It’s easy for me to let negative thoughts creep into my mind and follow them down dark pathways, into large Grimm brother-like forests, where I not only feel misguided but also frightened.
It’s easy for me to believe my stories of not being good enough, thin enough, smart enough, successful enough, because these were the stories I grew up telling myself.
But when I realized that the magical element of a story is that it can change and be anything, well, that’s when I knew I wanted to edit mine.
I wanted to shed false or limiting beliefs. I wanted to stop talking down to myself and comparing myself to others.
I wanted to stop following the path that lead me into the black forest and find one that lead me into a space of joy, creativity, inspiration, motivation, and adventure.
Sure, sounds great, right? I simply retell my story in the way I want and ABRACADABRA my fear-based mind magically disappears.
Well, not exactly, but close.
Although groundbreaking results didn’t come overnight, what did start to happen were small shifts.
When I started telling a new story, I began to clearly see the old one. Little-by-little I learned to replace the old thoughts with the new, becoming more mindful.
The journey wasn’t easy. I had to get really honest about what I wanted for my life.
To own up to the fact that a lot of what I wanted was a lot of what I had openly rejected.
After years of saying things like it was okay if I never fall in love, get married, and have kids, I was saying I wanted love and a family.
For so long I had been disconnected from my wants and needs, I had been following the script I had learned from others.
The most difficult part was admitting to myself that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be seen, heard, and loved.
But once I did, the walls I had put up slowly came down.
What kept me going was knowing I wanted to feel differently about my life. This could be small changes like reacting differently to someone bumping into me on the street, or smiling at myself once a day.
It was still enough of a shift to cause an emotional reward for all the hard work I was doing.
So here are the techniques I use to delete my mocking, critical, mafia mind to make room for the good stuff.
1. Notice What Story You’re Telling Yourself
To start telling a different story, it’s important to identify the old story. Often these stories live semi-hidden, semi-conscious in the back of our minds. They are often the context through which we see the world and our role in it.
But you can’t change what you can’t see. So until we can identify these stories, we can’t change them.
Sometimes it’s helpful for me to write down all the old stories I’ve been telling myself over the years like:
- No one will love me because…
- I’m not going to get the job I want because…
- I can’t fit into that because…
- I’ll never have enough money because…
Once they are on the page, it’s easier for me to spot them when they pop up in my day-to-day.
And it’s at this point, when I take note of my thoughts and see them, when I can either choose to believe or flip the switch.
2. Flip the Switch
When I notice I’m telling myself an old story, when I feel anxious or rushed, or have self-doubt or fear, I stop whatever it is that I’m doing and I do two things:
1) I close my eyes and breathe into wherever the anxiety is in my body. I breathe into it and then exhale the feeling.
2) Once the stress it out of my body, I change the thought into an affirmation.
So if my story was “I’m always late. I’m never going to get there on time.” I change that to “I’m always on time.”
By supporting instead of attacking, I can calm my fear.
3. Identify Where These Stories Come From
When we’re younger, our guides in life are our parents, family, teachers, media, and society at large (phew that’s a lot of messages hitting us!).
We learn from a young age what is appropriate, acceptable, and expected. We take on the positive and negative traits of our parents, because that is all we know.
So by the time we fly the coup, a lot of who we are is actually underneath who we feel we are supposed to be.
And then, well, it gets worse. We don’t only have our parents’ expectations to juggle, but we also have societal pressures that dictate what gender, sexual orientation, race, class, well, you name it is.
At this point, your inner child, the one that loved painting, twirling in the living room, and wearing non-matching socks is so far under that she’s suffocating.
What’s important about figuring out where your story comes from is in learning that the story you’ve been telling yourself might not actually be yours.
When I hear myself says things like, “crap” when I accidentally drop my cell phone or when I comment on people’s outfits, I stop and ask, “do I actually think that or is that someone else’s story?”
Being able to distinguish your voice from that of others makes it easier to hear what’s really going on inside.
4. Ground Yourself In a Internal Positive, Safe Space
When I was young, bedtime stories were my favorite, but as I’ve gotten older it’s around this time that all I want to do is close my never-ending mental tale.
To quiet my mind before bed, I lay on my back with my palms open, and I focus on my breathing.
As I begin to quiet down, I start to visualize what I want to feel like. What I want my day to look like. What I want my life to look like.
But most importantly what I focus on is how I want to feel. By doing this, I replace my fear with a real positive emotion.
This works because I can’t worry about anything when I’m in love with everything.
I love the ocean. So at night, I close my eyes and I watch and listen to the waves, I notice the sun casting sparkles onto the water.
This image, even as I’m typing it here, makes me smile. What it does is take me out of a fearful thought and into one of comfort and safety.
When I visualize, sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of it. And if I wake up during the night, I repeat the process until my nervous system calms and I’m relaxed.
So whenever you feel stressed or scared, remember that you have the ability to focus on something positive and move into a safe space inside.
Once there, you will feel more ready to take on whatever situation you’re facing.
5. Express Gratitude
So often the stories I tell myself boil down to feeling like I’m not good enough – for one reason or another.
They are filled with a sense of longing for what I don’t have, focusing on what’s lacking in my life.
The more I keep track of what’s not happening the more I get stuck in the same old fear narrative.
So every morning, before I start my day, I lay in bed and rattle off in my mind what it is that I’m grateful for.
It’s difficult to feel anything but energized after this exercise.
The most important piece to living without anxiety and fear is to be conscious of the old stories.
Once I realized that all my stories were tales, that they weren’t real, I knew that anytime I identified them during my day, I could choose to believe them or rewrite them.
So I rewrite my story every day. It’s an ongoing process, something I’ve had to train my brain to do.
It takes regular intentional practice before it becomes a habit. So try it for fifteen days.
I’d love to know how it goes.
Cynthia Kane is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. Over the last year and a half, she’s relearned the following: how to jump up and down when she’s happy, cry when she’s sad, laugh when something’s funny, take a compliment, smile at strangers, and be open to the fact that everyone is going through it all the time. For more, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @cynkane.