As I mentioned before, I work out at Orange Theory Fitness. I love it for so many reasons. One of them is that I know I’m going to get a full-body workout every time I go.
To accomplish this, we use different machines, dumbbells, Bosu balls, medicine balls, and TRX straps, which are long straps with handles anchored to the wall about eight feet up. You can use them to do all sorts of exercises using your body weight.
The other day as I was doing low rows and holding tension in the strap while I leaned all the way back and then pulled myself in and out, I thought, “If I let go, I would just fall straight onto my back because my feet are not underneath me as I do this.
So, in order to let go, I have to walk my feet back underneath me so that there’s slack in the straps, and then I can stand up and let go.”
This is what the process of letting go of old stories we’ve been telling about ourselves forever is like.
We really have to lean in and get our feet beneath us to be able to let go.
If we try when there’s still truth and tension in the story, if you will, we’ll fall flat on our backs.
Stories we tell ourselves
We all have stories we tell about who we are and why we are that we’ve picked up from our childhoods, our culture, our families, our experiences, and our observations of the world. Stories are how we shape our view of the world.
We have stories about what a good daughter is, what a good mom is, what the right thing is, how we should behave in certain situations, what we should think, what we should do, look like, eat, want, have, be, weigh, all of those things.
The stories we tell ourselves help us know how to show up because one of the strongest evolutionary drives we have is to belong, be accepted, and fit in.
So, if we do all the things we’re supposed to do and show up according to our stories, we believe we will belong, fit in, and be accepted.
The scenery of our mind
The problem is our stories have not been fact-checked. They have not been authenticated. Not all of them are relevant or helpful, or true. Many of them contradict each other, are impossible, or do nothing but cause us pain.
But since they’ve always just been there, we don’t question whether or not they should still be there.
Here’s an example.
I have a rolling whiteboard/flip chart easel that I use with clients occasionally. I have it near my desk so that when I need it, it’s easy just to get up and grab and use it. Because of where it’s situated, every time I come in my office to sit at my desk, I have to kind of go sideways and sort of shimmy past it and step over it. And I’ve been doing that for like two years. No joke.
A couple of weeks ago, I was like, okay, why am I doing this? I use this board like two times a month, and it really wouldn’t be that big of a deal to grab it when I need it if it was a little farther away and not blocking my path. So, I rolled it six feet further away, and now I can just walk around my desk and sit down.
It’s so easy for these little things that are just slightly annoying or inconvenient to just blend into the scenery so that you don’t even notice them. However, they’re still there bugging you, unsettling you, causing anxiety, just under the radar.
This is what some of those old stories have become – a nuisance, but a part of the scenery of our minds to the point that we don’t really recognize they are at play in our day-to-day lives.
The fear of letting go
The stories about our identity, value, worth, capabilities, limits, and weaknesses are the stories we are holding the most tension on. These are the stories we feel that if we just let go of, we will fall flat on our backs because we don’t know who we are without them.
We don’t know what is expected of us so we worry we won’t know how to show up the right way without them. This is why it’s usually wise to get some slack in the strap, to lean in with curiosity before we try to stand up and let go.
As a side note, I use the term “let go” intentionally here. I often hear people use terms like, get rid of, stop believing, or be done with when we are talking about stories that don’t serve us. Still, I like the idea of letting go or releasing our grip versus stopping doing something. It feels different, more gentle, and more empowered.
Questioning your stories
So, where do we even begin? Most of us are unaware of unhelpful stories that we are telling about ourselves.
If that’s the case, you can start asking yourself some questions.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What is a good _____? (Insert the name of any role you identify within your life.)
- What makes me valuable?
- What makes me worthy?
- Am I good enough/smart enough/whatever enough? Why not?
- How do I feel about my body?
- How do I feel about my weight?
- What does the number I see on the scale mean about me?
Answering these questions will reveal some stories you’ve been telling and believing that have been running in the background of your life, taking up space, complicating things, making it harder for you, and creating tension.
Compassion and curiosity are the antidotes
Being critical and judgmental of our stories just increases the tension. Compassion and curiosity are the antidotes to criticism and judgment.
So, once you start to see your stories applying some curiosity and compassion to them, that’s how we start to create slack in the straps so that we can eventually stand up straight and move forward and create new stories.
Compassion and curiosity sound like:
- What’s behind it?
- Why do you believe this?
- How long have you believed this?
- Is it true?
- What’s the source of this information?
- Where did this story come from?
- Who says?
- Why does this feel true or important?
- Is it helpful?
- How does this story make you feel, and what do you do with that feeling?
- Is it kind?
Once we have an idea or a little background information and context for our stories, it’s easier to understand and start creating some space or some slack between us and these stories we always told about ourselves.
Turning down the volume
I just read another awesome book from Jon Acuff called Soundtracks. It’s about overthinking and how these stories or soundtracks, as he refers to them, inform how we show up in our lives.
Most of my clients want to rid themselves of the stories that aren’t helpful. They want to turn off their broken soundtracks with the flip of a switch so they won’t ever have to hear them again.
Jon addresses this in the book. He’s in a confrontation with a friend David Thomas who says people want there to be a switch. It’s not a switch, though. It’s a dial.
The goal isn’t to turn it off forever. The goal is to turn down the volume.
It’s going to get louder sometimes, that’s how dials work, but when life turns up, the negative thoughts, we get to turn them down.
Jon then writes that when you live with a switch mentality, you set yourself up for automatic failure because it triggers the perfectionist soundtrack, which basically has us believing that there’s a right switch and that the right switch is the answer. Then, we search everywhere for that perfect diet, exercise, book, breathing technique, or whatever that will make the soundtrack go away forever.
The alternative is learning how to turn down the dial on the soundtrack.
Having a few turn-down techniques that you can use in a variety of contexts. They are things you can do to turn down the volume on your loud, unhelpful, unkind stories when they come up.
It can be movement, going for a walk or a run, doing some stretches while playing your favorite song, taking a shower or bath, or maybe it’s a change of scenery like going for a drive in the car with the windows down or it could be doing a puzzle or something artistic or creative or learning something new about something you’re interested in from a podcast or a YouTube video.
The goal isn’t to distract or ignore the unhelpful, unkind stories but rather to disrupt the overthinking on repeat.
I always like to turn down with the goal of getting some space from the looping thoughts in order to try on something else. It’s not just that I’m trying to get away in order to not think about this, but it’s like I want to put a little bit of space between me and those thoughts to try on some different things as well.
Jon says the flipside of criticism is curiosity. The flipside of saying no is yes. The flipside of declaring why it won’t work is discovering why it could.
Tell stories you can believe
But, keep this in mind; I said to try on new stories that I can also believe are true. We’re not trying to pretend we believe the new story.
As Jon says, you never beat an old lie with a new lie. Replacing a broken soundtrack doesn’t mean faking a new one. So, as you’re trying out new stories, make sure you can buy in somewhat, or it just won’t stick.
Now, to be clear, telling yourself a new story will feel awkward anyway, right? It may even feel a little bit like a lie, but I love this insight from the book. You feel like a liar. It’s weird to say things about yourself that aren’t true yet.
What’s funny, though, is that if you’re an overthinker, you’ve already done that exact same thing for years. You just haven’t noticed it because you weren’t saying them out loud.
So, for example, everyone is trying to take advantage of me is every bit as big a lie as I take pride in my appearance. Still, one has played a thousand times without me ever once calling it out because it’s hidden under the cloak of an internal thought.
That, to me, is hugely helpful to think about. It may be a stretch or a challenge to believe a new story because we don’t have piles of evidence that it’s true yet, but how many of your old stories are lies too?
How many of them are things you have little or no proof of?
“I will never figure this out” is one I hear a lot. It’s something you may tell yourself 15 times a week about your health or your weight loss journey, but there’s no way you can know that for sure because you can’t predict the future. So, who’s to say I’m going to figure this out?
“I won’t stop until I figure this out” can also be true. How different does it feel to tell one of those stories instead of, “I’ll never figure this out.”? More helpful? More kind? For sure.
Practicing on purpose
Once you’ve built up a small cache of new stories that move you forward, it’s just about practicing them on purpose.
Notice when the old stories come up and want some airtime, turning the dial down on them and reminding yourself of the new stories you’re practicing.
If you want some help finding your unhelpful stories and learning how to turn down the dial and create some new ones, that is precisely the type of important work my clients are doing every day.
Head to itbeginswithathought.com/apply and hop on a call with me. We’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and how my Love First Weight Loss Program can help you get there.
I have a new group starting in May, and I’d love to have you be a part of it. So, hop on, apply, and I’ll see you soon.