We’ve also all probably all met people who carry a Story that “everyone is kind and doing the best they can.” Because these people carry that Story, they probably give others the benefit of the doubt, take things less personally, and see other people as interdependent. That Story is much more helpful.
The Stories that these two different people carry would color their entire outlook on the world and affect every single interaction they have with another human being.
A person can certainly function in life with both Stories, but if you were the person who felt stuck in believing that everyone’s selfish and out for themselves, wouldn’t you be grateful if somehow, someone could help you unhook from that and believe that the world is full of people who are kind and do the best they can?
That’s exactly why it’s important to examine the Stories that we inherently assume to be true. We need to reframe limiting stories.
Reframe Limiting Stories: Begin with limitation
As part of uncovering Stories, I frequently ask clients to pay attention to the three most common areas where people hold Stories of limitation. If you scan your own the list of Stories you’ve come up with from the last exercise, you’ll probably find that you have Stories that are related to one of the following three categories:
Stories of how we were raised. This is the Story of the past—the parents who were more interested in their addictions than in raising children, the teachers who told you that you wouldn’t amount to anything, and the culture that encouraged you to be quiet and not say what you really think.
Stories about circumstances. These are Stories about tough external circumstances limiting progress, such as not having enough time, money, or support for your ideas. Thinking that you’re “too busy” and will get to it later is another Story of circumstance.
Stories about what’s possible. These are the Stories about an inherent, unalterable lack of capability, or an assumption that things inevitably won’t work out before there’s any indication that this would be true. I’m not smart or talented enough. Someone else has already done it, so I shouldn’t bother. I’d never finish anyway. No one cares about that but me. I’m too young/old. The moment has passed.
Nope, not positive affirmations
While “positive affirmations” are pretty pervasive among coaches, I’m truly not a fan. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that they chafe at the idea of reciting them, too. This isn’t an aversion based on some kind of inherent or stuck negativity. Most of us have tried reciting affirmations—with some with doggedness—only to feel frustrated, like we’ve just been lying to ourselves, over and over.
Positive affirmations are based on pushing yourself to believe something wildly optimistic that may or may not be possible, and they involve bypassing any acknowledgment of “negative” feelings such as fear.
Even worse, asking people to focus on positive affirmations when they’re dealing with oppression (such as discrimination for your racial background, sexual orientation, or gender; a traumatic upbringing; a systemic lack of access to money or resources) lacks empathy for the very real suffering and impact of those experiences.
Choosing to find the positive amid difficult circumstances is the real aim. Hard things and serious life challenges still happen to people who consciously choose more positive Stories. What you find when you start to reframe is that the choice to continually look for a more positive Story is part of a resilience strategy to bounce back from those difficulties. Examining your Stories so that you can consciously choose those that are more positive or supportive of your goals isn’t naïve. In being willing to believe that options are available, you’re more likely to find them.
Reframe Limiting Stories : An example
The following example is another way to think about potential reframes and how you might move through the process. Read through each reframe below for the Story example: “I’m not capable of doing this.” Each new statement is an example of stretching the Story in a slightly more positive direction.
“I’m not capable of doing this.” Becomes—> “I’m willing to look at my options.” Becomes—> “If I put time into this, I think I could get capable.” Becomes—> “I’m choosing to take action with one option.” Becomes—>“I’m willing to get consistent with taking action.” Becomes—> “I am getting consistent with taking action.”
It’s the stretching out of the limitation and in a more positive direction that makes all the difference.
Try it, yourself: grab a sheet of paper, write down some of your own common stories of limitation, and then start reframing your way through them. Stretch only a few micro-movements in a different direction (let’s thing gradual progress rather than fakey-fake affirmations overhaul).