reframing limiting stories courage habit

Consider this exercise:

Today is a great day. How do I know that? Because I’m feeling fantastic. I’ve ticked everything off of my to-do list. I have friends. My health is great. I’m really abundant. I love the work that I’m doing in the world. I’m inspired by so many people and books and places. I’m enthusiastic about life and travel, and I’m hoping to go to Italy! Also, it’s raining outside.

Which of those sentences seemingly does not belong?

Most people probably read through the paragraph and then did a little double-take with the last sentence, the brain alerting you that something didn’t fit. “Wait—she said it was a great day, but it’s raining outside?”

Then perhaps you went to, “Well, she must like rain.”

In trying to make sense of what was presented, the brain needs to fill in a story—“She must like rain”, because usually rainy weather is associated with doldrums and depression.

In other, more psychologically-minded words? Your brain experienced cognitive dissonance, and tried to right itself.

In other, more life-coachy words? Your brain filled in the gap with a “Story.”

Tell Me a Story

Some may call a Story” a “perspective.” When I say “running a Story” I am referring to “tapping into my perspective.” Stories could also be called our beliefs or assumptions.

Stories are our habituated and often automatic beliefs and assumptions that we make about how the world works.

We run Stories all day long. It’s how we make sense of the world, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just something that we DO.

However, sometimes we can start to run Stories that aren’t very helpful. These are limiting Stories.

Those Stories can include:

  • “I’ll never make money as an artist.”
  • “I’m lazy/unmotivated/never finish anything I start.”
  • “I can’t tell my husband the truth.”
  • “I’m always late.”
  • “I’m so disorganized.”
  • “My business will never be as successful as hers.”
  • “There will always be oppression, so there’s no point in doing anything about it.”
  • “Being a woman means I’m not ever going to be so great with money.”

When a limiting Story isn’t very helpful, it’s important to question it and reframe it. There’s no reason to keep it. Plain and simple. Any Story that diminishes who we are, our power and capability, or that is not in alignment with our visions for our lives is a Story that does not serve us.


No Pretending

Now–if your bullshit detector has started going off, just breathe and be with me, here. I’m a no-bullshit kind of gal, myself, and I really want you to see the connection, here.

I’m not suggesting that you pretend anything. I’m not suggesting that, for instance, someone who is experiencing institutionalized oppressions just needs to brightly tell themselves, “What Story am I creating about the racism/sexism/classism/prejudice that I experience? Ah, I’ll just let it go!” (And yes, I’ve seen some people in self-help circles suggest this–and I think that only fuels pain and denial of systemic oppression. But I digress–).

I’m suggesting that you really look, deep down, at the absolute TRUTH of what you tell yourself about what your life means and what you are capable of.

I’m asking you to be more honest about what you tell yourself, as well as how you respond.

Am I just talking about positive thinking? No. There’s been a movement in the past few decades to “think positively.”

Choosing to think positively is a powerful choice. However, I love it when I get to help my get out of the “positive thinking trap” that causes so much suffering.

Reframing Limiting Stories

What does reframing limiting Stories actually look like? Here’s a go at it:

Story : “I can’t tell my husband.”

This is a Story of limitation and one that probably causes someone considerable stress. So what’s the truth?

Reframing limiting Stories looks like: “I’m choosing not to tell my husband” or “I’m afraid to tell my husband.”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere, because working with choices or fear are more easily changed.

Story: “There will always be oppression, so there’s no point in doing anything about it.”

This is a Story of limitation (signaled by words such as “always” or “no point”) that many people feel like anything they’d want to do to change the world or make it a better place is fruitless, anyway. So let’s get to reframing that.

Reframing limiting Stories looks like: “I can’t know for sure that there will always be oppression, and it makes me feel better to do something about it,” or “Even if there will always be oppression, there should also always be people who are doing something about it.”

The work of reframing limiting Stories

The work of reframing limiting Stories is ongoing work.

It starts with identifying them.
It progresses by asking what’s really true.
It moves forward by shifting in small movements in the direction of what’s really true.

We don’t go from “I will never find anyone who loves me,” to “I’m married to the person of my dreams!” because a.) that feels fake, and b.) there’s a lot to explore in the middle. Reframing limiting Stories would be about noticing the limitation of “I will never find anyone who loves me,” and then exploring the gap between that and what you really want, moving in small but doable steps that might look like: I’ll never find anyone…I want to find someone…If I found someone, they might be like…In order to find someone, I might need to shift…It’s possible that this someone is out there…I like getting curious about myself being in relationship with someone else…

And so on. Reframing limiting Stories, by the way, isn’t just some life-coachy lingo. It’s legit cognitive-behavioral science, and it’s backed by research as a resilience-building strategy.

So, take some action: where do you feel blocked, in your life? Grab a sheet of paper and start writing down every possible limiting Story that you can think of, and start reframing limiting Stories using the steps outlined, above.

Want more help with this? Check out the Courageous Living Program.