The current state of your life is a result of the stories you tell yourself, about yourself. For example, if you have a story of not being good enough, this narrative will likely play out in aspects of your life – your job, relationships and social life. To change your life, you need to change the limiting beliefs you have about yourself.
Think for a moment of your self limiting beliefs. Many of these beliefs start with “I’m not . . . ”; “I can’t . . . ”; or “I’ll never . . . ” Our thoughts seem to repeat over and over, and the more they repeat, the more believable they seem. They can follow themes for short periods, years or even a lifetime. You may seek confirmation for these beliefs and dismiss events that don’t confirm your belief.
There are schools of therapy and mindfulness practices dedicated to the eradication of negative self talk. For example, Narrative Therapy is a process of ‘re-storying’ your beliefs in more productive ways. The premise is that human beings are constantly interpreting things to make meaning of our experiences. The stories we have about our lives are created through linking certain events in a particular sequence across a time period, and finding a way to make sense of them. This meaning forms the plot of our story. Therapy helps the client create a new narrative about themselves.
According to the Dulwich Center, a clinical practice that specializes in Narrative Therapy in Australia, we all have many stories about our lives and relationships, occurring simultaneously. For example, we have stories about ourselves, our abilities, our struggles, our competencies, our actions, our desires, our relationships, our work, our interests, our conquests, our achievements, our failures. The way we have developed these stories is determined by how we have linked certain events together in a sequence and by the meaning we have attributed to them. Narrative therapy theory suggests that there is no “objective reality” or absolute truth. What is true for us may not be true for another person, or even for ourselves at another point in time.
Thoughts are not facts. They are simply electrochemical impulses in our brain. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) recommends that you not believe everything you think. It is not the event which causes our emotional distress and behavioral reactions, but the meaning we give that event that results in particular emotions and behaviors.
Elisha Goldstein, author of Uncovering Happiness, recommends that we put some space between our reactions and our thoughts. Watch your thoughts come and go instead of treating them as facts. If you’re stuck on a negative thought, ask yourself – Is it true? Is it absolutely true? How does this thought make me feel? What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief? Examining thoughts in this way creates space for a new story to develop.
Want to test out the idea that thoughts are not facts?
• Pick a thought that feels factual to you (e.g., ’I am not very good at my job’ or ‘I’m a great friend’)
• Rate the thought on a scale of 1-10 based on how factual the thought seems (1 = absolutely false, 10 = absolutely true)
• Write down the thought and its rating. Put it in your pocket.
• Rate that same thought again tomorrow and over the course of several days (especially apply attention to it after you experience incidents related to it)
You will likely notice that how factual the thought seems will fluctuate moment to moment, day to day. It becomes apparent with practice that what we see as factual in the thoughts we have is not always trustworthy.
In summary, thoughts are not facts. You are not your negative thoughts. There is more to you than your self limiting story. Believe that it’s only a story and create a new narrative.