begins to spiral down, it gets harder and harder to believe my new story.
That’s when I try to give myself permission to not even think about the story, meaning I don’t think about my business at that time. (It’s funny to me that I “need” permission, but I do..). So, during the difficult times, I’m not telling my new story, but I’m also not repeating my old story. I’m hanging around waiting for daylight before I attempt anything more. It’s kind of a draw, but it helps me. Then, when I get into a better space, I can work on the story again. It took me a while to learn that trick, but it’s an effective one.
Is it worth it?
So, is rewriting your story worth it? It depends on what you want in life; it depends on how badly you want to change and grow. If you’re content right now with your story, that’s fine. And honestly, there are a lot of crappy stories that we make peace with. The time, pain, and struggle of rewriting your story is only worth it depending on how badly you want to change. I’ll admit, there are times when I’m in the middle of the struggle and I think, “this is too hard. It’s not worth it. I can’t do it any longer. I just want it to change or be over.” I don’t get there often, but I can get there. It’s during those times that I’ve found I need to give myself grace more than ever.
Because it’s so easy to slip into old stories, I find having a friend or coach who is aware of the story I’m trying to change, is incredibly helpful. Often times they can see when I start slipping into my old story before I can. They can support me by giving me the courage and faith necessary for rewriting my story.
This is deep work. It requires you to be brave and face hard truths. It requires you to be honest about yourself; you must be willing to own your strengths and embrace your weaknesses. It requires you to have faith that things can be different. And things can be different! It might be a long process and it might hurt like hell at times, but the freedom and beauty that comes from rewriting your story is amazing. I can’t even adequately describe it.
If you’re new to rewriting your stories, I suggest you start small. Try starting with:
the story you have about other drivers and traffic
your thoughts about housework or grocery shopping or anything you’d rather not do
the story you tell yourself when you choose to hit your snooze button one more time, take one more cookie, watch one more episode…
In my experience, if you aren’t really ready to change, you won’t. And don’t worry, we all have stories that we aren’t ready to change. One of my BIG ones is about eating healthy and not drinking 3+ cans of Dr. Pepper every day. Even though I know I should change, honestly, I don’t want to change enough to do the work it will require. And that’s okay. I’m working on a lot of other stories right now, so I’ll tackle that particular one when I’m ready.
Part of rewriting your stories is about accepting where you are at in this very moment. Accept the fact that you can’t change right now. Usually, our stories, even our limiting ones, serve us in some way. Acknowledge where you are at. And acknowledge how freakin' hard things are this year!
You’ve probably heard of the adage: “Every journey starts with a single step.” Well, even if it sounds a bit reductive at times, it’s true. All of us start with one step at a time. So, I encourage you, when you’re ready, take that first step, no matter how small. Be prepared that rewriting your story can get really hard at times. But also, be prepared for how changing your story changes your life!