I recently watched a snippet of a TED talk which really hit home. The talk is titled How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life, by Lori Gottlieb. The general theme is that what we tell ourselves shapes how we live our lives – Gottlieb summarises this by saying “The way we narrate our lives shapes what they become. If we can change our stories, then we can change our lives.”
Another line which stood out is “Think of a story that you’re telling yourself right now that might not be serving you well.”
Think of a story? I can think of a dozen or more! How about the story where people always judge me based on how I look rather than who I am? Or the story where I simply can’t class myself as a potential writer who pursues writing opportunities because others out there will be so much better at it? Or the story where I should just quietly get on with my job rather than having the confidence to suggest improvement opportunities because others in the company will be better at doing that? Or how about one of my oldest stories where I reassure myself that I have a face made for radio and a voice made for silent movies so I really shouldn’t pursue the things in life that I really enjoy doing, such as applying for TV and radio quizzes. This last story also applies to any situation in life where I may need to make myself the centre of attention or the focal point of a situation for any amount of time. The list could easily go on though I’ll leave it there for now.
All of the stories above are what I tell myself on a daily basis and Gottlieb’s talk highlighted that none of them are serving me well. She raises another really important point in the talk:
“Depressed people are not the best people to talk to about themselves, as depression distorts our stories in a very particular way. It narrows our perspective. The same is true when we feel lonely or hurt or rejected. We create all kinds of stories distorted through a very narrow lens that we don’t even know we’re looking through.”
That is so ridiculously true though it doesn’t just apply to people who suffer from depression. It also applies to those lacking self-confidence; those with low self-esteem; those who suffer from impostor syndrome on a frequent basis. That narrow lens is a very dangerous view though thankfully there are ways of getting around it.
Back in July 2019, in what was just my tenth YYCDI blog post, I wrote about the value of gaining some perspective by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes ( you can find that post here ) and I was reminded of that post by another few lines from Gottleib’s TED talk, the first of which inspired the title of this post:
“What would happen if you looked at your story and wrote it from another person’s point of view? What would you see now from this wider perspective?”
This is always a valuable exercise as it can be a real eye-opener and prompt a different way of thinking. Think of different people who you know, ideally from different areas of your life, such as a family member, a close friend, a work colleague, or someone you know from a shared hobby or a pastime – and consider how they will truly view you. Be honest too – for those of us who this post applies to, there will undoubtedly be a tendency to home in on the negative aspects, but please do consider why they are a part of your life. There must be a number of positive reasons. List the positives and negatives if you must. The negatives may not be that pleasant to write though I’m pretty certain the positives will far outweigh them. Keep the notes you make and revisit them during those times when you are doubting yourself or feeling low. If you’re comfortable enough in doing so, have a conversation with some of those people and ask them what they think of you? Why are they a part of your life and you of theirs? What do they value and appreciate about you? That really isn’t an easy thing to do though it could be a real gamechanger. After all, there is one final point from Gottleib’s talk which highlights this beautifully:
“Life is about deciding which stories to listen to and which ones need an edit. There’s nothing more important to the quality of our lives than the stories we tell ourselves about them.”
If you’re like me, please do give this some careful consideration. Widen that narrow lens which you’ll undoubtedly have been using for far too long. Seek the views of others. Think about what you truly bring to the lives of others and why people are happy to have you as part of their lives. Change the story you tell yourself on a daily basis and make it a much more positive one – it might just be the most important thing you do this year.
If you’re interested, a condensed 3-minute version of Lori Gottleib’s talk can be found here. If you enjoy it, a longer 16-minute version is also available.
As always, thanks for reading, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. But especially yourself.