As we leave 2022 in the past, I find it important to identify the personal narratives you hold near and dear, those stories you tell about yourself that over time have become a part of your identity. Be honest with yourself — Are some of them holding you back? Are they even true? In many cases, entering the new year with a fresh perspective requires you to shed the stories you tell and leave them behind.
The overwhelming majority of us are wired to detect patterns, make meaning, and create stories for ourselves. Our brains, highly complicated machinery, construct narratives as a way to organize our memories and experiences, connecting them to our behavior. This can be a beautiful thing that allows us to manage complex, sometimes painful situations; however, our narratives can also hold us back, making us blind to reality, and sometimes even distorting reality in negative ways.
This is, at least in part, thanks to negativity bias and confirmation bias. When we expect something to be true – particularly something negative – we tend to believe it and look for validating evidence, even in the face of contradictions. These types of biases are one example of why we shouldn’t always trust our self-constructed narratives because they’re not always true! But they can trap us in our own personal Groundhog Day, inadvertently repeating the same stories over and over.
So, once you accept that false narratives exist, how do you rewrite them?
Ways to Rewrite the Narrative
Determine your narrative.
This first action requires introspection and metacognition. In other words, think about how you view yourself. What labels have you bestowed upon yourself? For example, things like “I’m too forward,” “I’m a procrastinator,” or “I’m not good at public speaking.” Get specific, especially if aspects of 2022 didn’t go like you wanted it to. What are you telling yourself about that incident that didn’t go well? What assumptions did it cause you to make about yourself?
Question your narrative.
Once you identify your narrative, at least consider other possibilities. In fact, as an exercise, consider the complete opposite (i.e., “I’m shy,” “I’m a go-getter,” or “I’m great at public speaking”). What does that bring up for you? How does it feel?
Take your narrative and ask yourself, “What else might be true here?” It’s hard to challenge the stories we tell about ourselves, but it’s necessary. With as much objectivity as possible, ask yourself these questions about your narrative:
- “Can I know for sure that it’s true?”
- “How does believing that it’s true change my behavior?”
- “Would I behave or think differently if I didn’t believe it was true?”
- “If this narrative never existed, how would that change my behavior?”
Share and unpack your narrative.
Once you’ve mulled over other possible “truths,” try sharing your unhelpful narratives with others, including family, friends, and colleagues. In being vulnerable, you can gain further insight from others who you trust. They will help you unpack the truth, and it may even prompt them to share their own narratives.
Get curious, grow, and evolve your story.
While we are the authors of our own narratives, they’re inextricably linked to our experiences, environment, and the company we keep. A great way to start challenging your narratives is to engage in active, intentional curiosity. Try new things! Go to new places! Talk to new people! Step out of your comfort zone in 2023! As we learn and grow, our perspective expands and evolves and this includes our perspective on ourselves.
A New Year Filled With New Stories
Are you held back by an unhelpful narrative? While you can’t change the past, you can change how it impacts your thoughts and feelings regarding your story. When we learn to lean into self-awareness, positivity, and curiosity, the world has a way of opening up to us.