The Self-Limiting Stories We Tell Ourselves
The most important story you tell is the story you tell yourself.
That is so true. We tell ourselves stories all the time. It is like there is an ongoing narrative on repeat in our minds that our actions seem to follow. The narrative is often playing in the background, and like background music, it tends to fade into to the surrounding noise to the point we forget it is even there.
What I have noticed, though, is the narrative is often full of self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs are the ideas or stories we believe about ourselves that seem to hold us down or limit us in what we believe about ourselves or what we might attempt to do with our lives. We all have self-limiting beliefs but the key is what we do with them when they start to dominate our narrative.
This is never truer for me than what I am experiencing right now as I try to father my 11-year-old son through how to battle self-limiting beliefs. I am trying to increase his awareness so he can learn how to win this fight as he continues to grow into a man. This is all playing itself out on the basketball court through the narrative he tells himself about his athletic ability when deciding whether to try out for the school basketball team.
My son, Jacob, gets caught up playing the “what if?” game in his mind. Have you ever played it? It sounds something like this:
What if I don’t make the team…
What if I make a fool of myself…
What if my friends see me and think I’m not athletic…
What if what I truly want to believe about myself is not really true at all…
What if I really don’t have what it takes to do this…
It is paralyzing. These self-limiting beliefs directly impact the actions he is willing to take. They prevent him from taking a risk. They prevent him from the possibility of wild success. They prevent him from learning and growing and failing. The fear of failure starts to define him instead of leveraging failure to develop him.
It is interesting how the narrative of the “what if” seems to always tilt towards the negative. In this case, Jacob is not asking himself the “what if” questions about all the possible positive outcomes. It is all negative.
So, I am trying to help him learn. I am trying to help him see the impact this type of thought has on his actions and ultimately on the possible outcomes he could experience. I am trying to help him learn to fight and replace those “what if” thoughts with other stories that reinforce who he is and what is possible if he will take the first step with courage.
As I am working through this with Jacob, I could not help but take step back and do a little self-evaluation. Where in my life am I limiting myself by the stories I am choosing to buy in to?
What are my “what ifs”?
What story am I telling myself?
What thoughts about myself limit me and prevent me from experiencing the best version of me?
Where do I lack courage to change the narrative?
What stories have I told myself for so long that they are just background music embedded in the rest of the noise around me?
I have learned that I need to make an exchange. I need to take my self-limiting beliefs captive and exchange them for what I know to be true. That is battleground. That is where the battle is fought and won. It is in the mind. We think. We speak. We act. Our thoughts directly impact the actions we choose to take.
It is worth the time investment to do a little self-evaluation. It is worth the investment to push through the noise to understand the stories we tell ourselves that limit actions we take or the person we could become. We need to build the habit of challenging what is today for what could be tomorrow.
Remember, the most important story you tell is the story you tell yourself.