Each of us has a personal narrative we keep hidden from the outside world.
Life can be overwhelming with all of the people, events and stimulation around us. In order to make sense of it all we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening in our lives, about other people, about who we are. It’s the narrative we’ve constructed based on our interpretation of the experiences and the realm around us.
In that story, we could be the hero, the villain—maybe even the victim. Yet too often, we get trapped in the paradigm of the character we’ve created, placing limitations on who we are and what we can achieve. These stories can trap us into behaving in a way that holds us back and creates negative interactions with those around us and a feeling of being unable to change our lives for the better.
That’s the power of storytelling within our minds. It can hold us in place or—as professor and author Joseph Campbell’s work has taught me—help us grow and change.
Campbell, who explores the concept of the hero’s journey in his book Reflections of the Art of Living, says, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
You may think your path is set, but it’s not. While there’s a lot of negative storytelling going on in our culture and the daily media, the good news is that we all have the ability to fix it—and it’s a lot easier and more fun than you might think.
If you change your story you can change the outcome and the direction of your life.
How you perceive yourself, and others, greatly determine where you’ll go in life. These feelings will also feed the stories in your mind that determine your actions and results.
At Body Talk, we train people to become more confident speakers. Some have difficulty overcoming stage fright. Others want to improve their body language. But many clients share one thing in common: they believe they aren’t good presenters, and they never will be.
That’s not the truth. That’s their story.
I help them form a new narrative. I show them how to make the mental transition from saying, “I am a nervous talker who is bad at public speaking and hates getting up in front of people,” to affirm, “I am a confident speaker who enjoys presenting before an audience.”
This isn’t about lying to yourself. It requires discovering where your story came from, unpicking the details behind it and building a new story that you genuinely believe in.
I regularly show people various ways to use storytelling to shift their mindset about all aspects of their life. These exercises help people overcome huge challenges or achieve big goals. You can also apply this to a skill you are aiming to improve. Changing your story about how good you are and what you are capable of achieving is critical to allow yourself to fulfil your true potential.
Re-imagine your story
To help individuals make big mental shifts, I sometimes ask them to close their eyes and imagine where they would love to be one year in the future – what does their ideal life look like?
Next, I’ll have them imagine the story of how they’ll get there. What current challenges are they facing that may get in the way? How will they overcome them? What aspects of their character will serve them? What person will they become if they live out this journey? Finally, what is the first step of the journey – something they can do this week that will start them on this path?
Stories change our thinking, and therefore our behaviours. So when you have created this story in full detail it’s important to write it down and repeat it over and over in your mind—you can do this as a daily meditation or while taking a walk. Reinforce the ideas until they are a habit. Eventually, they will become an established way of thinking and acting.
You can even change the stories you hold in your mind about your boss, coworkers, colleagues, family and clients. When you alter the narrative you’re telling yourself, their perceptions of you will change too. Instead of feeling like a victim of your situation you can imagine yourself feeling calm or happy within and proactively taking steps forwards towards a brighter future.
No matter where you are in your life, you can write a new story to create a better future.
Daily habits can create life-long change.
I apply this storytelling practice to my own life. Every time I open a new notebook, I turn to the front page and write down my hero’s journey – where I am, where I want to be, and what it will take to get there. I also include a list of the most important things I am grateful for in my life, to ensure I act out my story from a place of gratitude, not from a position of neediness and lack.
The most important part of storytelling is to define your path. By telling the story of how you will triumph over hardship, you create a guide that will help identify the challenges you’ll face, and overcome, to improve your life.
When I look back on my notebooks from the last two decades, I can clearly see the stories I’ve created and how far I’ve come along my own path. Sometimes I’m amazed by how accurate those stories were at describing what I achieved.
Here’s a great example. In September 2017 my business coach suggested I write a book. My immediate response was, “I am never writing a book. That would be way too much work, and who would read it?”
But, three months later, I changed my mind. I was at a goal-setting workshop and opened my notebook to a fresh page. I told myself that in one year I would write and publish a book. I wanted to put the communication skills I’ve developed in the hands of as many people as possible. I wrote a clear story and committed to taking action to begin the journey by creating a list of potential chapters within three weeks.
During my journey, I tackled each problem, one by one. Exactly one year later, to the day, I launched my book You Were Born To Speak. The book has since sold many thousands of copies, gained praise from clients and won awards. I rewrote my story—and you can too.
When you’re drafting your hero’s journey remember that the smallest action has the ability to create a chain reaction of positive change and set you on the path to realising your ideal life.
Storytelling isn’t just for entertainment. It’s also a tool you can use to achieve your goals. By altering your narrative you have the power to redefine who you are, and where you’re going. And through that journey, you have the power to transform your life.
So remember to place yourself as the hero of your own journey. Don’t wait for someone else to come along and fix your life. You are the hero you’ve been waiting for. Write the story of the year ahead, the way you would like it to turn out and take the first step of your hero’s journey to make it happen.
If you would like to learn more about improving your communication at work you can listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.