I would like to tell you a story about a boy who used the powers of his imagination to his advantage.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a boy. He was everyone’s favorite dude. He had jewel encrusted teeth, eyes like snake skin and a mouth like a tiger. He used his keen wit to foretell the day ahead when he woke up in the mornings, and in the evenings he used his lucrative imagination to recreate the day that passed. Life was perfect in his world because he made it so. Well, there was one tiny glitch. He didn’t really have jewel encrusted teeth, he wasn’t everyone’s favorite boy (except for perhaps to the two people who knew him best) and he most certainly did not have eyes like snake skin or a mouth like a tiger. But it didn’t matter, because every morning precisely one moment after his daily foretelling, and exactly one moment before his usual cereal of Rainbow Ziggy Stardust, he would look in the mirror and repeated out loud what he saw.
“I am an animal.” And so it goes.
And so it went, for three centuries (or for three Earth years, depending on who your informant is) she believed it.
If you have ever had the wonderful challenge of meeting and getting to know a child, or if you were ever one yourself, you can understand and recognize the story above as one not quite unlike, perhaps, your experiences. Children, or so we say, have this fantastic ability to tell stories about almost anything and everything it seems, up until a certain age. What age is that, you ask? Well, let’s say up until the moment when you yourself stopped believing in your own superpowers. How old were you?
The day you stopped believing in your incredible magic, if in fact you ever did, was the day that you did yourself a disservice. I am of the belief that the stories we tell ourselves, the internal narrative voices that literally dictate narratives around the events that happen in our lives, is the single greatest power we have for changing our lives and that of others. It doesn’t have to be a mystery anymore.
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
Shakespeare was on to something. The events in our lives are often neutral. Yes. I know, it was hard for me to swallow my own advice yesterday when I didn’t get the job I wanted. My thinking was this: “I didn’t get the job I wanted. They said it wasn’t because of a performance thing, just more of external factors. Yes, okay, so they had a lot of positive things to say about me, and yeah so what it felt like they were being authentic but you know, what do those other applicants have that I don’t? It’s because they’re better than me, isn’t it?”
Boom. Shame spiral. Until… wait a moment. Hold on a second!
“Eureka!” I cried out loud, scaring the cat as I recalled the Shakespeare quote.
This event in my life really is neutral. Yeah it sucks, however it isn’t the event that sucks, but the story I am telling myself about the event that sucks. Are you following me a little?
Here, you try it. Think of something. Anything. Once you’ve got it, see if you can find any indicators of implicit good or bad, right or wrongness. These features, while many of us may agree on them, are features we ascribe to things. And they have their importance in society. For example when someone comes in and pees on your rug. (It was a really nice rug!) However, there is something to be said for the stories we tell ourselves, especially about ourselves, and the choices we make in how we tell them. We so carefully craft these stories that we don’t even realize that we are doing it and yet they carry the very keys to unleashing us from our imprisonment.
Who told you that you aren’t a worthy person? Who continues to tell you that? Better yet, who believes you?
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt says it best. Giving your consent to believe in someone’s version of you is to buy their story over your story. You are making their story yours, somehow making them the expert on you at the same time. This can have repercussions that are painful and lasting, not to mention severely limiting. However, when done skillfully and mindfully, we can choose to act in a way that cultivates the very best stories of both ourselves and our lives. We can choose the powerful over the powerless, to highlight our features over our flaws. We can look at how we practiced headstand for hours or we can look at how we “never accomplish anything ever”. In other words, we choose the stories we tell ourselves and we can choose to change the narrative at any time.
We choose the stories we tell ourselves and we can choose to change the narrative at any time.
So I encourage you to take a look at the script you are rolling through the next time you feel limited. Can you find any wiggle room? Can you nudge inside until you make a gap that eventually becomes a hole large enough for you to step through into a new narrative frame?
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant archives