Write a New Story: How to Change Your Personal Narrative
You want to change your life? Change your personal narrative.
The story we tell ourselves about our lives defines the way we think, the way we act, the way we react.
Let me just give you a small example: Growing up, my personal story was that I am someone who is just not good at exercising. All my life, I had this resistance against moving, no matter in which form, because deep down I felt embarrassed and incapable.
I could have kept living this way, avoiding addressing the issue forever. Today, however, I frequently hike long-distance trails across mountains and do yoga pretty much every day.
So what happened? I decided to no longer accept the story I was telling myself. I took action. And I know that you can do the same for your life, too.
In this article, I’ll guide you through the foundations of changing your narrative and leave you with some easy, actionable steps that you can start implementing today.
If you own this story you get to write the ending.– Brené Brown
What is your inner narrative?
In psychology, the theory of narrative identity suggests that as human beings, we form a life story (a narrative) to make sense of what we experience.
Your inner narrative consists of
- your reconstructed past
- your perceived present
- your imagined future
Do you notice the subjective adjectives here? They all suggest adaptability. Your story is not set in stone.
How we construct our narrative, strongly affects our personal well-being which is why making your story a positive one is so important. Your path fully depends on how you view your past, present, and future.
Why does changing your narrative work?
Storytelling is a powerful technique to change the way our thinking is wired – in fact, so powerful that it is also used in therapy.
To process trauma, we often need to change our perspective onto our personal narrative. We need to rewrite our story. By redefining your narrative, you allow yourself to gain a different perspective on your life’s events.
We are all subject to a cognitive bias – known as the framing effect – that distorts our view on reality. Our thoughts tend to be phrased more negatively than positively, but the good news is that we can change that.
For example, if something really bad happened to you in your childhood, you may feel like it has broken you forever. Changing your story allows you to shift the focus from the suffering it has brought you to how it has made you a stronger person. Your suffering is your gift.
What you repeat, you believe. If your story is one where you are a victim to your circumstances with no personal power, that is what you will believe. If you repeatedly tell yourself that you are the creator of your life and that you are capable to achieve the life you want to be living, you are changing your life.
It is all about finding the silver lining.
How to change your personal narrative
1. Start living as the person you want to be
You probably already have a pretty clear idea of who you want to be. And this is exactly how you should see yourself already today.
We tend to define our story by looking at the past. But while those experiences may have shaped us, they are not who we are right now or who we are becoming.
Start changing your narrative by showing up as the person you want to be in the future.
Do you want to be someone who hikes mountains? Well, you are not going to get there by sitting on your sofa. Do you want to be more outgoing? Start talking to people more today.
Consistency and practice are the key to change your personal narrative. Your future You is made of the habits you are forming today.
2. Identify your limiting beliefs
Do you know what exactly is holding you back? A limiting belief is a deep-rooted conviction or belief that limits you. Often, they go as far back as your childhood and family history. Limiting beliefs keep you stuck in a negative mindset that stops you from rising up to your full potential.
In my case, what stopped me from conquering mountains was the simple belief ‘I’m not good at physical activity’. It was based on experiences from the past that I felt ashamed of, but was it really true? No! I just never really tried.
If you have ever uttered sentences like ‘I’m just not good at…’, ‘I’ll never be someone who…’, ‘I don’t/I can’t …’, then it is time to change something.
Don’t stop yourself before you even try. And if you fail, try again. Slowly prove to yourself that your limiting belief does not hold any power over you – and transform it into a positive belief.
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.Henry Ford
3. Take time for self-reflection
To understand and change your personal narrative, you need to take time to go inwards. It is good to regularly stop and assess your personal story.
Good questions to ask yourself are:
- What is the story I tell myself?
- What is this inner narrative based on? When did it start?
- Does this narrative reflect my reality?
- What would I like my story to be?
- How can I take action to change my narrative?
Get real with yourself and don’t be shy to talk to trusted people who will give you honest feedback and encouragement.
Careful though, everyone you will talk to will have their own version of you in their minds, though – positive and negative. This is why eventually, you need to be the protagonist of crafting your story.
Self-reflect and know what YOU want.
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4. Be mindful of your environment
When you think of the people and information surrounding you, do you feel like they support your growth? Or do they keep you stuck in a negative mindset?
It is not unusual to outgrow your environment. The danger, however, is to be so attached to your environment that you keep holding yourself back.
If you want to be someone who pursues their personal goals and aims for success, but some friends keep making fun of you and focus on all the things you can’t do – maybe it’s time to change your surroundings.
Get ready to let go of what no longer serves you. Find people who support you and believe just as much as you that you can and will change your narrative.
The same goes for the media you consume. Do you read and watch content that makes you feel empowered? If it doesn’t, check who you follow on social media. Get some new books. Watch movies that leave you feeling inspired, not disheartened.
By choosing your surroundings consciously, it becomes easier to take the actions needed to change your story.
5. Expect setbacks – and keep going anyways
If you spend decades of your living believing in your inner narrative, it is unlikely that you will switch your entire mindset from one day to the next.
Even though we are all looking for quick-fix solutions, that is just not how life works. This is exactly why you need to prepare yourself and expect setbacks.
There will be moments where you struggle. Changing your life is not easy. And you will fall back into old patterns, maybe sometimes even when you thought you already have overcome them.
Expect that not everything will go smoothly. But keep believing that you can make it. Changing your story takes time. Be patient with yourself, make adjustments when necessary, and always, always keep going.
6. Small steps will bring you forward
Trying to change a big theme in your life can feel very overwhelming. A lot of people tend to naturally go into a state of shock. Be overwhelmed, do nothing, play dead like an animal trying to avoid its predator.
Realistically, staying in that paralyzed state doesn’t help though. You need to fight your inner predator to overcome it.
And how do you do it? By starting with the smallest possible thing you can find. Baby steps. Action inspires more action, and if you can only do one small thing today, many things will follow. And they will all bring you forward.
7. Tell yourself new stories
I love how writer Jenna Arak explains in her TED talk how we get to choose our story.
Her wound of being abandoned by her father led to deep beliefs about her own worthiness – which after becoming aware of it, she managed to change.
Your narrative changes when the story you tell yourself changes. Instead of looking for the negative, reaffirm that
- you are worthy
- you are loved
- you are capable
- you deserve happiness/wealth/health/love
- you are allowed to make mistakes
- you are enough
8. Know that it is you who tells the story
You are the author of your story. Only you can change your personal narrative. And that realization holds a lot of power.
Even if it was someone else who hurt you, it is still in your power how you react to it. You get to choose how to make sense of it. What they did, is their responsibility, not yours. But what you believe about what happened shapes who you are.
So take responsibility for your story and write it in a way that feels right to you. Life doesn’t need to be a fairytale – it is the bumps and detours that make you so very special.
By appreciating your journey and viewing it in a positive light you give meaning to your story. Focus on the lessons and remember that you get to decide how your story continues.
Final thoughts on changing your narrative
As mentioned before, one aspect of my life where I completely changed my narrative was changing the way I view movement. In the past, I saw it as something I am incapable of, that I will be made fun of if I don’t succeed. To me, exercising was something very uncomfortable that I should rather not even try.
I told myself that I was lazy while actually… I was just scared.
And I sometimes still struggle with that inner narrative. But today I have experienced that movement brings me joy, that conquering mountains makes me feel strong and that my body is healthier if I go for walks. The beauty of nature calms me and I feel connected to my self and life as I move through it. Experience is proof. Experience shapes our beliefs.
When I started hiking, I wished that I was someone who it came easy to. Just so I wouldn’t have to struggle so damn hard. Today, I am so grateful for having to fight my way through. Only that way I could grow. Your struggle is your strength.
And knowing that changed my story. I now believe that I can do the things I set my mind to. And I will not let anyone (including my own mind) hold me back, no matter how ridiculous and exhausted I feel dragging myself up that mountain with a heavy backpack. Because I know it is worth it.
Changing your narrative is a constant practice. Adapting new beliefs takes time. But if I can only give you one thing to take with you, I want it to be the belief that changing your story is possible.
Stay strong, changemaker.
P.S. If you feel inspired to share your own story, leave a comment below – where have you already changed your narrative? What parts are you still looking to change?