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What story are you telling yourself?

What stories are you telling yourself?

Why do you believe them?

What if they were not true?

The stories we tell ourselves often keep us stuck.  We use stories to explain – both consciously and unconsciously – the complex world around us to help make meaning and offer some feeling of certainty.

When the stories are accurate, they help us take action in a situation with assurance and confidence, leading to a valued outcome.  However, when the story is not correct, the actions we take are often not valuable for that circumstance, and often leads to poor outcomes.

What stories do we tell ourselves?

In any experience, we tell ourselves 5 stories: These are about the 5c’s: context, capacity, capability, control and culpability.

Context tells us about the ‘rules’ for that situation.  It is why people behave differently at church than they do drinking with their mates.  They have deeply set context stories about what is appropriate or not in each setting.

Capacity stories tell us what we believe is possible in a situation for us and for others.  How much of that capacity do we believe is or could be applied?  It is why people believe they can or cannot have the time, space or resources to perform in a certain moment.

Consider someone under pressure who thinks they can push on, versus someone who believes they are at their limit.  They will behave very differently (and either could be right or wrong in this situation)

Capability stories tell us about the skills we have (or don’t have) and how we can use them in the circumstance.  If we believe we have the right skill, then we will apply it to get our desired outcome.  However, this can lead to the wrong skill being used, or even valuable skills overlooked leading to less than optimal outcomes. Consider two people who tell themselves capability stories about their driving skills.  One has confidence/overconfidence whilst the other has caution/fear.  How they behave on the roads will be very different.

Control stories tell us how much of the current circumstance is in our control.  This is often a big driver of poor thinking and action – when we believe we should have more control over things than we do, or when we believe some higher power has control of things that are simply random.  This can change the actions we take and massively impact our outcomes.

Culpability stories define who is to ‘blame’.  Are we to blame, someone else, or is it chance?   Where we allocate blame for what happens / has happened will also have an impact upon the actions we take and the results we can achieve.

When you are stuck, exploring the stories you are telling yourself can begin to unlock the assumptions behind the actions that are leading to outcomes that don’t serve you.

Think of the following situations and the stories that people (maybe you) tell themselves:

  • Perfectionism
  • Bad luck
  • Overconfidence
  • untrustworthy
  • They hate me
  • I should/must do
  • I’m not safe
  • I cannot break this habit

These are a few of the common areas where people tell themselves ‘stories’ that don’t serve them.  There are many more.

What stories are you telling yourself?

We unconsciously generate stories and then seek evidence to prove them (known as confirmation bias) to help us understand novel situations we find ourselves in.  We build up this evidence over the course of our lives and make these stories genuine parts of our identity picture.  The story shifts into some kind of  ‘truth’ on which we unconsciously act.

How can the story be wrong?

The stories we tell ourselves are often false or out of date.  Stories are often created as a means to try to understand ‘what happened’ in a situation.  It comes from what we have learned after going through an experience.  If the situation was scary, intense or challenging, we can even ruminate on the experience and create all sorts of ‘stories’ for what happened.  The meaning that we generate from the experience is often created from my a limited knowledge base (as we have never done that before). There is nothing to challenge the story we create, so it could be wrong from the start.  Consider someone who wins on their first spin on the pokies – who now believes they are ‘lucky’ or ‘good at it’ rather than recognise it was simply time for that machine to pay out.

On the other hand, stories run out of their use by date.  Consider children who believe in Santa – a belief that they readily change as they grow up into adulthood.  There are times when a ‘true’ story around out 5 C’s also passes its use by date, and unless we are prepared to test and challenge our stories, they can go off like out of date milk in the fridge.

Think about a child who cannot ride a bike and tells themselves a story like “I’m no good at anything”, versus another child who tells themselves “Almost there, I just have practice a little harder”.  If these stories are what they tell themselves throughout their lives in different situations, imagine the different outcomes this will lead to?

What are the stories that you tell yourself?

How do you know they are true?

How are they keeping you stuck?


What story, if you changed it, would radically change your life?

I work with corporate and clinical clients to unlock their stories, and help them define where they are helpful, and where they are not.  Often, understanding and addressing the assumptions of the story can allow people the opportunity to rewrite their narratives and create powerful, healthy ways to get better outcomes, get unstuck, and move ahead in their lives.

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