Change Your Story, Change Your Life
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” — Carl Jung.
Most of our thoughts happen a few layers beneath the threshold of our awareness. There, they assemble themselves into stories. Stories about the world, our place in it, and what will help us create the outcomes we want — and avoid those we don’t.
As an experienced therapist and life coach, I know the power of stories, and of taking an active role in rewriting yours. Here’s an example of a story at work: Your friend asks if they can borrow some money. As you decide whether or not to lend it to them, you don’t have to manually consider the kind of person you are and what that person would do, the nature of money and money lending, or what friendship means. You’ll probably just do what feels right, and that feeling will be based on your unconscious stories.
Your story may sound like, “I’m a generous person, and this is what generous people do for their friends. Money is a renewable resource. I don’t need to worry about the possibility of losing a few hundred bucks when I can always cultivate more.”
Or, it could sound like, “I’m a wise person, and wise people know that lending money is something to avoid. Money is a limited resource that I have to ration carefully, or I could end up bankrupt or out on the street.”
You base your decision on the stories you’re telling yourself that you’re probably not even aware you believe.
Thinking in stories is a handy cognitive shortcut that frees up a lot of your brain’s processing power for other things. But what if your stories are making you feel bad about yourself? Or limiting your potential? Or creating unnecessary stress over things that aren’t even true?
To make radical, positive changes in your life, you have to become aware of your stories and begin interrogating them. On today’s podcast episode, we’re going to tell you how. My guest is Dr. John Delony, an author, educator, and host of The John Delony Show. In his latest book, “Own Your Past, Change Your Future,” he lays out a clear process for bringing your unconscious stories up to the light and challenging the ones that aren’t helping you.
I hope you’ll tune in, on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Change Your Story, Change Your Life with John Delony — Episode Highlights
We’re all carrying around stories, whether or not we know it.
If your stories help you feel good about yourself, and worthy of love and respect from others, you’re going to have a greater well of inner resilience to draw upon, and it’s going to be easier for you to have meaningful relationships and make positive changes in your life.
But if you’re carrying around stories that make you doubt yourself or expect the worst from others, you’ll have a harder time doing the things that make your life better, and you’ll have a hard time creating healthy relationships.
So, how can you choose stories that help you build the life you want and rewrite those that aren’t so helpful to you? This episode of the podcast has some helpful insight.
Stories of Your Life
We inherit many of our stories from our family of origin and culture. Some of these stories will be positive. You might have a story about how you’re capable of anything you’re willing to work for, for example, or that you’re the kind of person who deserves kindness and respect from others.
But even stories that seem benign can have a powerful influence on the course of your life, especially if they’re left unexamined. I’ve spoken with clients who didn’t pursue the careers they wanted, as teachers, artists, or writers, instead taking jobs they don’t care about in fields they can’t stand, which are now unleashing all kinds of stress, depression, and burnout in their lives.
When we drill down into the process that led them to this unhappy place, we eventually hit stories from their parents about money and what constitutes success. When they speak these stories out loud, it becomes clear to these clients that these stories aren’t theirs at all. They’ve built lives they don’t want, based on stories they don’t believe.
These clients often come to see me amid a “quarter-life crisis,” a mini-meltdown that has woken them up (painfully) to the gap between what they have and what they want, or who they are and who they want to be. Believe it or not, these clients are lucky; some force deep inside them is rejecting their inherited stories, giving them an opportunity to start a new chapter that’s more in line with the life they truly want.
How Vulnerability Helps You Change Your Story
One of the keys to recognizing your stories and changing them is having close, open friendships with people you trust.
When there are friends in your life who you know have your best interest at heart, and who will give you their unvarnished feedback, you have a sounding board for your unconscious assumptions, the meaning you’re making from events, and the self-limiting beliefs that you’re not even aware you hold.
It takes vulnerability to share your stories, remain open to hearing points of view that differ from your own, and to be open to changing your beliefs. You have to let someone see you, flaws and all, and be open to the idea that you might not have it all figured out. But friendships like this make life worthwhile — and help us take control of our stories rather than letting them control us.
Change Your Story by Tuning Into Your Feelings
One sign that you may be buying into a story that isn’t true for you is having thoughts that don’t match up with your feelings. For example, you might “love your job,” but feel like you’re having a panic attack every Sunday afternoon as you prepare for the week ahead. Or you might be “happily married,” but long for more love and connection with your partner.
When we disregard our feelings because they don’t match up with our story, we miss out on opportunities to make changes that could make our lives better. If you can approach your emotional states with curiosity, and tune into what they may be trying to tell you, you can use that data to guide your life in the direction you want.
Admittedly, this can be easier said than done. Many of us were raised to wallpaper over our feelings or view them as a sign of weakness (particularly true for men in our culture). If you’re used to shoving your feelings aside, tuning into what they’re trying to tell you may take some practice. But it’s well worth the effort: We need to remain connected to our feelings to be emotionally healthy, have good relationships, and live our best lives.
Rewrite Your Story. Literally.
Journaling is a powerful tool for rewriting your story. When you feel yourself spiraling into dark feelings over a situation, it can help to pause and write down the thoughts that led you there.
You might be thinking, “My client hasn’t responded to my email, and that’s because they hate the work I delivered, I’m not cut out for this; I’m doomed to fail.” Most likely, you’re not consciously thinking all of this. It comes to you in a flash that feels like dread, anxiety, or shame.
Your feelings seem out of proportion with the situation, so you dismiss them. But this is a missed opportunity. If you could drill down into the thoughts causing these feelings and question whether what they’re telling you is accurate, you could replace them with more accurate stories that don’t drain you of motivation and energy.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life
It’s important to challenge stories that aren’t true. The emotional states that our thoughts produce can be self-reinforcing, coloring your thinking and leading you to see the possibilities in life, or to see nothing but insurmountable obstacles. Rewriting your stories helps you feel better emotionally and build habits of mind that move you forward.
By changing your story, you can make peace with the past, feel better about the present, and begin designing a future that reflects your true self.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Episode Show Notes
[03:15] On John Delony’s Book
- John narrates how he had all the academic and intellectual answers to his experiences, but he still couldn’t see the problem with himself.
- He wrote this book because it’s not only about him, but it is also about his friends, family, and his community.
[09:35] The Cracks in the House
- John realized he was seeing something that was not true. He was getting paranoid, thinking that his house had problems.
- He shares how he was crawling in the mud in the middle of the night, with heavy rain pouring down on him, because he was afraid his house would fall apart. This was the first moment he realized, “Maybe it’s me.”
- John did not know what he was doing wrong.
[15:13] Are Your Stories True to the T?
- Sometimes, what you see is not the truth and what you experience is not real. Norms and stereotypes are factors that push the unreal narrative in our brains.
- Denying and rationalizing your experience is a way for your brain to cope.
- It took a friend to make John realize that his house was fine and strong, and that it was he who was crumbling.
[22:10] Recognizing a Story from Trauma
- John says that the best way he recognizes whether his stories are true is by writing them down.
- Writing these stories allows you to externalize and shift them.
- Verbalizing your internal conversations can also help you process these stories.
[29:49] How These Stories Develop
- These stories develop from the moment that we are born.
- The cultural and societal norms we are all born with push the narratives we tell ourselves.
- Some people experience big T traumas, while others experience small t traumas that add up over time. We rarely realize that the weight and effect of these two different traumas can be similar.
[36:00] How to Rewrite Your Story
- Dealing with grief is a big step toward rewriting your story.
- Society has developed a culture of pathologizing any uncomfortable feeling, including grief.
- Grief is a core experience everyone must process.
[46:47] Rewrite Your Story with Others
- Surrounding yourself with people who have the same experiences as you can help you rewrite your story.
- John notes these people should be outside of your immediate crew (spouse and children).
- Rewriting your story means you are unearthing your trauma and changing the perceived narratives in your head.
Music in this episode is by Tess Parks with their song “Life is But a Dream.”
You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://tessparks.bandcamp.com/track/life-is-but-a-dream-tess-parks. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.