The Stories We Tell Ourselves
And how that influences our choices in life.
We all have a story we tell ourselves about who we are. This narrative can empower us, hold us back, and affect our enjoyment in life.
The Story We’re Told
Growing up, I was always told that I was smart. I loved fulfilling that story. It became how I saw myself. Yes, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg effect going on here. Was this story a result of my actions, or did I act this way because of the story I was told? I believe both factors played a role, reinforcing each other and shaping my self-belief and academic path.
I took challenging classes, because it’s who I was supposed to be. I read extensively, because it’s what smart people did. I went to an elite college, because it was a huge goal of mine.
The Untold Stories
Conversely, I never really was told that I was athletically or musically talented. Sure, I played sports and I was decent, but I was never really the star. Yes, I played in band, but I didn’t excel. But that’s okay, because it wasn’t my identity.
So I never practiced. I didn’t go out of my way to train. It’s not like I was bad at those things, but it wasn’t my identity so I didn’t spend much time on it.
The Mindset Shift
In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about the mindset shift that can happen when you start to believe something about yourself.
If you want to start a new running habit, you might go out for a run a few times a week. When starting a new habit, like running, we may not initially identify as a "runner." Over time, however, our self-perception changes, and we may adopt the identity of a runner. When this mindset shift actually happens is personal for everyone.
Why it matters
You’re doing the action, so why does it matter when you call yourself a ‘runner’ in your head? It matters, because how you perceive yourself affects your actions in life. From your diet to your actions, it affects your real-world life. The story in your head about how runners act may influence how you act if you consider yourself to be a runner.
I know some terribly misguided people who have a very narrow view of what it means to be masculine. So much so that they can enjoy a meal, then hear it’s ‘vegetarian’ afterwards. Retroactively, they’ll feel like it was a bad meal. They have it in their heads that masculine people don’t like vegetarian food and they don’t want to be perceived as not-masculine. They let their identity dictate their enjoyment.
When I call myself an actor, some may question my credentials. While I’m not on TV regularly, I’ve invested a ton of time into the craft, taking classes, being in theatre productions, and making a concerted effort toward my goals.
Doesn’t matter if you believe I’m an actor, I do. I’ve put in the work, even if I’ve still got a long way to go.
I’m not saying to go around saying you’re a pilot if you’ve got some hours logged in flight simulators or saying you’re a soldier when you’re highly ranked in Call of Duty.
But I do think that you know yourself. What are you passionate about and spend your time on? Are there any stories that you believe about yourself that are holding you back?
Be the protagonist in your own story
The Story Solution by Sean Platt and Johnny Truant is a book from two authors who frame living your life in the context of writing a story. Consider the genre, tone, and voice of a story with you as the protagonist. How do they align with what your ideal story is like?
Consider your ideal reader. Everyone has people whose opinions they care about — is your story something that would appeal to that reader?
How would you summarize your life in a logline, and how does it differ from your ideal narrative? By envisioning our lives as stories, we can make choices that propel us toward our desired outcomes. If you’re an author writing a story where you’re the protagonist, let’s make some choices that move the character in the direction of our end goal.
What to do about self-perception
Our self-perception influences our actions, aspirations, and potential. By reflecting on our self-image and comparing it to our ideal self, we can identify ways to improve.
Spend some time writing down how you view yourself. Then spend some time writing down how you want to be viewed. Then spend some time figuring out how to bridge that gap.
By consciously shaping our narratives, we can guide our actions and live the kind of life that we aspire to have.
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