“Oh, the stories we tell ourselves.” Lynsey Eason, a wonderful health and wellness coach through Military OneSource, said these words during one of our sessions. Her words caught me off-guard and I asked her to say them again, to be able to write them down. “The stories we tell ourselves.” What a profound phrase. What stories do you tell yourself? What is the inner monologue running non-stop throughout your day, and sometimes keeping you up at night? What words do you tell yourself? And how do those words have an impact on your life?
The way that you decide to look at the past, present, and future has a profound impact on your life. While you may not get to choose much of what happens to you, you do have a choice in how you think, how you respond, and how you use situations to help others. So, in that aspect, you have an incredible opportunity in every new moment and in every situation. When I make a mistake, I can berate myself and call myself a range of names internally, mentally beating myself up. Or, I can learn from that mistake, accept whatever consequence there may be, and then become a better person for it.
YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR STORY
In life, things can change in the snap of a finger and situations can happen that can blindside you. Some are due to decisions you have made, some due to decisions others have made, and some happen for reasons you cannot see. But you have the power to navigate through the challenges of life. How you choose to respond, and the words you silently tell yourself have power, and those words can impact the decisions that you make. If you are the author of your story, then what story are you telling yourself? How you look at a situation and how you then tell that story has a ripple effect around you.
I love to read. Reading has always been one of my favorite hobbies. Books are in nearly every room of our home as well as stacks of books to be read. The written word has incredible power to teach, transport, and entertain, as well as escape. Some of my favorite books are those that show the struggle between good and evil, the power of redemption, and difficult decisions that people make in seemingly impossible situations. Whether non-fiction or fiction, the characters in these types of books often must choose to make choices at great risk to themselves.
Through books and stories, you can learn through others’ struggles and triumphs. You can be inspired to grow in resiliency, patience, and love. And you can be motivated to become better versions of yourself through the lasting impact of what you read. If story can affect you in such a way, imagine the power of the stories that you tell yourself. When you speak to yourself either aloud or internally, what is the tone? Is the narrator a gentle guide or a harsh critic? You alone have the power to choose what that story will be.
WHAT STORIES DO YOU TELL YOURSELF?
Perfectionism has been a battle for most of my life. And oh, the stories I’ve told, especially during those awkward teenage years. I’d berate myself, feed repetitive lies that I wasn’t good enough, and then make choices based on the negativity. After an illness when I was a teen, I discovered how easy it was to lose weight by just not eating. This became a powerful way to exert control over myself and my awkward life. Meticulously counting calories increased my confidence as I met my daily goals with calculated dedication. I distinctly remember deciding not to eat an apple one day because it had too many calories for the self-imposed 500 calorie limit. To not get caught, I became a master of deception and easily lied to family and friends saying that I already had eaten or didn’t feel well.
Once my secret was discovered, people surrounded me with care and concern. My parents got me help and support. Unfortunately, my people-pleasing desire began to grow. And so I ate. I ate to alleviate worried loved ones who had seen me slowly waste away. I ate boisterously in public to prove that I was no longer bound by counting calories. Eventually, eating turned to binge eating. While eating in public was for show, binge eating in private became a new way to hate myself. Sometimes I would even sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and eat half a loaf of bread, piece by piece, straight from the bag.
One day, after talking with someone who had similar struggles, I learned about what is now known as intuitive eating. So, I decided to tell myself a different story. There is freedom in seeing food as a way to give our body what it wants and needs, while also bringing enjoyment, rather than viewing food as an enemy. I became more kind and balanced in my outlook with food, which has given me a more balanced life the past twenty years. I slowly shifted the narration within from self-hatred to acceptance and changed the outcome.
YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR STORY
Every day you have the opportunity to change your story. And in every moment, you have a new chance to shift your perspective, your words, and your actions. These small acts can have a snowball effect and change your life.
There is a motivational quote that we have in our house, made from a poster I had seen: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Some situations can be approached by learning to shift the thought pattern when looking at that situation. For me, I’ve learned to minimize my harsh internal criticisms by reminding myself that I am human and am incapable of perfection. Yet other situations may require reaching out to others, and asking for help from family and friends. Opening up with your struggles can connect you to people who are also going through struggles. Working with others to mutually encourage and support each other can make all the difference in not feeling alone.
As military spouses, there are incredible resources available, and many only take a phone call or visit to a website. Free counseling and health and wellness coaching from Military OneSource changed my life and helped me to get unstuck and change the stories I tell myself. Counseling helped me to dig in those deeper places, and make positive changes. Coaching has helped me to make specific practical changes, one day at a time. In the past two years, I went from wanting to be more organized and more focused, to actually becoming more organized and focused, all through small daily goals.
As the quote above says, by paying attention to your thoughts, you have the power to change your words, actions, habits, character, and destiny. When life happens to you and around you, you have the power to choose your own adventure. You hold the pen and can rewrite the narration that can seemingly be on an endless loop in your mind. And as the author of your own story, you can change the stories that you tell yourself and in doing so change the world around you.