It’s becoming ever so clear to me that you justify your actions (or lack of) based on the stories you tell yourself.
AKA There’s always another effing excuse for why you’re doing it or not.
And that doesn’t make you special. We all do it. But since there are behaviors that separate the haves from the have nots, it’s my duty to call this out for you, for myself, for all of us.
Here’s a story for you:
For many years, I had a relatively severe form of anxiety and panic disorder. In one of its many manifestations, a drunken or unwell feeling would wash over me every time I forced myself behind the wheel in my 3+ hours of daily commuting, which was only getting worse as the Denver population doubled, then tripled, and then doubled again.
It started with the urge to pass out while traveling at 55 MPH on the highway. The other drivers around me were busy reading their morning newspaper spread across the steering wheel, coffee in one hand, and mascara wand or cell phone in the other. I’d finally get to work, shaken, because those same drivers were weaving in and out and under semi trucks, playing gangster tag with every single motorcyclist without a helmet.
And then every day, after working with baby brain surgeons and the parents of babies needing brain surgery, I’d get back in my car and repeat. Except that the evening commute rarely had newspapers and instead had the stale scent of boozy breath and cigar smoke billowing out their windows. Yay.
Sometimes I’d pull over because I realized the risk to my health and everyone else’s on the road. Other times, I’d let my rational, calm self talk myself through it, smacking my cheeks a little to ground me.
Eventually it got to the point where I didn’t drive the highway anymore.
And then I gave up driving altogether. I’d take the bus. At least then the only a risk was of someone spilling their bong water on me or being stuck in the middle of a riot. More commonly, the risk was that someone with coffee and cigarette breath would cozy up next to me and ask if I could make them a doily. I’d take my chances, though. Most of the time it was just typical business professionals commuting on the 20 line. I could listen to my audiobooks and knit. I survived without a lot of anxiety over commuting after that.
But it took literally YEARS after quitting gluten (which 100% eliminated my anxiety disorder) before I became comfortable with driving at all. Because I continued on with my story of “I don’t drive on the highway,” which I piggybacked with, “I also don’t drive in the snow,” and provided the finishing touch of, “If I never had to drive again, I’d be okay with that.”
Granted, I don’t really HAVE to change that story. I can do just fine letting my husband drive me around. But as I was driving back and forth from moving my mother-in-law these last few days, I recognized that those stories might no longer suit me. I’ve driven in snow several times this winter… and nothing happened.
I was going 65 MPH yesterday and didn’t even consider hyperventilating. It was JUST driving.
It’s a story. That whole driving thing. It might have been true once, especially when drenched in anxiety… but now, I could let that story stay and inhibit me, or I could set it down.
Other stories came up for me while I was doing the constant back and forth of dragging my MIL’s possessions from her old home to the cars, and from the cars into her new home. See, I had a lot of time to think in the last few days, since I wasn’t in front of the computer.
Examples of of those stories:
A physically well person saying they can’t physically do something because they don’t want to risk injury due to previous trouble. It came to my mind as a story as I reflected on how I also have that same issue, but I hadn’t thought about it even once because I wasn’t actively in pain. I’m not going to intentionally hurt myself, but that possibility of physical brokenness isn’t part of my story.
And, throughout the move, while hearing (again) the reason behind why a possession is precious and sentimental, I realized the story as I reflected on how eventually we will have to let go of a bunch of that stuff because very little of it means anything to the rest of us – only the person who holds the emotion to it.
Another example: if you tell yourself that you always get a front row parking spot, or that you enjoy parking a distance from the entrance to a store so you can get your steps in, you are never mad about where you end up parking.
Your story could be that you’re always lucky.
Or if you are driving and not in a hurry, it doesn’t matter so much what the other drivers are doing. As long as you’re in line and moving forward, it’s unnecessary to change lanes to get around anyone. You’ll get there just the same, and you budgeted plenty of time. And if you’re running late, well… that’s another story because in 99% of the situations while going from point A to point B, the outcome of timeliness is relative to who you’re meeting and can be easily explained away every time with, “Traffic was bad.”
It isn’t wrong to have a story and these aren’t “wrong” assessments on any of our part. Just like my anxiety while driving, it doesn’t make the experience illegitimate. It doesn’t change the physical reality of the body or real world.
But what DOES affect us is what story we assign our life, and how it relates to how benevolent we believe our existence to be.
And… ultimately, it affects the goals we set out to accomplish, our belief that we are capable of accomplishing them, and our motivation to take the steps necessary to wade through the murky waters of doing new things.
Our stories directly impact our behavior and choices to follow through with our goals.
To bring this very long blog post home, I challenge you to pause every single time you have a reason for not doing something that might lead you one step closer to your goals.
Mentally sit with yourself right now and scan your mind for the latest excuse for why you didn’t do the things you laid you before you in plans.
And next time you approach a step in the plan that has a huge obstacle, I challenge you to ask yourself if that obstacle is a story, or if there is another way around it. If it is a story, ask yourself, “Is it really true?”
You might say yes at first. But there’s a part of you inside that will remember your questioning and eventually may convince the believer in you to move from inaction into taking great leaps of faith. Make a new pact with yourself right this minute: to be aware of your stories and to question them as they come up for you.
I have a sneaking suspicion this one little shift could change your entire universe.
Happy story-telling. 🗣
If you liked this post, please comment below with one of the stories you suspect is holding you back!
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