We tell ourselves stories all day long. We tell them about the person who cut us off in traffic, about our spouse when they say something (or something in a tone) we don’t expect, about our kids and their behavior, about the friend who didn’t call us back or answer our text. 


We also tell stories about ourselves. Some of the stories I’ve told about myself over the years: I’m terrible at math. I’m a procrastinator. I’m bad with money. I always get left. I’m a good writer. I’m a good friend. 


These stories that we tell, both positive and seemingly negative, shape how we move through the world. 


But what if a story isn’t serving us anymore? What if it’s actively holding us back from the kind of life we want to live? How do we change the story that we’re telling about ourselves (and others)? 


The first step is to realize you’re telling a story and what story you’re telling. Sometimes this is super easy, like my story about not being good at math. I’ve been telling that story my entire life. It comes up all of the time. 


But there are often harder stories to identify that impact us even more profoundly. In my book I told the story of the four forks. When I got divorced, my ex and I split up all of the stuff in our shared home. I had asked her to split up the utensils because I didn’t have time and when I came home from work I saw that she had only left me four forks. 


For years afterwards, ever time I ran out of forks I felt the sting all over again. But the story I told myself was that I couldn’t afford more forks. I was stuck in this place of neglect and scarcity. 


Until one day I went to the store and realized a pack of forks was only $2. Now, I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had $2. I bought a pack of forks. Suddenly my fork count doubled and I rarely ran out. It was this tiny action that also started to shift my mindset. I wasn’t just a victim to the fates of the world, I could shape my own future. I could buy new forks!


It sounds really silly when I tell it now. It’s FORKS. But this was a massive moment in my own growth and healing. And it started with a shift in the story I was telling: I can’t afford new forks to I can provide for myself. 


You’ll notice that I actually had no idea how much forks cost. I told myself a story about not being able to afford new forks without even knowing what they cost. That story held me back.


Okay, so you identify the story. Now what?


Pay attention to how the story serves you. Even a story that feels negative, like the forks, does something for you. In the fork story I told myself things were out of my control. The benefit of that was if everything was out of my control, then I didn’t have to do anything. That story let me off the hook. It made it so I didn’t have to take any actions. 


But the negative part of that was I felt like a victim and like I had no say in my own life. 


So pay attention to the benefits and the costs of the story.


Then you try to tell a new story. Instead of I only have four forks and no one loves me and I can’t even host a dinner party, I started to shift the story. I can buy my own forks. I can take care of my own needs. 


In the years when I told myself (and everyone else) I was bad with money, the shift became “You’re just not making enough money.” Now, this shift didn’t automatically change my life. But it did help me to ask new questions: How much money is enough? Is there a way that I can make more? Might it be time to ask for a raise or to look for a new job? Those questions freed up space in my life because now it wasn’t just that I had an internal trait that couldn’t be changed, it was an external situation that I had power in. Maybe not right away, but I could at least start to ask the questions that could get me free. 


Sometimes the switch changes things overnight, sometimes it takes years, but every time it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a step toward empowerment, a step toward taking ownership, a step toward freedom. These steps are scary, but you don’t have to do them alone. 


Changing the story we tell about ourselves and others leads us into greater truth and trust, greater intimacy, and greater empathy. It’s life changing.


What stories are you telling about yourself? How are they serving you? How are they holding you back? What might a new story free you up to do?