Last Monday was a lovely start to the New Year as 29 of us sat together to explore entering the New Year with a feeling of appreciating ourselves and what achievements and qualities we were bringing with us from 2019 into 2020. But, unhelpful scripts can sabotage our success and undermine our intentions. It is really helpful to identify these and recognise the stories they are connected to: the “I’m a failure story”, or “I’m unwanted”, or “whatever I do I get wrong”, or “I don’t deserve happiness”, or “life is tough”………and these scripts give rise to the self talk that causes suffering and often limits us in taking any further action: “How can you be so stupid”, “see, these things never work out”, “I give up”.
Often our New Year resolutions are an attempt to shift to a more positive story, but within a few weeks the old story is in control again. Rather than trying to create the ideal version of ourself, we can instead be conscious of the story we are living out and notice if it leads to feeling happier, or is limiting. If we live a story that says: “I am popular and loved and have the free will to do as I please. Life may sometimes not go as I want but I can also succeed” then there is little to change there! But if the storyline is “I’m not wanted, life is a struggle and anything I do will always go wrong” then it is likely we will not be experiencing a very satisfying life!
The thing then is to change the story, not try to make changes to our actions that are then undermined by the self-limiting story that has not been touched. I may sign up for the gym and aim to go to more social events but if I walk in with the belief “I am a failure”…or “I’m not wanted” then these things will not satisfy us and instead this subconscious belief will sabotage any possibility of success or happiness so that we settle back into the old familiar way or being, saying to ourselves “I knew it was a waste of time trying to make new friends”…or “I can’t get fit”.
How then do we change the story? This is what I am exploring currently. One useful tool I have learnt last year is kindness to myself. The self compassion practices of turning towards the struggle and simply acknowledging “this is hard….to feel sad, or lonely is difficult……but it’s ok, it’s ok to feel like this ……and I’m here….I love you” – talking to yourself as if you were a good friend, resting a hand on your chest over your heart, feeling the kindness of your touch as you say whatever kind words you need. In this way you take away the sting of the negative core-belief by bringing compassion to where you struggle rather than loosing yourself in the belief.
Another tool for self-compassion is to notice the tone of your inner talk. If the voice saying “get fit, go to the gym” is like a sergeant major shouting at you with disgust then this isn’t really an expression of self-care! Instead see how you can bring a kindness to the tone of your inner voice. “Yes, I want to get fit, now what is is I really enjoy doing….” saying this with a kind tone, opening up a reflection instead of a command may enable you to decide you want to go for long walks rather than go into a gym. Or you goto the gym with a feeling of self-love instead of self-blame. Working out really changed for me when I had a shift from doing it so that at some point in the future I would be attractive enough to meet some idea of what a good body might look like….to simply enjoying the sensations of exercise: feeling the heat in my body, the exertion in my limbs and feeling happy in that moment even if nothing changed!
Finally, notice the story as it attempts to define you and limit you and say to yourself “it’s just a story”. Notice there is a knowing that is witnessing the story but that is not defined by it. Just as if you were sitting in a cinema and were frightened by a horror movie and a friend next to you reminds you “it’s not real, it’s just a story” and suddenly you see it all as make up and special effects and get some distance from believing the film to be a real event. Then you can see the film but no longer are lost in it.
The talk below gives a simple exercise for noticing limiting beliefs: