“The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves. But beware—they’re usually fiction.” ~ Brené Brown
“I can’t do this anymore,” I thought to myself as I opened the door to my office and prepared for my first coaching appointment of the day. I was tired and discouraged. “Do I have what it takes to maintain a thriving coaching practice?” I wondered to myself.
The story I was telling myself had the potential to derail my business and my calling, had I believed and acted upon it.
“Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos — including emotional chaos. When we’re in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it,” Brené Brown, Ph.D. says in an article titled, “The Unreliable Narrator,” published in the September 2015 issue of Oprah Magazine.
“This unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck,” Brown says. For her book, Rising Strong, Brown says she spent time with people skilled at recovering from setbacks—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples. She found they had one thing in common. “They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them,” she says.
What about you?
It’s common to struggle with bouts of doubt and discouragement. But in times like these, listen to the story you’re telling yourself. Your narrative may sound something like this: Coaching isn’t my calling after all. I made a mistake. Maybe I should just shut down my coaching business.
When thoughts like these persist, it’s time to tell yourself another story.
Write Down Your Story
Dr. Brown suggests getting curious about your feelings and the story behind them by asking yourself some hard questions. What if you’re contributing to the problem? What role does a fear of failure play in your narrative?
She says the most effective way to become aware of your stories is to write them down, beginning by finishing these sentences:
- The story I’m making up is . . .
- My emotions . . .
- My body . . .
- My thinking . . .
- My beliefs . . .
- My actions . . .
“A story driven by emotion and self-protection probably doesn’t involve accuracy, logic, or civility,” Brown says. “If your story contains those things, it’s likely that you’re not being fully honest.”
Dive Deeper into Your Story
Now it’s time to dive deeper into your story, says Brené Brown, by asking yourself these questions:
- What are the facts, and what are my assumptions? For example, imagine you just received a phone call from a client who has decided to discontinue coaching with you (fact). You think to yourself, “She stopped coaching because I’m not good enough. I bet a lot of other clients will quit, too” (assumption).
- What do I need to know about the others involved? Using the situation described above as an example, consider what you know about this client. For example, you client may have been laid off or received a life-altering medical diagnosis.
- What am I feeling? What part did I play? You say to yourself, “I feel like a failure. Maybe I should remind her how helpful coaching is for times of transition. Nah…she’ll just say no.
The answers to these questions can be uncomfortable, but they can also be a catalyst for lasting change. The story we tell ourselves has the power to propel us forward or to hold us back.
What’s your story?