What happens to us in life is a continuous string of experiences. But what those experiences mean, how we understand and explain them, and what we do to prepare for and respond to those experiences are all tied to the stories we make up around those experiences.
The stories we tell help us make sense of, understand, and explain everything that’s happening to and around us. The stories help us build context and establish patterns and are what allow us to draw conclusions and form expectations.
The stories we develop and repeat to ourselves and others are the center of our ability to learn.
But sometimes we draw logical, but incorrect conclusions. Sometimes we have competing stories that we can’t reconcile. And sometimes the stories that we’re consciously aware of are not the same stories our subconscious tells.
Sometimes our stories lead us astray. That’s where we can run into trouble.
We take action that is aligned with our beliefs when we desire something. The results we get are interpreted as proof or evidence that we use to judge the effectiveness of the action. We then use stories to interpret and assign meaning to the results.
Our stories give us a way to think about what we want and don’t want, what’s possible or impossible, what we can have or can’t have, what is true or untrue, and to explain how the world and our businesses work. And most importantly, our stories help us understand and explain why we think those things are true.
A belief is a thought we assume to be true because the meaning and stories we’ve created to understand out experiences seem to support it.
How Do You Tell If Your Stories Are Holding You Back?
Quite simply, you’ll feel it. You’ll feel it as frustration, overwhelm, anxiety, fear, doubt, anger, shame, jealousy, envy, or maybe even boredom. You’ll see that you’re not getting the results that you want or expect and you won’t like it.
The real question is, once you recognize you’re holding yourself back, will you do anything about it?
If you’re answer is, “Absolutely, if I had any idea what to do,” then you’ve come to the right place.
Part of the frustration is that unraveling these stories and beliefs is like dealing with a big knotted ball of yarn. Our gut reaction is to grab an end and pull as hard as we can, which only makes the situation worse. But who has the patience to sit and pick and prod trying to find that one weak spot that will allow us to really start making progress?
Outside help from a coach, mentor, or therapist may be your best bet. But I’ll start here by breaking down the process for you and you can decide where to go next.
Unraveling Your Stories and Beliefs
If you’re getting the results you want and everything is going well for you, there’s no problem and you don’t need this article. But if you’re not, it can be really frustrating and confusing trying to figure out why.
The first question you need to explore is, what is it that you believe? This can be a little trickier than it sounds because there’s a catch. You don’t want to look at your stated beliefs – the things you say you believe – you want to look at your revealed beliefs.
In marketing there’s a distinction between peoples stated preferences, which is what people say they’d like or respond to, and their revealed preferences, which is their actual behavior when confronted with a situation or decision. What you want to evaluate are what are your revealed beliefs – the beliefs that are consistent with the results you’re getting.
Your stated belief may be that you’re worth a million dollars, but your revealed belief shows through in your calculated net worth. Your stated belief may be that you can grow your business as quickly and large as you dream, but your revealed belief is in the state of your business today.
In every area of your life or business where you’re not getting the result you want, what belief is revealed that would explain the result you’re getting?
What Stories Support Your Revealed Beliefs?
Assume for a moment that the revealed beliefs you’ve identified are real and are impacting the results you are getting in your business or life today. What stories from your past appear to support that revealed belief?
One thing to keep in mind is that your gut reaction will most likely be to discount or minimize the stories you come up with. It will sound like, “Sure, that happened to me, but I moved on” or “Sure, my mom used to say … but I don’t really believe that.”
“I don’t really believe that” is what we’re trying to uncover here. If your stated belief and revealed belief are not aligned, your revealed beliefs will win – every time. If you can come to understand your revealed beliefs you’ll finally be in a position to replace them.
Another part of the challenge is confirmation bias. Our brains are excellent at finding answers to unanswered questions, but once they answer a question they stop challenging the premise, assume the thought is true (belief), and start looking for evidence to support and reinforce the answer they already have. Your challenge and opportunity for growth is to confront the assumptions behind your revealed beliefs head on and change them.
As you analyze your revealed beliefs and the supporting stories, the next question to start asking yourself is, could I have drawn the wrong conclusion or learned the wrong lesson?
Can The Stories Be Replaced?
Very often, the supporting stories behind our limiting, revealed beliefs will have been from times of stress or, most frequently, from childhood when our thought processes weren’t as discerning or sophisticated as they are now as adults. Your opportunity now is to revisit those stories, assigned meanings, and lessons learned and decide if they were valid or not. And if not, what new story or meaning can they be replaced with.
So don’t be afraid to dig in to your revealed beliefs. You might be surprised by what you find. Chances are you’ll find those few loose threads that unravel the entire knotted ball of yarn and have you well on your path to the happiness, success, and fulfillment you seek.