Hari Patience-Davies considers the stories we tell ourselves and why we should let them change and grow.
I am not a sporty person. At school the only time I was ever not the last person picked for a team was when a friend of mine was the one doing the picking. I wasn’t fast – my mental image of myself was lumbering and awkward. Other kids said I made a weird moaning noise when I ran.
But last month I set myself a challenge, to run 2 miles every day in February. And I did it. I even exceeded it, covering longer distances at the weekends and I ended up running a total of 102km in the shortest month of the year. I can now easily run 5km – I actually beat my personal best time for that distance last week. I want to run further. I want to get better at running. I find myself looking forward to it.
I am not a sporty person. But I am a runner.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently. She’s been giving me some personal and professional coaching and we ended up talking about the stories we tell ourselves.
Stories like “I’m not a sporty person.”
Stories that define how we see ourselves.
Stories that might not be true anymore…
Someone who can run 100km in 28 days may not be the fastest or fittest of people, but they’re certainly sporty. They’re in the sporty club. You can’t keep them out.
Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves can be helpful. One of mine is that I’m a good presenter. I can’t remember exactly where this came from or when I decided it was true, but it’s a key part of my professional brand and has been for years. I am good at public speaking. You can listen to my presentation advice because I’m a good presenter.
That’s a helpful piece of internal narrative.
It gives me confidence in myself. I can rely on the story that I’m a good presenter. I feel that, should I have to step up on stage, even without warning or advance knowledge, I can probably make it work.
Because I’m a good presenter.
Another story I tell about myself is that I’m protective. I do my best to shield teams I work with from unnecessary hassle and stress. I try to make sure everyone’s okay. Sometimes I do this so much for others that I stop doing it for myself.
And sometimes being protective isn’t helpful. Sometimes people need the experience of hardships to grow and overcome them. Sometimes being overprotective leads to a weaker team, lower quality work or missed deadlines.
I like the story about me being protective – but it’s one I need to keep a close eye on to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons and in the right ways. I need to make sure that my need to protect, and to be seen as protective, doesn’t hurt or hinder others.
If you have a quiet moment, five minutes between calls or meetings, or time to catch your breath while drinking a coffee, it can be worth thinking about what are the stories you tell about yourself, and whether they’re helping or hindering you.
What are your stories?
These stories shape us – they may influence how we dress or act or the decisions we make. How we see ourselves is often how we want people to see us – and that can be both good and bad. But we can take control of that narrative – we get to decide what our stories are.
Because stories change. The awkward kid who never got picked first at sport just ran 100k last month. And she’s going to keep running, because while once she wasn’t sporty, she’s had a chance to reset that narrative, and it turns out, she can run.