What story do you tell yourself about your life? Is this story helpful, unhelpful? We all create a story, or narrative, that fits together our experiences, emotions, thoughts, etc. Often the stories that accumulated over time form our perception of ourselves and guide our thought processes and decisions. Depending on the narrative we subscribe to, we may find ourselves subconsciously overidentifying with experiences that confirm our self concept and disregarding experiences that do not. While there is nothing inherently unhelpful about this very human and adaptive process, it can lead us to create and uphold a narrative that does not serve us.
For example, perhaps I have had several experiences of discouragement in my recent past (i.e. the history exam that I performed poorly on, the misunderstanding with a friend, the rejection from my most recent love interest, the summer job that I was not offered). These experiences may contribute to a subconscious narrative that “I am a failure”. This self-perception can lead to unhelpful thoughts (“why me?”, “this ALWAYS happens”, “I can’t do anything right”, feeling unmotivated, rejected, disappointed, and perhaps a lack of pursuing opportunities for potential success. It is common and natural to tune into the experiences that validate our self-perception. That said, in doing so we often ignore additional experiences that contradict our created narrative. In the example above, I have also sought additional help in history following this test and now better understand the subject, I have built new and seemingly more positive peer relationships with my friends from swimming and found a summer job that fits better with my schedule (even though it was not my first choice). Because the later experiences do not fit in with the failure story I tell myself, I may be completely ignoring the non-failure aspects of my circumstance. Again, it is totally human to be attuned with the circumstances that fit in with our self-concept; however, I encourage practicing self-reflection around how your narrative is serving you. In the example above, I am not only experiencing unhelpful emotions and perceptions of myself, but I am also riddled with barriers to seeing my success and cultivating new opportunities for myself.
How do we change the narrative? Now that we have practiced self-reflection on our narrative and evaluated that it is NOT serving us we can make some changes. See below for some helpful tips on shifting your experience:
Practice intentionally observing thoughts, feelings, and experiences that contradict the narrative you have created
Identify what you would like your story to look like (whether or not you believe this is possible, simply imagine what you would like your life story to sound like)
Begin thinking about some small actions you might be able to try that align with the story you envision for yourself (break down actions into realistic and manageable steps)
Practice self-compassion and know that it is challenging to shift our narrative and does not happen overnight
Care for yourself by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and tend to them accordingly
Remember that YOU have the agency to write and rewrite your story, so what do you want it to say?