I finally had an ‘ah-ha’ moment when it comes to the storytelling mind and the narratives we make up about ourselves or any given experience in our life. I’ve come to understand the storytelling mind as the endless stream of thoughts, feelings, and images that play in the background of our minds on a regular basis. What I know is that the more I practice meditation and yoga, the better I am able to recognize the habitual patterns of my inner dialogue. I’ve talked about it before, but I’m becoming more and more familiar with the repetitious thoughts, judgements, worries, and stories that quietly create the chatter in my mind.
After paying closer attention to my internal landscape over the last few months, I’ve started to recognize all of the stories I’ve been creating about my life. I was both surprised and not surprised to find that a lot of my thoughts center around other people’s perceptions of my actions and my own judgements about myself. In a way, I didn’t realize how much stress, fear, and worry I had about other people’s opinions about my decisions. This recognition was surprising because I typically pride myself on feeling confident about my decisions- independent of other people’s judgements- but recently, I’ve began to to notice that this is one of the primary ways I hold myself back. I also noticed that despite the greater awareness I have with my beliefs about accomplishment and achievement, a lot of my thoughts and worries still center around performance. And while I consider these thoughts to be both helpful and not helpful, they are always worth examining and looking at more closely. In some ways, the worries about accomplishment continue to prompt me to align my decisions and actions with my values and goals, but I also recognize that this focus on achievement and performance doesn’t always translate into using my fullest potential. I’m learning that these stories can keep me rigid in ways that limit my possibilities and prevent me from expanding and growing.
And as I learn more about the stories I tell, I’ve also come to learn more about the identity I’ve created about who I believe myself to be. There are stories here too. And while the stories can be empowering and beautiful, the identities we create around ourselves can often keep us contained so that we experience fear in stepping out of the boxes we’ve placed ourselves in.
I recently journaled about the stories I’ve created and then made another list that more fully expanded on who I am and gave myself permission to release the rules and expectations I previously let go unchallenged in my mind. Here’s what I wrote:
- I am a person who is successful, always has a plan, is nice to everyone, doesn’t upset people, works with people who are homeless, does the right thing, makes the right choices, and is not afraid of change.
- I am also a person who gets to experience and learn from failures, make mistakes, and does not know where to go next. I am a person who is okay with not pleasing everyone and not being liked when it means remaining true to myself. I am a person who takes risks and doesn’t have to know everything. I’m a person who gets to pick a different path than the one I initially set out on. I am a person who gets to fall apart and take time to adjust.
These practices allow me to examine what I am identifying with. I immediately noticed was how rigid and unrealistic the first statements were; while they are easily disputable and visibly perfectionistic, it wasn’t until I wrote them down on paper that I realized how much stress I was creating in my attempts to live by these standards and how limiting they are to experiencing the fullness of life. Offering myself permission to be an entire person with a wide range of experiences not only feels better, it’s also more realistic, gentle, and aligned with the kind of person I actually am. What I know is that this type of self-reflection helps me to learn more about the narratives I live by and my habitual ways of thinking. What I know is that if we don’t check in with ourselves and our thoughts, we might believe them all to be true. We might hold on to identities that we’ve outgrown, or make decisions based on who we are are ‘supposed to be’ versus who we are.
Getting to know ourselves fully requires that we spend more time looking within rather than comparing ourselves to the people on our phones. It requires that we be willing to step away and let go of the identities we’ve worked so hard to create and protect. The work asks us to observe our reactions and the places where we get stuck so that we can soften and stop identifying with who we no longer are.
Get to know yourself.
You have permission to change.