Last time we learned about some of the fascinating science behind epigenetics and why the narratives we tell ourselves matter. This time I want to get more into how we can actively take part in creating our own story, not just on the psychological level but even on the genetic level.
So much affects our health. Stress and gene expression are two huge components. Here are some of the proven ways to positively impact gene expression and stress levels:
Mental training such as reframing and cognitive behavioral approaches
I plan to talk about all of these methods throughout my blog (check out my three part series on breathing) but today I want to talk about the last one, mental reframing and the story we tell ourselves.
Changing our inner narrative can feel like an impossible task. The story we tell ourselves is often the only one we know, and so it feels impossible that anything else could be true. And yet it is almost always is only one side of a many sided dice, where each side is like an alternate reality. Take my example from my last post, about how one might react to dropping a glass on the floor. Both inner dialogues could feel equally true. And when you are in the process of changing your story it can feel like the two are at war within your head.
I say this from experience. There was a time in my life not too long ago where the story I was telling myself was creating destruction and chaos in my life. My self confidence was plummeting, I was having crippling anxiety and depression, I was losing weight beyond what was healthy, and I felt I was broken. And yet somehow, for some reason unknown to me but that I am forever grateful for, some part of me knew it wasn't true. Some part of me knew this wasn't the story I had to live, but a story I was choosing to live. It was a war inside my mind and spirit for some time, but through much vulnerable work, and with the help of talented healers and therapists I began to create a new story and experiences to back up that new story.
Today my story is one of empowerment and agency and a knowledge that I can always change my story. That is to say, I still have things I need to work on and there are still days I get pulled into the old story, sometimes for weeks on end. But the experience of changing my dominant story gave me faith that it can be done, and a body memory of how it is done.
First off, it is a gradual process. And it is not about a forced positive attitude. Although the courage to try something different is essential and a willingness to look for and see the positive is also important.
But the destructive story often has a message for us. And until that message is heard it will come back persistently and often grow in strength.
The first step is a desire to know your own story, as often it runs unconsciously in the background. With this desire to know, next time you catch yourself thinking something unhelpful to yourself, or about to do something you know is not in your best interest try to just pause. Take a few deep breaths. And in that pause ask yourself, as if you were asking a child, with compassion and as much genuine curiosity as you can muster, why am I doing this? What is the pain I am wanting to fill? What is the true hurt? And try to just wait for the answer to emerge.
When the answer does emerge then you have a moment of choice. And here is the strange thing about this moment of choice; there is no right choice. You may still choose to engage in the "destructive" thought or behavior, but if you truly understood why you are doing something the power it has over you will start to diminish. Instead, the rant of self pity, or the eating of that one two many cookies may feel cathartic but perhaps like the last dying breaths of a spent emotion, making room for new ones. You have brought consciousness to the darkness.
As you realize what your story was and see the ways in which it does not hold water a new possible story will likely emerge. Here it is often helpful to write the new story in the form of an affirmation, to remind yourself, as at first it may want to slip away. And now your job is to look for evidence to support it and to create experiences that support it.
Some of the ways we do this is to forgive those we were blaming and instead look for and focus on the strengths that allowed us to survive the hurt. We find what at first may seem like little ways in which our new story is taking root, such as perhaps being less hard on ourselves next time we drop a cup, and notice and appreciate ourselves for those moments. And we notice when the old story still surfaces and hold that part of ourselves with compassion. Then, as we are able, we start to bring the new story to more difficult situations, like perhaps when we feel we didn't do the best we could have at a big public speaking event, we instead choose to focus on the achievement of trying, knowing that each time we will improve and without the experience of trying there would be no opportunity for improvement.
Changing your story takes a certain mindful awareness. But it is well worth it, and like a muscle, as you practice the skill of being able to change your story, you will find the frame through which you view the world becomes much more malleable, opening up possibilities for further growth and expansion in what you believe to be possible for yourself and the world.
It is not an easy process, and having a witness and support outside yourself, like a coach or a therapist can be of immense help. But it can be done.
Start with an openness and desire to know, on a conscious level what your story is.
Next time you notice yourself about to repeat an undesirable story, whether it be a thought process or an action, try to pause and notice. Ask "why am I doing this?" "How is this serving me?" "What is actually hurting?" And wait for an answer to emerge.
Enjoy the moment of choice and just notice what happens, whatever you choose. There is no right choice.
See if a new possible story emerges, as the old one loses its power.
Look for evidence, acknowledge and appreciate, and create experiences that support the new story.
I hope you found this blog post helpful. It is not an easy thing to do, to change the narrative you tell yourself. But it is well worth the journey I think, and when you do manage to shift it, it will be like your whole worldview has opened up. It will be a paradigm shift.
Do you have a personal success story of shifting your inner narrative? Please share in the comments below as inspiration for others!