Food for thought

Change Your Story, Change Your Life

By March 11, 2021 No Comments

We’ve been searching for the fountain of youth since what seems like the beginning of time. And while I’m *pretty sure* it doesn’t actually exist, what we can do is see if there are certain factors that lead to living a longer life.

So when scientists at Yale University followed adults for twenty years to uncover the secrets to a long life, they found one thing that could change everything.

People who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. You read that right, if you say and think that getting older is going to be awesome you’re likely to live 7.6 years longer than your friend who says: “I think getting older is going to suck.”

Studies prove the life changing magic of a productive story. Are you going to get that promotion at work? Will you hit your fitness and nutrition goals this year? The single biggest predictor for all these events is not the actual facts of your situation, but the story you tell yourself. 

WHAT?! This is amazing.

With that being said, there’s an epidemic of plain awful storytelling going on in our world right now. The good news is that we can fix that. The best news is that it’s not as hard as you might believe. 

At the height of the Blitz when World War II seemed like a lost cause, Winston Churchill said one simple thing, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Five words, a simple narrative reset, that changed the course of history.

But of course, five words aren’t always going to be the key to all of your success. The secret is to identify the ideas that send your brain into a negative spiral and shift those into a productive mindset. Here are four ways to help you change your story.

  1. Stop doom scrolling.

I read somewhere that people take in an average of 14 newspapers worth of information every day, and the vast majority of it is junk. Junk storytelling is doing to our minds what junk food does to our bodies. The single best thing you can do to reset your narrative is simple: don’t take in too much junk. One of my clients calls her lunchtime scrolls on Facebook, “doom scrolling” because of how it makes her feel after.

How can you tell if you have a lot of junk in your storytelling diet? Junk stories are any kind of story that’s written or presented in a way to rile up your emotions. It’s like eating tons of sugar and no protein. It triggers an emotional response, but just like a huge ice cream sundae, there’s no nutrition in it, and we can get addicted to the sugar. Junk stories tend to create junk thinking, and it’s really bad for our brains.

  1. Look at the big picture.

When I was first learning to turn in ballet, I would go off course. What should have been a bee line from one corner of the room to another, turned into me turning in place or taking out any other dancer in a 10 foot radius. Where I set my eyes, my body went.

We all tend to obsess over the things we’re afraid of, whether it’s COVID or a fight with your spouse. The problem is, in life as in dance, we go where our eyes go. So, when you read lots of stories, and tell lots of stories, about how bad things are likely to be, you literally make that bad thing more likely to happen.

But therein lies the secret to changing this pattern: see the big picture, don’t get caught up in the details. Instead of obsessing over all the things that could go wrong, focus on all the things that could go right. Tell stories, to your family and in your own head, about all the possibilities. 

  1. Embrace the habit dip.

The key to a good mindset: the story you’re telling has to be true. You can’ hurt yourself by feeding yourself unrealistic optimism when the world is on fire.

So, to say that you feel really positive when your business is faltering, is to deny reality. A disconnect between reality and the story we’re telling leads to a breakdown.

The trick is not to deny suffering or setbacks, but to accept the setback and the suffering and know that it will pass. Don’t tell yourself a story about how easy things are, or how good they are. Tell yourself a story that says: this is all part of the plot. After all, every single success story in history shares one quality: that moment when the hero needs to decide, against all odds, whether or not to keep going.

For me, when I’m feeling low, I remind myself: Progress is not linear. This is just a part of my story, not the end of it. And I keep going.

  1. Do one thing.

I bet this sounds familiar: you’re overwhelmed with the size of a problem and you figure if you can just write all down, think it all through, you can get a handle on it. But weirdly, the more you think about it, the more stressed out you get. And how often do you find yourself at the end of a really long meeting feeling frustrated that nothing has changed? It can easily turn into a negative story spiral.

But there’s a simple trick to reset that narrative. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t make a plan. Just do one thing. It literally doesn’t matter what you do. That’s something we apply in a big way at Stacked Coaching. Pick one habit. Do it over and over until you can do it REALLY well. Watch the way it snowballs. Pick another habit, repeat. Change your life.

So take a deep breath. Talk to one person. Make one call. Pick one habit. Change your story.

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