A More Positive Story
Its nothing new to hear that the stories we tell ourselves matter, but I have only recently begun to see how much they matter. Lately, I've started playing with my stories, changing my internal dialogues, and the result has been remarkable... Even life changing.
But, there's a trick.
You see I've tried this before and it didn't work. I've always known that my internal dialog, the stories I tell myself (particularly those about myself and my life) tend towards the negative. And at times I've tried to change them, without much success. So, I've always dismissed the idea when I've heard it in the past.
But, it turns out I had just made a fundamental story telling mistake when I tried to change my internal dialog. I had tried to jump to where I wanted to be at the end of the story and forgotten that all story is about process. Story is all about what happens BETWEEN point A and point B. It's the process that makes point B believable.
In the past when I tried to change my internal dialog I had tried to go from thinking point A straight to thinking point B, and it didn't work. Point A and point B ended up both struggling for dominance of my mind and heart. I cannot will a more positive story into being when my deep conscious still believes my negative story.
A few weeks ago something happened that opened my eyes to this problem and how to solve it. I signed up for these daily parenting emails that a friend recommended and one of them said this:
"When some aspect of your life feels like a grind, you can transform it into a groove by changing the stories you tell about it. But this only works if you *believe* your groovy new stories, so it's best to change them *gradually*. For example, if you realize you're running a story like...
"I always get into power struggles with my child."
...it's not believable to change it immediately to...
"Our relationship is perfectly harmonious."
A more believable new story would be...
"We used to fight a lot, but I finally surrendered to Love -- I decided that I'd rather feel good than be 'right' -- and now, every day, little by little, I discover new ways to create harmony."
Ok. I sort of laughed at this at first. But, little by little it got me thinking and in particular it got me thinking about my internal dialog related to Bryan's melanoma diagnosis. I realized that my internal dialog about Bryan's melanoma went something like this:
"Bryan has melanoma. There aren't good options for treatment that we are comfortable with. Eventually this thing will probably get the best of him and I need to prepare myself for that."
I knew this was a negative story. I knew I needed to change it. And throughout the past year I've struggled to think positively about the situation. I've struggled to change the story by telling myself,
"Bryan's fine. Melanoma isn't gonna get the best of him. He's gonna grow old with me. He's fine."
But, it never really worked. I struggled. Wrestling, over and over again, trying to will myself into positive thinking, but not really believing the positive story I was trying to tell myself. And then I read this email and realized my mistake.
You can't jump straight from a negative story to a positive one. You can't jump straight from point A to point B. You need to show the process, show the change. The human heart loves a good story and in order for the human heart to believe a change in the story you need to show the process of change.
So, this is the new story I started to tell myself,
"Bryan had melanoma. But, he is fighting it. The things we are doing can help. Right now he feels good and we are doing what we can to keep him feeling that way."
This story might not seem as positive as the middle story, but the result of it was so much more positive for me. I didn't have to struggle to believe it. It is truthful and authentic and yet it is also positive and full of hope. It takes me from point A and moves me closer to point B.
When I shared this with Bryan he shared another story with me. My husband is not really the intuitive, touchy-feely, overly spiritual type, but he shared with me a moment in all this where he felt like he heard from God and it changed his internal dialog. He heard this simple story, "This will get the best of me... But prayer can change that."
The thought "this will get the best of me" was his point A, but the follow up thought "prayer can change that" is the story that moves him from point A to point B.
Changing my internal dialogs into stories that include movement has been perhaps one of the biggest epiphanies I've ever had. It has radically reshaped my attitude and feelings about Bryan's melanoma diagnosis.
My negative dialog promoted fear. It encouraged me to pull away, to protect myself. My attempts at creating a positive dialog just created something I didn't, no, couldn't, fully believe and that lack of belief created internal conflict and that conflict created deep seated guilt.
But, when I changed my dialog to a story, and more specifically to a story that showed gradual positive movement, everything changed. My new internal dialog doesn't promote fear, it keeps me grounded in the present. It promotes positive habits in me, like encouraging Bryan to keep up the healthy things he's been doing. It also takes my focus from an individual one ("I need to be prepared") to a collective, actively communal one ("We need to do what we can to keep him feeling well").
And when I combine my new story with Bryan's story the result is incredible hope. My old story killed hope. My new story feeds it. That's the kind of story I want. That's the kind of internal dialogue I want to practice.
What do you think? What negative stories are bouncing around your head and heart? Could telling yourself a gradual story of change move your internal dialogue to a more positive one? I'm fascinated by this thought right now and would love to hear what others think and how you'd apply all this.
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman