Kaboom!

Blow up your negative narratives and take charge of the stories you tell yourself.

“I am too OLD for this bullshit!” Just a couple of months ago I exclaimed these words during a learning group in Seth Godin’s altMBA. The intense leadership program designed to challenge students to “leap” into territory they never thought possible, had pushed me more than a few steps past the perimeter of my comfort zone. Although my words were a bit tongue-in-cheek (clearly I am NOT too old for this) my desire to fly higher had thrust me face to face with my inner narrative.

Narrative is the story we tell ourselves, a story about boundaries, about assets and about potential. – altMBA

The voice inside your head that tells you what is (and isn’t) possible is a big part of narrative. I like to call it The Inside Story. Although it doesn’t start with “Once upon a time, The Inside Story can be as elusive as fairy tales and cast powerful spells if we fail to recognize its empty qualities. As real as they may seem, stories are just stories.

Sometimes the stories we create sound like Myopic Monologues. If you’re always falling just short of your dream, maybe Second Fiddle is the symphony you’re conducting. Perhaps you often think the people around you are holding you back. If only you took out your magnifying glass you’d see your Inner Critic staring back!

Please note: The Inner Critic (aka Lizard Brain, Weasel Head, Monkey Mind, Troll…) occupies a special narrative classification. She’s a bit more slithery, possessing an alarmingly strong voice. So much so, she’s less a narrative than she is a narrator. Unlike other voices in stories we create, Ms. Lizzie (naming mine has been helpful) is evolutionarily hard-wired into the limbic sysems of our heads. Ms. Lizzie’s job is to scan the horizon for any hint of danger. Since there’s probably a deficit of tigers prowling your neighborhood Ms. Lizzie is more than happy to take aim at kick-ass varieties of pseudo-danger that are filled with joy and risks that could light you up and set your world on fire.

If you’re wondering if the story you’re telling yourself is a helpful one, it might be worthwhile to tune in to its tone. After all, “Yeah, right!” could sound hypercritical if someone named Malfoy sarcastically shouts it from the back of the classroom.

The most effective way to hear your tone is to actually listen to it. This can be a problem if you’re overly busy and think you can’t take time for yourself–can you see this is a story too? Quieting the mind is a form of self-care that is crucial to understanding ourselves.

Ahhh, yes! Quieting the mind. It’s unfortunate that I’ve heard several people report to me that they tried to do this once and were so disturbed by the chatter they uncovered, they quickly evacuated their own heads!

As crazy as this might sound, it makes complete sense to anyone who’s bravely stepped into the role of Witness to their own whirlpool of thoughts–especially when a dinosaur from your limbic system is haphazardly stomping around.

I assure you, you’ve got this! Being self-critical might be a weird way to protect ourselves, but you’ve nothing to fear by listening to your lizard. Sometimes, all you need to say is “I hear you, Lizzie and I’m fine, you can go back to sleep now,” but sometimes a swift, “Shut up, Lizzie!” is a splendid approach.

Once Lizzie is back in her cave, you can tune into the finer frequencies of your inner narratives. What tone do you use? Are you loving and kind? Do you speak to yourself like a friend would? Quite often the tone is the thread that will help you find the narrative attached to it.

I imagine Oprah Winfrey’s voice speaks to her with a quality of big-hearted boldness vibrating like the powerful purr of a confident lioness. And maybe Michelle Obama’s Inside Story is delivered through a combination of Rosa Parks and Beyoncé.

My voice? Some days it’s all over the map, ranging from Comical Coyote to my Taskmaster Hippopotamus. If I’m lucky, the Pig of Happiness chortles in to calm my Squawking Pterodactyl. But the voice I love most, whose song is closest to my truest self, is Magical Magpie. A whimsical raven who befriends her fear, trusts her life and bravely soars into possibility – all while cawing at the coyotes and hippopotami far, far below her.

I really love her story.

Luckily, you probably don’t share the same internal ZOO that I do, but the point is this: your narrative is malleable, which makes it changeable. The story you have right now is completely fabricated! You can create a new one! Take a look at every project and relationship you have and you’ll find there’s a narrative attached to it. The genius is to be found in questioning the validity of these stories and experimenting with them.

 

The last week of the altMBA I was able to start connecting the dots in front of me. I was already familiar with the pitfalls of inner storylines and was using a Buddhist technique of noticing and then simply letting go of them.*

Although this technique works very well, I’d yet to recognize the creative power of narratives. Why wouldn’t we harness this power when we’re wired to tell them? The key is learning to create narratives with eyes wide open–like an artist who is fully conscious of what she’s making. Instead of being tossed around in a subconscious soup of insecurities, I can create a narrative of my choosing–one that allows me to embody my Magical Magpie and fly higher.

In a flash of inspiration, I shared this insight near the end of the program,

 “A week ago I wrote ‘I’m too old for this bullshit!’ But what I’ve come to find is I’m too old to be hanging on to these shitty narratives!”

Kaboom! Once you see something and allow others to witness it you just can’t unsee it. Flashes of awareness work this way. As soon as that door is opened, we might choose to ignore it, but the threshold remains.

A new character with an empowered voice and a completely different plot twist is just a blink away, waiting on the edge of your comfort zone. How I wish I could express this in a way you could see it clearly! The voice that cries “Bullshit!” while standing on that edge is the excitement of stepping into your imagination!

 

There is no time to lose. Can you feel that tension? Listen! You can hear your heart in the still small voice of the 8-year-old child whose wild curiosity and instinctive talents were brushed aside for what was more civilized, safer, and smaller.

You are never too old and all is not lost. You can follow the feathers and popcorn kernels dropped by the feral girl you once knew. The seeds she stored are still with you, tucked away in the corner of your left shoe. And by the way, those wings beneath your backpack aren’t meant folding. It’s time to leap from the cliff and trust your life. It was designed to hold you.

Photo Credits:  Exploding Coneflower, Susan J. Preston. The Bishop’s Garden, Washington, DC, © 2006, all rights reserved

Technical: Canon 60D | 100mm (EF 100mm F2.8 Macro) | 1/125 sec at f2.8 | ISO 200

 

*Upon further investigation, even the practice of noticing and letting go is a story of self, one that could be titled, Susan Letting Go. 
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