Do Your Stories Keep You Stuck?

I recently went to lunch with a friend who works as a therapist. We began talking about how the stories that we often tell become the reason that we become stuck or unable to move forward in obtaining those goals or objectives that we say are important to us.

He told me of a woman who met with him that insisted that she needed his help convincing her husband that he was wrong and that she was right. When he asked her in what way she wanted to be right, she responded with something like this: “He is a lazy lout. He leaves his dirty clothes and socks all over the place. All he does is watch sports on TV from the time he comes home from work. He doesn’t talk. He is a terrible father to our children, and he doesn’t help around the house!” My friend asked the woman, “Have you tried talking with your husband about these issues?” She responded, “Yes almost daily, but all he ever says is, ‘Got it,’ then he goes back to watching TV.”

My friend thought for a minute and then asked, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to improve the relationship?” To which she responded, “You know I am right! And I will have a happy, committed, open, loving marriage even if it kills me!!!” He told her that given the way she was thinking and acting, her marriage would probably kill her.  Then to his surprise, she started telling her story all over again.

We all have stories to tell, but sometimes our stories become the substitute for results. For example, those who continue to tell themselves that they can’t talk about what matters most, use their story as the excuse for not talking and then use their inaction and poor results to reinforce their story by telling themselves that they knew they couldn’t do it or that it wouldn’t work. It is easy to caught up in this cycle of negative belief which becomes both the reason for their inaction and the justification for continuing poor results.

Sometimes we don’t have any evidence that our stories are true, so we project into the future with no evidence in the present what we think will come to pass. In essence we breathe life into what we believe because we believe it, and then whether our stories are true or inaccurate makes no difference because they are “true” to us; we come to accept reality for how we perceive it to be. In essence we tell ourselves a story, live out that story in a way that creates the very thing that we wanted to believe in the first place. 

In order to help you become unstuck and create more of what you want, consider the following questions in light of the stories that you may frequently tell.

What results are you currently receiving?

This question is intended to force you to look at the results that you are currently receiving and identify if those results are what you want. The first step to improving anything grows out of the awareness that you are not satisfied or happy with the current state of affairs.

Why do you get the results that you get?

This question should help you tell your story. Give as much thought and analysis to it as you can. Also add as much detail or explanation as possible as you tell it. You might even want to write your story down so you can look it over and read it as many times as you would like. There is nothing quite so powerful as making the obvious visible, so that you can deliberately recognize what you are creating for yourself and why. You can’t change what you can’t see or are aware of.

Do you really want to continue to believe your story?  

We often believe the stories we tell because there is usually some payoff or benefit in believing what we think. So what is the payoff? Sometimes our own perception of ourselves is so inaccurate that it is just easier to think about things the way we have always have. In other situations the evidence we have for what we believe is all we have ever experienced, so the lack of any evidence to the contrary keeps us thinking exactly what we have always thought. Or perhaps the fear of the unknown just makes it easier to stay exactly where we are. Whatever the situation, try to identify why you think the way you do and begin to challenge your thinking.

How do you contribute to the results that you are receiving?

The question is not whether you contribute to your results, but how you create what you get. You need to recognize that you either do or don’t do something that contributes to your results. Results just don’t happen all by themselves. You have a part in what you are creating for yourself. If you can see what you are doing, then you place yourself in the position of making a choice, doing something differently, and achieving different results.

Is your story a “victim” story?  

People often tell victim stories to relieve themselves of any responsibility for their results. These stories usually show up in three different versions: helpless, hopeless, or hapless stories. A helpless story is usually where an individual lacks certain ability, so they are constantly saying something like, “I can’t do that.” Hopeless stories indicate a lack of hope or motivation on the part of the individual and usually sounds like, “That will never work.” Finally, hapless stories rely on luck, some outside force or individual, or even divine providence for things to work or improve. For example, the hapless story might sound like, “I’m never the lucky one," or "It’s their fault that things worked out this way.” Whatever the case, responsibility and accountability always resides outside of the individual.

Can you interpret the data or facts of the situation in a different way?

We often become so used to interpreting events in the same way, that we never stop and ask ourselves if there is another way to see the same set of circumstances. The whole point is about forcing a different perspective rather than continuing to see things from the same perspective. Learning to see things differently may serve as the motivation to try or identify different options that when executed will yield different results. This is not easy because we usually see what we are looking for, so you must notice how you are interpreting events and then ask yourself if there is a different way to see the same circumstance.

Are you ready to receive something different in your life?

Someone once told me that most people won’t change until the pain is great enough. I have always thought of that of being extreme because most individuals when presented with the opportunity for improvement will take that road if they can see the advantage for doing so. What is important is to see where you are and then make a deliberate decision to take action, even if that action is relatively small to begin with. Beginning this process will help you gain momentum to move forward rather than staying in the same place, telling the same story, and never creating the results that you really want.  

Rather than getting stuck in our stories, we ought to be more aware of the stories that we tell and ask ourselves whether those stories hurt or help us to achieve the results that we really desire. It may require that we go a little deeper in understanding ourselves and become more aware of where we are and where we want to go. If we are more deliberate in our efforts to achieve the things that matter most to us, then we will learn to create and tell different stories that will help us on our way.