We think we are made of skin and flesh and muscle and bones, but that’s not true. We are made of stories, of hope, of dust and stardust, and it is in our nature to always tell stories.
Yes, you might not be a writer, you might not be a blogger, but you are telling yourself the story of who you are, and why you are who you are, and maybe, just maybe, the story of why someone like you has to be.
For example, I like to go to the gym. That’s not the issue. But I hate having to place all sorts of items in my backpack, walk to the gym, workout, go home, take a shower…
In other words, it’s the tasks that need to be done that kind of ruin my motivation. And it’s so in most other aspects: I like to write, but I hate to edit. I love shooting videos of myself talking about life, but I hate to edit them. You get the idea.
Because of this story I tell myself — “This is just stuff that I need to do” — the work I do is usually mediocre. That is when I get myself to do the work because most times I don’t even feel like doing anything anymore.
But what if I could rewrite the story? What would I tell myself to get in the mood to do all that has to be done, even though I do not want to do it?
Well… I could understand the importance of those tasks, I could turn them into a game, I could appreciate the fact that I get to do something I love by doing something I don’t love…
In other words, I could choose to play the cards that I’ve been dealt as if they are the cards I’ve always wanted.
What story are you telling yourself about your life? Does it encourage results or excuses? Does it pull you in the direction of your dreams or does it steer you away from risk?
Why We Need an Internal Narrative
We need an internal narrative because there’s a lot of conflicting external feedback we receive. Whenever we look outward, we have no idea who we are.
For instance, recently I have moved to a new city. This means that I have to go to a different gym, where no one knows me. The funny thing is, people look kind of strange at me in a gym because I do the exercises unlike most other people.
My narrative is that I am self-taught in almost every area of my life, and I am also quite passionate about knowing what others don’t know, so when I was a beginner I’d do a lot of research on the topic of fitness. This means that I do exercises as advised by some of the most influential fitness experts around, and sadly, that’s not what most people do.
Anyway, I get some odd stares because of that, but I don’t mind because my internal narrative dictates that I am doing the right thing. I have created that narrative in order to save myself the mental pain and exhaustion that is the side-effect of having to look in the hearts and minds of others for something I can call “ego.”
We need an internal narrative because we desperately seek to create order out of chaos. We seek and desire the stability of behavior, and thus we try to craft the story of who we are from all our previous experiences.
An internal narrative is essential. Without one, we wouldn’t be anything at all.
The Paradox of Changing Oneself to Get Rid of Negative Traits
Every night is a dark night of the soul; fear and loathing overwhelm you whenever you stare in a mirror or think about your actions. You fail at everything you do. You struggle with low self-esteem, high-functioning depression, and social anxiety.
How do you change that?
Because you’re not going to change by spending all the time wishing you didn’t feel like that; you’re not going to change by writing down a bunch of positive affirmations and reading them aloud in front of the mirror every morning.
The paradox of changing oneself is that the more you want to change a negative trait you have, the more you become it.
The more you repeat the words, the more your internal narrator reinforces your belief, whether you like it or not.
When it comes to getting what we want, desire is an important element. Set a goal, go all in, and achieve it. The beach body, the business, or the book you want to write, all require that you genuinely want to do them.
But when it comes to changing the inner reality of who we are, it doesn’t work that way.
The Tyranny of the Inner Narrator
We spend most of our days being directed by a voice inside our heads that constantly tells us about the flaws and quirks that we must hide, should we want to be accepted. The negative traits that we try to hide, suppress, or ignore are always the ones that harm us the most.
And we struggle because we somehow feel inadequate.
At least, that’s how I’ve felt for most of my twenties. Inadequate. I’d be afraid to look people in the eye, for fear that they might see the flaws I was so desperate to hide. Quite ironically, they’d often perceive me as being arrogant.
And the more I tried to change what I perceived to be the worst parts of me, the more obvious they became. By trying not to be anxious around people, by constantly whispering to myself words of encouragement, the more I struggled around people. Sometimes I’d struggle to answer even the most basic of questions, and other times I’d be so loud that all my actions and words were screaming the fact that I suffered from social anxiety.
By telling yourself, over and over again, that you shouldn’t be something, then you’re just conditioning your brain to be so.
You can never become the opposite of something by deciding that you don’t want to be it, because we always get what we think about, whether we like it or not.
All I was thinking about were my flaws, my defects, the fact that I walk kind of funny, or that I was too skinny, or that I wasn’t as outgoing as I liked to be.
Then there’s another thing: most of my mental energy was spent on trying to hide a perceived flaw.
If only I’d known that it takes a lot less mental effort to just accept yourself for who you are.
Most people fall in and out of love with themselves. And just like any other relationship, this is quite the telenovela. Lots of drama, lots of anger, lots of disappointment. Manic highs and the kind of lows that often make it impossible to get out of bed in the morning.
The goal is to love yourself, not to fall in and our of love with yourself countless times during a single day. The goal is to give yourself permission not to be perfect.
You have flaws, yes, but so does everyone else. If you don’t see it as a tragedy, if you don’t see yourself as broken beyond repair, a sinner without the hope of redemption, then and only then you can enact lasting change in your life.
Accepting that I just wasn’t confident around others made me feel more comfortable around people. The moment I stopped judging myself so harshly for this perceived flaw, I could slowly arrive at the conclusion that most people aren’t as charismatic and charming and brilliant communicators as I had thought.
They were a lot like me. They too had an internal narrator whispering words of dread into their ears. They too had to struggle to speak their minds for fear that I’d reject them.
Once I understood that, I was free to become someone who’s confident around others. Once I no longer had to silence an inner voice, once I no longer had to venture into the most hidden drawers of my soul to hide some flaw, I could venture outside and see others for who they were.
As a side-note, the reality that we create within ourselves is often flawed in ways that we can never comprehend unless we step outside ourselves. I’ve spent years working out in my living room because I thought that the gym was a place where only those who most resemble the fabled Adonis were allowed to enter.
Imagine my surprise when I first walked into a gym and saw that most of the guys working out there looked an awful lot like me.
We’re all flawed creatures. And that’s more than okay. That’s beautiful. That’s human.
I’ve come to accept that sometimes I do not have the mental energy to meet and interact with new people. My girlfriend is quite the opposite, and she’ll be able to talk for eight hours straight with someone she just met. I’m not like that, and I’m okay with it, which paradoxically ensures that from time to time I am able to spend eight hours straight talking to someone I’ve just met.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an excuse to do nothing about your problems. That’s not self-love. That’s being delusional.
If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. But first, you’ve got to accept it. You cannot change what you refuse to accept, you cannot confront what you are constantly running away from.
Self-love is always misunderstood as believing that you are perfect just the way you are.
Yes. It’s true. You are perfect just the way you are.
But you can also always be better than you are.
No matter how much you work on developing yourself, there will always be room for more growth. There’s no end goal. The perfect self we all dream about does not actually exist.
It’s like being in a dream when you’re walking towards a house. You can see it in the distance. Your home. On top of a hill, bathing in the sunlight. But no matter how much you walk towards your home, you never reach it.
To be human means to accept the fact that we are works in progress, that we are always under-construction, that we are always offered the chance to grow into a different person than who we were yesterday.
The pain and suffering we experience during our life-long struggle to establish a human self that is free from pain and suffering is because we don’t want to accept that our faults and flaws and mistakes and inadequacies are inseparable from us. And the only way to transcend our pain and suffering is to accept them, the only way to overcome the struggle is to embrace it.
To be human means to accept the fact that our journey towards the home in our dream is, and has always been, our home. And it is only then that we can wake up and find our home, our place in this world.
Changing the Story
I once spent three years being single. The narrative I had built for myself was debilitating to say the least: I was ugly, stupid, poor, and a bunch of other things.
Because our narratives are intricately tied to the way others perceive us, I ended up being hateful of women. This became one of those impossibly to break negative feedback loops, and it seemed like I was destined to spend the rest of my life alone.
But one day a friend of mine told me that the women who’d reject me were doing me a favor.
A favor? Seriously?
Yes. They were doing me a favor because they knew I wasn’t ready to be with them. I wasn’t in the right place mentally and emotionally. It would have done me a lot more harm to be with them than without them.
As proof of this, there’s an awful lot of people who stop taking care of themselves because they are overwhelmed by their desire to be as close to their beloved as possible.
Love will often destroy you more than any other kind of drug.
Once I changed just a bit of my narrative, I could now work on myself with much more determination.
We often tell ourselves a narrative that is debilitating rather than empowering, and this makes it almost impossible to find success and fulfillment.
To change your story, you just have to ask yourself two questions:
1. Who do I want to be?
Be honest. How often do you ask yourself this question? How often do you think about becoming someone different in a clear manner?
I’m not talking about hating yourself so much that you’d want to run away from yourself and become someone else, anyone.
No, I am talking about changing your life’s story to accommodate your dreams, goals, and ambitious.
Who do you want to be?
What are the qualities required of someone who’d have everything you want in life?
What would their life story be like?
It is important that you work on this until you understand who you want to be almost as well as you understand who you are.
2. Why do I want to be that person?
We often find it impossible to change our internal narratives because we never think of a strong enough reason to change it.
No reason to change equals no change.
There’s no motivation, no reward.
I had a reason to get in shape, learn more, earn more, and become a more sociable person. It was my narrative that I’d do my best to become the type of person worthy of love.
Without a strong enough reason to become the person you want to be, you are forever destined to spend your time in the land of “should, could, would.” It’s a terrible place to be in; a comfort zone you’d like to escape but don’t have the courage or motivation to do it.
When we find a strong enough reason to change our narrative, our should becomes a must. What we’d be happy to happen has to happen.
Choose a Story That Empowers You
Stories are difficult to change because it’s often difficult to imagine what could be when all we know is what has been.
Even though we often struggle with changing our inner story, the truth is that change is a matter of imagination. We need to imagine ourselves as someone we are proud of being, and then we have to act upon that vision.
It’s one of the toughest battles that one can fight, and it’s one that never ends, but it’s the battle most worthy of our time and energy.
The greatest challenge is choosing a story that empowers us, a story that allows us to become someone who has all that we want from life.
The most fascinating stories ever written into existence are about the struggle to establish a powerful self, a self that is tied to that struggle.
Our life’s story is similar. We cannot remake ourselves into someone different without pain, rejection, and heartbreak.
The power to change our internal narrative comes from within. Without this power, we often fall into the trap of allowing someone else’s opinion of us to become our reality.
And that’s the most difficult thing about changing your story: You don’t just have to tell it — you have to live it, too.