This is a guest post by Benyamin Elias of Routine Excellence.
You’ve tried to work out, read more, or finally write that novel more times than you can count. You tell yourself that this time will be different, but it never is.
Eventually you tell yourself that you are just not the kind of person that does [fill in the blank]. You don’t have the willpower and you never will.
Falling victim to the stories we tell ourselves is so easy to do and so hard to recognize when we are doing it.
In my story, I held on to the hope that there was nothing wrong even when I heard my hamstring snap in half.
By the time I had torn my hamstring, I had already been injured several times. A sports hernia, sprained ankle, strained rhomboid, and partially torn MCLs – along with the hamstring – have left me thoroughly sick of being injured.
While I collapsed, hoping the sudden shock of missing an essential muscle was “just a cramp,” a thought flashed through my mind – “I guess I’m destined to be injured.”
Then I stopped myself, like I had with each of the injuries beforehand, and changed my story. I am not “destined to be injured.” I am injured right now, and I can change that.
The stories we tell ourselves and the characters we build change the way we see the world. They change how happy we are, how active we are, and how productive we can be.
In my story, I chose not to be the victim. I suffered through my physical therapy, and my injuries spurred me to learn more about safer and more effective training methods. Because of my study of anatomy and training, I learned how to look better and become more athletic.
It wouldn’t have been possible without redefining my story.
In our stories, we rarely make ourselves the villain. But that doesn’t mean we are a hero. We can frame ourselves as victims. We can become silent, passive observers. It’s easy to become those characters without even realizing.
Is a victim a good role model?
It’s an easy question to answer. Do you want to teach your kids to become victims, at the whims of people and events around them? Or do you want to become a hero and teach them to control what they can and accept what they cannot?
You can do that by rewriting your story. Picture some of the everyday stories we tell ourselves:
- People never listen to me when I have good ideas
- I should be doing better in life than I am. Just look at [coworker, friend, sibling, random successful person]
- I could never really be fit and active
- Every time I want to relax, something annoying happens and ruins my day
In addition to telling ourselves these stories, we create ourselves as characters. Everyone has beliefs about who they are – that’s not a problem. What is a problem is assigning ourselves negative labels like:
- I’m lazy and unmotivated
- I’m a screwup
- I’m an angry and temperamental person
Our stories and perceptions become our reality. How can we rewrite our stories to turn ourselves into heros?
Rewriting Your Stories
Negative stories lead to negative perceptions lead to negative experiences lead to negative role models. The good news is that you can change your stories.
Why? Because they are flawed.
You can rewrite your stories by jotting them down and then tearing them apart with simple logic. Interrogate the story until it breaks or proves itself. Ask questions like:
- Is this always true?
- Do other people feel the same way sometimes? Is this a normal part of being human?
- What steps can I take to change this?
Let’s take a look at some of the above stories.
“I’m lazy and unmotivated”
Everyone is lazy when it comes to some things. I’m active 6 days a week, but I have to really push myself to get off my butt and do laundry.
It’s natural to feel lazy sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s who you are. The very fact that you’re reading this proves that you’re motivated to make yourself better and become a positive role model.
You may feel lazy when it comes to some things, but aren’t there aspects of your life that you do care about and put a lot of effort into? Rewrite your story. Instead of saying “I’m lazy and unmotivated,” try “I’m having trouble being motivated to do X.”
If your lack of motivation is part of your identity you will never overcome it. But if it is a characteristic of a specific task? Then you can strategize and find ways to improve.
“I could never really be fit”
No one magically becomes fit. With consistent work over a good chunk of time, you can reach your goals (or at least get closer to them).
Especially if you’ve tried to work out and failed, being fit can seem like a pipe dream. With a clear difference between how you look and how you want to look, it’s hard to imagine that success is even possible.
It is possible, and you can prove it to yourself. There are hundreds of transformation stories online. Take a look at some two or three year transformations. Focus on the people that started in a situation similar to yours. Know that it can be done, one small step at a time.
Then, appreciate that it’s normal to feel the way you do. Lots of people feel like fitness is a tiresome, painful chore, and you are not a bad or lazy person for thinking so. Fitness motivation can be difficult to come by, but you can make it easier by rewriting your story.
If you believe the statement “I could never be fit,” there’s no point in even trying. If you change it to “it will take a while to get fit and I’m having trouble motivating myself” you can come up with a plan of action.
“I should be doing better in life than I am.”
Says who? Based on what?
“Should” stories like this are dangerous because they cause a sense of obligation, guilt, and shame. Famed psychologist Albert Ellis called these kinds of stories “musterbation.”
The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter what “should” have happened. The past is very much out of your control, but you can still shape the direction of your future.
Everyone feels like there’s something they “should” be doing better at or activities they “shouldn’t” have done and regret. It’s human to have regrets and missed opportunities.
So again, rewrite your story. Instead of “I should be doing better in life than I am,” try “I’ve made some mistakes and I’m not where I’d like to be – yet.” You don’t have to ignore the reality of your situation, but focusing on how to improve it puts you back in control of the story.
Becoming the hero of your story means recognizing what you can control and taking action, no matter how small, to control it.
Rewriting your story to avoid overgeneralizations and unreasonable expectations breaks you away from the victim and observer mindsets. It allows you to take steps to improve yourself and be a positive role model for those around you.
How can you rewrite your story?
If you enjoyed this post, check out Routine Excellence for more great articles by Benyamin Elias.
More About Benyamin:
Benyamin Elias is a fitness and habit coach for people who are tired of hearing “Just Do It.” He uses his degree in Psychology to help people look and feel good by developing healthy lifestyles, conquering fear of the gym, and finding workout programs they can stick to – even if their only workout is straining to get off the couch.