Stories. Agreement. Ego & Possibility.
I'm passionate about human development and I wanted to get some ideas out there as a creative outlet in a way that might help others. Thanks for reading.
Caveat: based on opinion, observation & personal experience.
A subtle awakening of sorts
A few years ago on my personal development journey, I was pointed to a difficult-to-digest & yet profoundly freeing idea: Our lives are made up of stories. And, most of these stories are BS.
"Yes, Sherlock", I hear you. You know this already. I'm not telling you anything new...."Self-limiting beliefs"; we've all heard this term used a buzz-word way, perhaps in the hope that by saying it, we are perhaps somehow stepping out of the bubble and becoming free.
I agree. This is not a new idea, and like many of the best ideas, it is very simple; simple, but not easy. 'Self-limiting beliefs' as a term is pointing to something in the right neighbourhood, however, language is critical, because it creates the container for how we - and our minds - think.
Once upon a time, you started to create mental narratives to predict & protect.
Mind your Language!
I am talking about stories. Your language is the code of your mind - and therefore your beliefs, because of course, you cannot hold a belief if you do not have words that bear meaning with which to construct it. If you look up the definition of a story and follow that trail, you will find the essence of where this is going.
How safe do you feel?
You probably don't often ask yourself how safe you feel, or even think about safety much at all. However, the operating system of your subconscious is thinking about safety A LOT. Thankfully, in the modern world, we mostly live under statistically record levels of physical safety. Sadly and conversely, in an accelerating and rapidly changing world, we might well be living in an age with decreasing emotional safety. Anxiety, for example, has exploded in the past 20 years. Anxiety itself is actually often made worse by...anxiety about having anxiety (Oof. maybe a post for another day)...And I believe that this little cognitive knot around the idea of stories can offer much peace to an uneasy mind when untangled.
Follow the white Rabbit
My invitation is that this rabbit hole - stories - goes deeper, and bears far more treasure than we could begin to imagine should we wish to really lean in.
This profound idea - once understood & applied (consistently & across time) has led to a seismic shift in the way I perceive, construct and choose my reality. Additionally, I've been able to spot other people's "stories" a mile off; it's helped me to cultivate empathy for those people, and to challenge those close to me to build themselves a more empowering context; to step out of their stories, and into possibility. Moreover, once you start to debunk your stories and see through your ego's defence strategies, you begin to create space between yourself - which I would suggest is a human being open to life's inherent possibility, and your Ego - which I would posit is a set of stories that live in the land of limitation & fear. Fear is what drives anxiety. You are just a human being trying to survive; not just physically, but emotionally.
A brief distinction on Ego
Your ego, I suggest here, is not [only] how you present your adult self or just your external persona (albeit in part). I assert, on the contrary, that your ego is the narrative of your inner child, whose fears & insecurities were largely shaped before you were a teenager, and whose strategies of emotional self-preservation in the face of the aforementioned fears & insecurities may still (likely) govern & motivate many of your decisions in adult life today - personally and professionally. You are like a Russian doll and at the innermost layers of that doll is a child with a narrative. When you really get the implications of that and curiously do deep work exploring yourself, a whole new world begins to open for those who wish to see it.
The hallmarks of a story.
Your Ego's agenda is to predict & protect. Safety: we are all seeking it, consciously and unconsciously. It could be said that this is your ultimate motivation - without exception.
Your ego's stories are everywhere, and they are extremely seductive. It seems to me that we create stories as means of trying to exercise control. By creating a story about something we somehow feel we have answers to what they mean. Answers and justification put us back into the illusory land of control and out of uncertainty, which if re-framed productively, might well be better thought of as possibility.
In life, there are objective events, and then there is our story about them. Often the fissure between what happened and our story about it can be remarkably large, and in that canyon lies much freedom & opportunity.
Event vs Story examples:
You've not had much exposure to MS Excel. "I'm not cut out for Excel"
Rigid schedules don't work best for you. "I'm so unorganised"
Your company makes a change you don't agree with. "This company is really going down the toilet"
Notice how, in general, these statements are used to abdicate us from personal responsibility, and they identify us with the issue. If "you're just an unorganised person", notice how you have literally identified yourself as being disorganised and disempowered yourself from having the potential to improve.
What about: "I could be more organised, but I favour flexibility"?
Immediately you are now open to the idea you could improve, and create an empowering context around something you had a negative story about.
So, therein lies the important power of words and using the right internal language to program your mind.
Where are you seeking agreement?
Now comes the most self-sabotaging part of all. To ensure we are kept contained by our ego's limitations (and feeling safe & secure), we begin to enrol others in these disempowering stories. Yup, we want to be right about our own limitations. Imagine that!
What if you stopped seeking agreement all the time?
To labour the previous example, let's say you work in an office of 12 people, and you've proudly (yet insecurely) told everyone you are "Just not a very organised person", you are now trapped at the centre of a network of conversations, perceptions & systems that reinforce this story and belief. You are confined. Your walls of self-preservation can build an invisible prison around you. Paradoxically, this prison you have created keeps you feeling safe and secure, free from personal responsibility, and identified with the issue inextricably. Sadly, though, there is no pathway out of that and into growth. Or is there?
I would like to share a piece of advice for anyone who has created such a situation in any aspect of their lives. Create a new network of conversations. We are not a fixed state of being, we are fluid creatures with boundless plasticity and immense potential.
Enrol other people in a new and more empowering context. You are not your stories and you do not need to stay committed to them. Moreover, I'm almost certain that if you do, your ego will keep you stuck in safety where exactly zero development of your character occurs.
"Hey, I wanted to share something with you. I've realised I have previously mentioned not being organised and I think that might be limiting my opportunities to change & test this. I'm not committed to that narrative anymore and I need your help. If you catch me using this narrative again I want you to hold me accountable and remind me it's just a story - and not the truth"
Weird conversation to have? Maybe. A bit icky and contrived? Probably. But that, I offer, is your way out of the very trapping nature of your stories, and into a more empowering future. Take responsibility. Change the network of conversations. Choose possibility.
Write two simple columns on a piece of paper. Column 1: "Bad" events in your life. Column 2, your narratives (stories) about those events. Your narratives are what you told yourself that those events mean about you or the world.
Once complete, review your narratives. How have those stories cascaded out across your life and created compensatory behavioural adaptations? You will likely find patterns. You will likely also notice that past hurt informs future fear, and you are likely limiting yourself with stories to avoid feeling like that ever again. We are quite simple creatures, really, and most of what we do is because we do not want to feel fear, hurt, or lack of acceptance.
A passionate belief of mine is that the very nature of life is possibility. Unfortunately, when we mistakenly misfile events of the past into the future and navigate our way through the lens of stories, we deny ourselves the infinite number of possibilities that the future ALWAYS has to offer. We confine ourselves to a very narrow scope of outcomes, by enrolling others in a network of highly limiting stories and having them reinforced repeatedly over years & years.
So, I invite you to marinate in these questions:
Which stories and fears are running your life?
Where are you seeking agreement in life? (& why)
What becomes available to you in the absence of those stories, and...why did you create them in the first place?
If explored honestly with courage, I am certain these questions and this interrogation of our stories can help us find more possibility and a little less limitation. I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want that.