“When we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act (and fail) and grow.” – Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
What’s the story that you tell yourself about who you are? Is it “I’ll never be able to lose the weight because I’ve tried in the past and failed”? Is it “I’m not that person, so there’s no way I could ever do what he’s doing.” What about a limiting belief that’s holding you back? I have anxiety and that’s never going to change. I’m not worthy of genuine love. Is that story a feeling? “Anytime I get close to what I want, I feel like a fraud.” I feel like I don’t deserve this success.”
Whether it’s our main story, or the conglomeration of our multiple stories, these stories that well tell ourselves, and tell others, ultimately define who we are. In time they become our truth. Good or bad, it’s all we know. Our identity becomes so entangled with these stories that it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish opinion from reality. What we need to understand though is that these stories are compiled completely from memory. Nothing more than that. Yet, through choice––through believing in them––we continue to allow them to define who we are.
Think of the person that you were five years ago. Got that fucker in your head? Good. Now tell me, is that the same person that’s reading this very sentence? Fuck no! At least I hope not. Even the person that you were a month ago is still not the same person that’s reading this. So why would we ever think something that happened to us years ago is still who we are? It’s a ludicrous idea when you stop to think about it.
By the end of this, if I have done my job correctly, I want to hopefully get you to a point where you can start to recognize the stories that you’ve been telling yourself, if you haven’t already. From there, once the stories are illuminated, then we start to look closer examining the credibility behind the actual story itself. To then end it off, we start looking at ways to challenge these stories/limiting beliefs. (For the purpose of the blog, anytime I mention the word “stories”, just know that limiting belief can be substituted in its place. They are one in the same.)
Each and every one of us is our own judge. We call our own shots. We choose the mental pain threshold that we’re willing to tolerate. We decide how our stories are going to play out in our lives, for better, or for worse. But the moment we wake up to these truths, is the same moment that everything can begin to change. So, for this, I want to open up and share one of my personal stories that I’ve been telling myself for a number of years. And until I became aware of what that story was––or let’s just say had the courage to accept the fact that I had actually let this story be a part of my life for so long––it was never going to change.
The Stories That We Tell Ourselves––Change Through Awareness
For a long time, I didn’t think I was all that smart. I’m still a moron, but maybe just a moron with a little more life experience. Growing up I never did that well in school. Most years you could find me doing the bare minimum just to make it out alive. I’m sure this is true with most kids, but for me, I think I always had this underlying feeling that I wasn’t smart. Or let’s just say stupid if we’re getting honest. I thought that I was stupid. I thought that I wasn’t ever going to be successful in life compared to all of the other kids who were getting A+ after A+. By the time that I got out of high school, I’m not sure that I ever really acknowledged this or even knew that it was an underlying limiting belief. It was an underlying limiting belief that was ruining my life, but yet, zero part of me was ever even aware that this story was rolling 24/7, in the background. A huge red flag. Fast forward a year out of high school to when I got my DWI. The best word to describe how I felt was like a complete loser. It might not seem like much to feel like a loser, but when you truly believe that you’re a loser, stupid, ugly, awkward, take your pick, then we start to have a real problem on our hands. That feeling of being a complete loser that came from my DWI only started to solidify my perception of myself. That perception; that I was stupid.
When you identify with these limiting beliefs that you’ve been telling yourself, your perception of the world is viewed through the lens of just that. Your perception is now skewed. I’ll never get that girl because I’m not the most good-looking guy. No, you’ll never get that girl because even if she was into you, you’re not into you. I’ll never make friends because I’m socially awkward. Maybe. Or maybe you’re not making friends because even when they do try talking to you, you’re slowly self-sabotaging the relationship because your view of yourself doesn’t correctly line up with reality. That reality; most likely someone who’s just genuinely interested in becoming friends with you. Your perception is your reality, but if your perception is skewed, or your perception is not based in objective reality, well then, we have a problem, my friends.
Let’s fast forward two years to when I left the state without telling my probation officer. Only to get caught. Because I got arrested. For having ecstasy on me. And got charged with a felony. In Georgia. At one in the morning. I don’t think the time really matters, but it sounded more dramatic to keep that going. Sitting in handcuffs in the back of the cop car after they found the ecstasy, is unfortunately an experience that I’ll never forget. Yelling at myself for how stupid I was, and if I thought that feeling of being a loser felt terrible before, this took it to a whole new level. In that very moment, I convinced myself that I was stupid––and let’s be honest, at the time, that’s exactly what I was for even allowing myself to be in that sort of a situation. Then again, I was just doing what any other twenty-one-year-old male would have done while on probation. You know, let’s smuggle some drugs across state lines. It’ll be fun, they said. What’s the worst that can happen? This, my friends, is what we refer to as a “turning point” in one’s life.
(Long story short for anyone wondering––charges got dropped to a $500 ticket, had to reenlist in drug and alcohol classes, and had to finish out my full three years of probation.)
I’m going to keep building on this story and I swear it’ll all tie together at the end . . . I hope.
Let’s keep that fast forward on the 1.5 speed to these past few years of me, writing. Someone who had never written before. Barely made it through English class. Hardly able to form a literate paragraph worth reading. Didn’t know what a run-on sentence was. Still doesn’t. This is probably an issue that I need to address. I’m just kidding. Sort of. And then decides to head into the world of writing. At one in morning. (Fun fact: I literally did get into the world of writing at one in the morning.)
Now let’s tie everything together. The whole shebang. The enchilada. The gabagool.
Going back and reading my blogs over the years––three years to be exact––made me realize something at first. That, yeah, I wasn’t that smart. But it wasn’t that I wasn’t smart, it was that I had never written before (examining the credibility). Of course, I was going to be bad at writing. Finding all the misspelled words, grammatical errors, run on essays without paragraph breaks, was all cringe-worthy shit that would eat me alive. Heading into the world of writing is a massive undertaking even for the more literately inclined. And then, there’s me. Hi. I would tell myself that this was all ok though. It doesn’t matter because I’m not planning to do anything with writing. I’m not a writer by nature. I’m not smart enough to be an actual writer––whatever that means.
So, you see the stories that I was telling myself? When you begin to dig deeper underneath those stories, you start to realize that they’re all based on fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of actually giving a fuck about something, only to have it thrown right back in your face if it doesn’t work out in the end. So, what do we do? We act like we don’t care because it’s easier than dealing with the raw emotions that accompany rejection. This way, if we do end up failing in whatever area that might be, we can write it off as though we never truly cared. We can start to go through the list of excuses to find the best one that suits our current failure. The best part is, you’ve probably used that same exact excuse the last time you failed at something! Truth is though, when we act like we don’t care about something, it’s usually when we care the most. It’s terrifying shit to put yourself out there, whether it be in a relationship, asking for a promotion at work, or setting a goal for yourself; only to watch it fail in the end. But my friends, I say fuck that noise. Fail. Fail hard. Just because you failed to put 100% in, doesn’t make you a failure. Maybe this wasn’t you intended path and the failure ends up guiding you in the right direction. Maybe this ramps your drive up tenfold and you come back to crush it the next time around. Maybe that failure makes you more resilient to some of the harder challenges that life is going to throw at you down the road. You either learn from that failure, using it to your advantage, or you continue to make it another part of your story. You continue to solidify those limiting beliefs about yourself. Nothing good can ever grow from fear. Hard times, yes. But fear, never.
Examining the Credibility––Acceptance
Over time, something started to shift for me though. Once I finally became aware of the fact that I’ve been telling myself for all these years that I was stupid, I was finally able to start looking at that story objectively. I now had the wiggle room that I needed to examine its credibility. When I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t even have a proper definition of what I thought being smart was. Was being smart making six figures? Maybe. But then is being smart someone who makes that same exact six figures, but is miserable as a result of that job and or lifestyle? It sounds like they’re pretty stupid if you ask me. So then was being smart graduating college with a 4.0? Yeah, most likely. But what happens if that same person doesn’t do anything with their life because they let laziness dictate their future? Well then, they’re stupid!
Realizing that it doesn’t matter how smart you are on an intelligence scale, to decide whether or not I was going to be successful in life was a huge turning point for me. With my definition of success, or what success means to me, already written in stone, I now had my own interpretation of what it meant to be smart. Someone who makes the most of what they have. Sure, an above average intelligence would fall under the category of being smart––and is one of the two top traits, alongside consciousness, in determining the probability of how successful someone will become. But if you do nothing with that, then you’re stupid. It’s as simple as that.
Challenging Our Stories
Challenging a story doesn’t happen overnight. Or at least the results that you’re looking for doesn’t happen overnight. Why is that? Because there’s change involved. And like I said in ” Your Body is a . . . Wonderland? “, even if it’s a good change or necessary change, it’s still change, and that scares the fuck out of us. It’s not natural for us to change with the snap of our fingers. Our body rejects it at first. It’s foreign; it’s uncomfortable, it’s unnatural to who we’ve been.
Let’s run a scenario real quick:
Maybe in the past, you’ve tried this out. “I want to be more confident,” you say! “So, starting tomorrow, I shall be more confident.” Simple right? Fuck off, you wish. I’ll tell you right now that one of three things are going to happen, immediately. And giving off confidence ain’t one of them, Jack. First scenario: You’re going to look like a huge douche. It is going to be so unnatural, and so cringe-worthy, that that energy will start to repel people away from you. Now onto the second scenario: Maybe you’re taking a milder approach and going with the quiet confidence option. Nice. I dig it. I dig you, you, handsome son of a bitch. But what’s most likely waiting to greet you on the other side of the door, is a feeling of anxiety. A sense of fear. Fear of the fact that this isn’t you. “No way can I be truly confident”, you start to tell yourself. And guess what? You’re right. Because you’ve never given off confidence before, your body doesn’t even know what it’s like to be confident, feel confident, or look confident. So how could you ever truly be confident? Third scenario: Maybe a few weeks pass––maybe even a few months––and you’re feeling good. Feeling like maybe you’ve finally got this under control. But then, it happens. Something sets you off, and you spiral right back into the same pattern that you were in before. Back to fucking square one, mate. This is what we call a feedback loop. It’s not a bad thing, but just part of what comes with the human upgrade package deal. Your brains been here before. It’s comfortable, and it’s familiar. Regretting reincarnation yet?
But––and there is a big but here. Whatever option you go with; Keep. Fucking. At it. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, it is nothing more than a story that you’ve been telling yourself for years. So, yeah it’s going to be uncomfortable. Rightly so. But it’s a mental barrier that needs to be broken. The only reason there are even barriers in the first place is because we decide to accept them. We choose to accept them. What would your life be like if you chose not to believe in these limiting beliefs that you’ve been telling yourself? As with any story that’s still in the process, it can always be re-written. Fake it till you make it, and neuroplasticity will take care of the rest––as long as it’s for the right reasons and it’s not turning you into a dick.
Another way to challenge a story that I picked up from my silent retreat, is to ask yourself “Is this true?” Of course, it’s true! Why else would I be thinking about it? Fair enough. Now from there, ask yourself “With 100% certainty, without a shadow of a doubt, do I know that this is true?” This is where things get tricky. We could most likely get paid six figures if there was a job in self-deception. Nobody would ever need to apply because it happens almost daily, consciously or subconsciously. Should you find yourself having trouble with the second half of this question, one question that helped me through was “What proof or evidence do I have that this actually true?”
From here we have to be completely honest with ourselves and look at whatever that limiting story may be. This is the dirty introspective work that everyone avoids. Finally accepting that I wasn’t stupid was one thing. But that also meant I had to be honest with myself by realizing where I stand. I may not be stupid, but I’m no Einstein. Actually, if Einstein was a Bentley, I’m more of a used 98′ Toyota Camry––but in really immaculate condition with a newly installed system . . . and maybe some nice rims. It also meant that I had to go back and track down where this story began. That means revisiting some old unpleasant childhood memories. Or, this means look at the dirt that you’ve been sweeping under the rug for the past couple of years.
Since by now you guys most likely already know how I feel about this area (internal work) all I’ll say is, take it slow. If there’s some truth behind there, own it. Best case scenario, you find out that the story was nothing but smoke and mirrors. Whether it’s smoke and mirrors, or there’s some truth behind, this brings us to our last question. The last question to ask yourself in our questionception extravaganza is what I said earlier, “What would my life be like if I chose not to accept the limiting belief that I was telling myself?” What would your life be like if you chose the opposite? I can’t lose the weight. Don’t accept that shit. I’ll always have anxiety for the rest of my life. Based on what? A story that you’ve been telling yourself for years? You genuinely believe that there’s no work around to anxiety? At best, a healthy way to manage it? I’m just not that type of person so there’s no way I could ever pull that off. If that’s how you feel, then yeah, you’re right. But what would happen if started to challenge that story? What would happen if you started working on reframing your perspective of yourself? What direction would your life begin to head in?
Mindset is everything. Our perception is everything. The way we interact with the world and those around us is everything. These stories can and will swallow you alive if you allow them to. I wrote this because this is something that’s made a significant impact on my life these past couple of months. I’ve started to realize that the magnitude behind the power of these stories, essentially shapes our lives. Don’t let a ridiculous story that you’ve been telling yourself for years be the reason your life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. Please. We create our future; this is a certain truth. But if we’re busy walking around with these stories playing in the background 24/7, the same stories that dictate what direction our life heads in, then what’s really creating our future? Who are you without these stories?
“But that’s the thing––before you can believe it, I gotta believe it.” – Sekou Andrews
Edited by: Patrica Hendriks