For a long time, I considered myself to be a logic driven person. A thinker who valued practical, realistic and considered decision making over gut feelings (not that those things can’t exist together). I told myself that I wasn’t at all intuitive, and in fact, that I couldn’t trust my intuition.
I replayed this story over and over to myself, all the while, patting myself on the back for having such a helpful trait.
My story was constantly validated. I made good decisions. I worked hard, kept moving forward in life and executed my plan. I felt like I was in control and it was great.
But then, everything was turned upside down.
Suddenly, I was thrown into the most heart-wrenching time I’ve ever experienced. When I found out my first husband had been having a lengthy affair, no amount of logic and facts could deal with the uncontrollable waves of emotions that flooded me. I’ll save you the details, but in the following two years, my marriage (or lack thereof) tested my understanding of everything.
I realised that I’d been trying to apply logic where I needed to trust my gut, simply because that was “the sort of person I was”. Sometimes what logic and research told me to do, just hurt too much and didn’t feel right for me and my situation. I realised that in some cases, all the considered planning and hard work couldn’t make everything go the way I wanted it to go.
Drained and confused, I started listening to my intuition and what my heart wanted. I didn’t do things that didn’t sit well with me. I paid attention to things I felt drawn to, even when it wasn’t part of my plan or when it didn’t make immediate sense. People didn’t understand all of my decisions. But my life started to feel so much more like it was right for me.
Since this point, I’ve felt more like me than ever before. And funnily enough, when I started trusting my intuition, amazing things started happening. Things that I would never have put in my plan, but that have created the infinitely better life I have today.
The story that I tell myself has also changed. I now tell myself that I’m an intuitive and heart-led person. That I know, deep down, what’s right for me and I can trust my gut.
I no longer overthink, overanalyse, overplan or feel the need to control everything to be successful and happy. I still value logic, research and planning but not at the expense of listening to my gut.
This shift in my story has also been absolutely instrumental in how I have handled and experienced motherhood. I often feel so grateful that I started my family after this change occurred.
We become the stories we tell ourselves
Why am I telling you all this?
Because the stories we tell ourselves are powerful. They can define us and shape us. We become the stories we tell ourselves.
Sometimes, these stories can be helpful and empowering. They can give us confidence, inspire us, push us to keep going and help us create the life that we want.
But the stories we tell ourselves can also be unhelpful and limiting. They can keep us small and scared. They can prevent us from loving ourselves and feeling worthy. They can make us give up before even trying, struggle more than is necessary or self-sabotage our efforts to change.
I’m amazed at how many times children can hear the same story over and over (even in immediate succession) and not get tired of it. Similarly, our brains like to play the same story over and over, keeping us stuck in a constant loop of unhelpful stories. The more you focus on these stories, the more they grow and move from fiction to apparent fact.
It’s like you’re in dress rehearsal preparing for the next opportunity to act out the story live. When the opportunity does arise, your brain knows exactly how to handle it. For example, if you tell yourself a story about how you’re an angry and impatient mum, you’ll be much more likely to respond to a difficult parenting moment in this way, because that’s what your brain is prepared for. The problem is that the response that is driven by your story might not be the best response for that situation.
Our stories communicate to others
The stories we tell ourselves are also communicating something to the world around us. The way we treat and talk about ourselves, shows everyone else how to treat us also.
When I first met one of my most treasured friends, she told me there was something wrong with her and so people didn’t like her. My first impressions of her didn’t include any warning bells so I continued to spend time with her and she continued to tell me this story, that she’d also been telling herself for some time. She said it so much that I actually started to wonder if I was missing something. I began to look for evidence! But I didn’t find any. Instead I found one of the most kind-hearted, generous, courageous people I know and I assured her that the story wasn’t true. Her story has changed now and she tells herself she is worthy of wonderful friends. Changing her story has changed her reality also and she has found the wonderful friends she always deserved.
There’s one more thing to consider, lovely mum. The stories we tell ourselves (and others) also provide an example to our children of how to treat themselves.
Would you want your children telling themselves some of your stories?
What are your stories?
As you can see, it’s really worth examining the stories we are telling ourselves and finding any that are unhelpful and limiting. Some of your stories will be so deeply ingrained (even from early childhood) that they sound like the truth.
Perhaps they start like this:
I’m not… / I am…
I should…/ I shouldn’t…
Here are some examples:
I’m not very smart. I could never do what all the other mums are doing.
I’m not attractive. There’s no point in making an effort with my appearance.
I’m not worthy of love, people will always overlook me.
I am so disorganised and I always forget everything.
I’m a horrible mum, I hardly take the kids anywhere fun.
I can’t exercise more. I have no time and I can’t afford it.
I can’t make new friends. No one likes me. I must be weird.
I’m not creative so I don’t have any ideas to offer.
I should eat better but I’ll never lose weight anyway.
I should be a calmer mum, I’m just not like that.
I shouldn’t be finding motherhood so hard. Everyone else is doing a better job than me.
What unhelpful stories are you telling yourself?
Rewrite your unhelpful stories
Once you’ve identified your unhelpful stories, you can rewrite them so they no longer limit you.
Try these steps:
1. Notice the story without judgement
Pay attention to the details of the story because you need to be able to recognise it when it pops up again. Don’t criticise yourself for having this unhelpful story. There’s a reason that you’ve made this your story. Notice it but don’t act on it because it is not going to be your story for long!
2. Identify how it is limiting you
How it this story influencing your actions and decisions? How does it impact your self-esteem and confidence? Is it influencing how others see and treat you? Knowing the cost of your stories is a strong motivator for rewriting them.
3. Ask yourself: Is it the truth?
Is there any evidence that your story is true? Is it current evidence or something that happened many years ago? Remember your past, or the way you interpret it, does not need to determine your future. You have a choice. If you aren’t sure if your story is true, ask someone who knows you well and who you trust for their perspective.
4. Rewrite the story
Replace the old story with a more helpful story. It might feel awkward at first but just as you reinforced the old story by repeating it, you can reinforce the new one by repeating it and finding opportunities to act on it.
You may find that there is already evidence in your life for the new story and you just never noticed it before. When our stories are so deeply ingrained, our brains can ignore and delete any information that doesn’t support them. So we need to actively look for evidence of the new story and keep replaying that evidence with the story.
Lovely mum, the stories we tell ourselves are powerful. Do you want them to limit you and pull you down, or empower and help you?
It’s never too late to change the stories. Don’t be confined by the stories you have told yourself so far. They can be rewritten.
What’s 1 unhelpful story that you’re telling yourself? Use the steps above to understand and rewrite it so it has a more positive impact on you and your life.
P.S. If you’re struggling with critical self-talk, you might like my article on how to quiet your inner critic.