Two men looked through prison bars,
one saw mud
the other saw stars – Author unknown
A key to whether we see mud or stars is based on what story we believe and tell ourselves. The power of this internal narrative can be illustrated with the placebo effect.
One time I was having difficulty sleeping and a friend gave me a pill that she described as a powerful sleep aid. That night I slept like a baby. The next day I was informed that I had ingested a vitamin C tablet. My internal script about that pill put me to sleep.
Some of our internal guiding narratives are deeply engrained and shaped by our early experiences. Take the whole experience of inferiority. Where did this come from? A person who feels “less than” often had their performance compared to that of others. “Why can’t you be like…?” sets off a chain of judgment and chronic comparison with others.
Sometimes we just make up stories based on cultural factors about what constitutes the ‘ideal’ person or condition. A story line that one is not thin, smart, or worthy enough is a sure fire formula for misery.
How do we change this misery-generating script? We begin by
- Recognizing that we are the authors of our own story.
Yes, that’s right, we wrote that misery script (often dictated by others) and by the same token we can change it.
I love what Ros and Ben Zander write in “The Art of Possibility” about the story we invented, “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that advances our quality of life and that of those around us.”
Question. What story can you make up about yourself that will enhance your life and that of others? (You may as well make up one that works for you and others)
So how then do we edit that misery-producing story? In what way can we reprogram ourselves? We can begin by
- Thinking our way into a new way of acting
Inventing a new story involves asking questions like,
“What do I have to do to stay in the moment?”
“How can I make a contribution today?”
“Where can I find an opportunity in this difficulty?”
“What do I have to do to give an inspiring speech?”
Powerful questions such as these set off a positive chain reaction within us that undermines a negative mental disposition. Our thinking can literally be reshaped.
Have you ever watched a champion gymnast mentally rehearsing an upcoming routine? Are they remembering a time when they failed miserably at the maneuver? On the contrary, they are running through the script of a perfect performance. Like the athlete we can reshape ourselves into possibility thinkers.
Question: What empowering question can you ask yourself today?
Now let’s look at the editing process from the additional perspective of,
- Acting our way into a new way of thinking.
As a psychologist I treated depressed people. One successful practice for some persons with this struggle was to suggest physical activity that they once enjoyed. The first time out it may have been a walk around the block and it steadily progressed to more extensive exercise. The body behaved in healthy ways and slowly the mind followed suit.
When I was going through a very difficult time in my life about two decades ago I decided to go to a dance class. I found it very difficult to be depressed and dance at the same time.
Question. What life affirming behavior can you engage in to reverse your negative mental script?
I write this just before Easter Sunday. In the Christian calendar this is one of those days when we affirm that no matter how great our suffering and disappointment we can rise again. The symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is another metaphor of a power in the universe and within us and that facilitates the realization of new possibilities.
Imagine a world where you realized new possibilities for yourself.
What would that world look like?