Whenever we undertake a new change in our lives — whether it’s starting a new job or business, or changing a new habit — we tell ourselves a story about it.
We’re the hero of our story. Unfortunately, it’s not usually a very good story — it involves the hero not believing he or she can do it, wanting to give up and give in to the easy route.
Imagine if the great stories of all time went along the lines of our stories:
- Harry Potter doesn’t fight Voldemort because it’s too hard and anyway, he just wants to play games and go on Reddit.
- Odysseus decides not to make the journey home because he knows himself — he’s just going to give up, and anyway, isn’t the siren’s call of Facebook/Instagram too strong?
- Don Quixote never ventures out for adventure on his brave steed Rocinante, because he doesn’t think he can do it, and instead stays home with his books of romance.
- Frodo heads back to the Shire, because he believes he doesn’t have enough discipline to stick with something very long.
These would be horrible stories, wouldn’t they? Who would root for these dudes?
The story we tell ourselves goes along these lines. They’re different for each of us, but if we’re not succeeding at something, it’s quite probably because we are telling ourselves the wrong story.
Try it now: think of a habit change you’re trying to make or that you’ve tried but failed at in the recent past. Maybe exercise, meditation, writing, defeating procrastination, etc. Now think about what story you told yourself about yourself. What image did you see in your head of yourself? Was it a brave hero triumphing over all odds, never to be deterred by the forces marshalled against him by the cold, harsh universe? Or was it of an ordinary character who probably would give in to the doughnuts and Netflix when things got hard?
Maybe you can’t hear the story you’ve told yourself. Instead, try to sense what feeling is in your heart as you think of yourself conquering this new habit change or life change. Does it feel full of doubt, anxiety, fear, dread? Or is it full of joy, triumph, deep caring? The song you’re singing to yourself (unnoticed by you) is of that note, that chord that you’re feeling in your heartstrings.
We fail because of this story. It stands in our way, more than the actual thing we’re facing. When things get tough or uncomfortable, we tell ourselves: it’s OK to quit, it doesn’t matter, we’ll do it next time, we’re not disciplined enough, we suck at this, we can’t do it, it’s too hard, it would be nice to take a break, life is too short to struggle, we deserve a reward, just this once won’t matter, we’re going to fail, it’s better to fail quietly, we just don’t feel like it right now, let’s not think about this, hey a squirrel!
So what can we do if our story is working against us?
Change the damn story. Create a song to sing about yourself as the epic hero of your dreams. Sing this song daily, and be proud of it. Go after the dream, fight the forces of distraction and dullness and self-doubt, rise up to be your best self. You are the writer of your story, the composer of your song, and every moment is a chance to rewrite it, a new draft ready to be crafted into something better.
Or drop the story. See that without the storytelling you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something … there’s just the physical reality of the world around you, no quitter and no hero. Just you and this moment, and it’s a good moment, and without the distraction of a story, you have a basic underlying goodness and love in your heart. That’s all you need: just take this love in your heart and be happy, and do the things that are compassionate for yourself. The struggles you’ve been up against can all go away if you relax them and turn to the goodness of this moment, and take a loving step.