Stories enchant us; they motivate us, but most of all, they define us. We all want to live a better life—be more creative, more authentic, and more empowered. We head out the door each morning vowing to be focused, eat healthier, and speak our truth. Yet, what we often fail to attend to is the one thing that may be lurking just beneath the surface and preventing us from living the life we desire--our story.
Deep within us, we all have a story, an unseen narrative that unfolds in our minds and anchors us to where we are today. The important thing to remember is that an anchor can ground you in rough seas, but it can also prevent you from moving forward. I invite you to take a moment, step back, and honestly evaluate the narrative in your life. What is it whispering to you?
How do we go about accessing our subtle narrative, and more importantly, are we powerless in allowing it dominance in our present life? A fruitful place to begin this discussion is by looking at metaphor and our mind’s ability to craft it into our narrative. A “metaphor” is word or phrase that denotes an object or idea in place of another—It is a type analogy by which we begin to understand something that is difficult to interpret. “Metaphor” has its roots from the Greek pherein, meaning “to carry”, and meta, meaning “beyond” or “over”. The power of metaphor has been a dominant presence throughout human history, as witnessed in our songs, dances, fairytales, and religious ceremonies.
Within all of us, is an ever-present ache—a desire to be loved, to feel connection, and a sense of belonging. Our heroes are mined from our family, our community, and greater society. We are captivated by others’ success and a their ability to transcend adversity. We long to find something in the stories of others that carries us out of our own mundane lives, or even more so, beyond whatever adversity that might be holding us back. We weave our “story” out of the fabric of metaphor that we graft from the lives of those around us. Unfortunately, many of us get “stuck” in the negativity of a self-constructed life story that serves only to overwhelm us and derail our opportunities to live the life we want to live.
Ironically, the solution to this problem lies within the problem itself—our mind. We are not slaves to the "machine" of our mind, so we have the ability to rethink the way we think. By stepping back and honestly evaluating how our “story” is sabotaging our life, we can enact a few important steps to move beyond the negative metaphor and self-talk and begin to craft a “new narrative”.
1. Do the things I say to myself make me feel “empowered” or “disenfranchised”?
At times we are all guilty of wallowing in the mire of our own negativity. Begin to adopt the strategy of focusing on what is right in your life rather than on what is not to your liking.
2. What is the underlying metaphor of my current overriding emotion?
Are you attaching how you feel at the moment to a self-sabotaging metaphor? For instance, is your internal monologue consumed by metaphors like, bottling up emotions, feeling swamped at work, or an overwhelming sense of being lost?
3. Is what I am saying to myself actually valid? Another way to look at this is to ask yourself, is the opposite to what I say also true?
Every truth is indeed one-sided, so what I might perceive as someone being hostile and pushing me away, might be perceived as self-preservation to that individual.
4. Do I have a positive personal experience, or an example of someone in my life who embodies characteristics of a roadmap to a more positive narrative?
It was Robert Frost who said, “The best way out is always through.” It’s very easy to become a victim of our past, and allow a feeling of “defeat” to dominate our life story. Whenever you feel you’ve become “stuck” in this foreboding doom, cling to a time in your life when you successfully rode through the adversity, or look toward someone in your life who embodies the characteristics you most admire.
5. Do you have the perseverance to transform states into traits?
Doing something once and expecting it to have a lasting impact on your life is unrealistic to say the least. Just as an athlete submits to rigorous training to develop stamina and muscle, so to do we need to practice self-reflection and positive metaphor ideation. By following this approach, we develop the habit of resiliency and positive thinking, and in so doing, contented “states” become happiness “traits”.
We all have our story—and our story is us. Our past is carried into our present, and it becomes our companion in the future as well. Our life becomes richer and more fulfilling when we learn that our story is simply that—a story. The magic lies in our ability to nurture it, release it, and craft a new one. I’d like to leave you with the evocative words of the poet, C. JoyBell C. “A star falls from the sky and into your hands. Then it seeps through your veins and swims inside your blood and becomes every part of you. And then you have to put it back into the sky. And it's the most painful thing you'll ever have to do and that you've ever done. But what's yours is yours. Whether it’s up in the sky or here in your hands.”