We make sense of the world through stories. They tell us what to filter in and what to filter out. If we didn't use stories, we wouldn't have enough brain capacity to deal with living.
The problem is that these narratives are inherently limiting, all the more so when we are unaware of how powerful they are, or don't consider that alternatives might exist to describe the same situation. If you say, "I have a weird marriage" or "I'm not successful because I never have anything to contribute to the alumni magazine" or "I have to be alert to every potential issue my kids face or something terrible will happen and it will be my fault" you are dedicating yourself to a particular narrative. But do these narratives really serve you? And are they correct?
This assignment is to list out and question your narratives, and then consider alternative narratives.
Verbalize the narratives that are going on in your head — as many as you can surface. Some prompts are:
- "I have to . . . because . . . "
- "Right now I can't . . . because . . ."
- "I'm supposed to . . . because . . . "
- "I can't do anything about X right now . . . because . . . "
- "I need to get my act together right away about X because . . ."
- "Even though I used to really great at . . . I shouldn't think about doing it now because . . . "
- "Even though I have a new skill in . . . it can't use it to build my career because . . . "
- "Because I currently have an acknowledged insecurity about . . . I can't . . . ."
Write these out even if you think they are flawed or extreme — but they should ring true in some part of your head.
Analyze potential flaws in these narratives, and then offer an alternative narrative for each one:
"I could easily make an alternative narrative that . . ."
The new narratives don't have to be provable – they are alternatives to consider.
Here's an example from my own list of ten narratives, which I composed last night. (Background: I'm going to become a father this spring after many, many, many years of contemplation and a very long and involved process.)
I'm supposed to be joyous and happy all the time during this period, and I’m supposed to tamp down fears, doubts or insecurities.
> I could easily make an alternative narrative that every expecting parent goes through an enormous amount of stress in trying to have kids, and no one is expecting me to be some kind of miracle person.
Guess what? I prefer the alternative narrative and it also makes me more grounded and probably effective.
Got it? So check out this exercise and let me know what you discover.