How many times have we all been too scared to try something new? Or to put ourselves out there in fear of failing or not being good at something?
Even for this article, I wasn’t confident I was going to write it. I said to multiple friends who asked what I was working on next that “I am just not inspired to write about this, it seems too technical compared to my last two articles.” I found myself saying this a few more times in my head despite knowing I was the one who chose this subject as I felt it was important. It finally dawned on me that I needed to write this article to prove to myself that I could overcome exactly what this article is about, challenging our negative self-talk.
“Rewrite your narrative,” I sometimes whisper this to myself in weak moments. I often chant it at friends who are saying they “can’t” or “won’t” do something because of some reason that sounds silly to me but makes sense to them. Sometimes these “I’ve never been able to do this” or the “I’m afraid to” comments are justified in their origin but it doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t be challenged.
When we repeat statements over and over again, they start to feel true even if they are lies. This phenomenon has been studied many times over and was given the term “the illusory truth effect” which basically means that people tend to believe things if it’s repeated enough times. For more information on this phenomenon, I recommend checking out this article on why the illusory truth effect works.
The first time I learned about challenging my beliefs, I was in my therapist’s chair. She told me to write down a few reoccurring thoughts I had about myself. What popped into my head immediately was that “I’m unlovable” as I’ve been telling myself this since a teen and confirming this bit of information with every man I’ve dated who would end up hurting me. My therapist took me through a process to see if we could eradicate this toxic belief from my head.
Here are the steps we took that I consistently use to rewrite both my small and big narratives.
1. Challenge your thoughts
Don’t take your thoughts at face value. Our thoughts can be extremely limiting and biased at times. Instead, ask yourself why you think something and how long you’ve thought it. Are there any examples in life that would show you this narrative isn’t always true?
In my case of being “unlovable,” my therapist asked me if there have ever been men outside of the few who didn’t love me back that wanted to date or pursue me who I turned down? In my answer back to her, I realized I could list multiple men I experienced this with, who were total catches but I just felt the chemistry was “off” despite them at times being better catches than my exes.
My therapist honed in on that and said it’s interesting that I even observed they were great catches and pushed them all away or wouldn’t commit to them. She pointed out that it was likely because they were readily available to disprove my life-long theory I’d been carrying with me that I’m unlovable and therefore my subconscious was sort of refusing to acknowledge them and only pay attention to the ones who could confirm my negative bias.
This brought awareness to thoughts that would pop up where I doubted my ability to do something or enjoy something. I would often want to explore them, challenge them, and disprove them.
2. Shift your focus off the negatives and onto the positives.
So even though there were many open, loving men throughout my life ready to love me and disprove this theory, I could only pay attention to the ones who weren’t able to love me. That is what I chose to focus on and it’s why I held onto that belief for so long. What we choose to focus on can affect us in so many different situations.
At work, when I’m helping an employee develop their skills, I’ve heard them say, “I’m not good at customer service.” I often find I’m able to disprove this easily to them but it takes work. If all they can focus on are the times they weren’t patient or understanding with a customer and keep repeating to themselves they aren’t good with customers, they will likely only focus on that aspect rather than the three calls they took beforehand that demonstrated a great deal of patience, kindness, and helpfulness that showed they are capable of great customer service. In these times, I find it’s best to make them listen to the calls they did well on so that we can disprove this narrative.
Shifting focus is key. I’ve even seen this work when observing a Ping Pong tournament. I could see the players who did well were the ones who really kept their eye on the ball, rather than observing their opponents too much. If they focused too much on what their opponents were saying or what they were doing with their bodies, then they would often miss hitting the ball when it comes their way as they weren’t focused on the one thing they needed to be focused on to succeed, which was the ball and not all the other things around them.
3. Take steps to disprove the theory by overcoming what you think you can’t.
Even though my therapist challenged my past experiences with contrary evidence, it wasn’t enough to completely take away my fear that I was unlovable, so she encouraged me to go on lots of dates just to see what happens. By doing this, I was finding multiple men who were wanting to pursue a relationship with me, sometimes way too quickly, but essentially weren’t rejecting me at all.
This also made it easier to deal with the men who weren’t interested in me, as it didn’t need to define me, like it did before. Dating through conscious awareness of my previous belief has really helped me see that all this time, it was just a very skewed belief that was causing me harm.
Trying things out to disprove our personal narratives is fundamental in overcoming them. We must take steps, even baby steps, to disprove our theories by getting out there and trying.
Another self-defeating belief I had about myself was that “I can’t cook.” I didn’t enjoy it, wasn’t good at it, and that was just “who I am.” I asked myself why I believed that, if there was enough evidence to prove or disprove the theory and I was able to realize that I just needed more practice. The more I cooked, the better I became and I no longer think this about myself.
4. Be completely okay with failing and messing up.
There are going to be times when you try to disprove your theory and what actually happens is exactly what you predicted –– that you aren’t good at something. It is a failed attempt but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to get better or won’t have success if you try it again. It just simply means that for this specific time, it didn’t work out, and maybe some tweaks to the process will help it work better next time. We have to be accepting of both good and bad experiences but neither of them should define us or force us into a metaphorical box in our head that we can’t step out of.
When it came to disproving my “I can’t cook” narrative, I started with what was comfortable and then evolved into much more complicated dishes. During this cooking evolution, I would be lying if I said all my meals were great, in fact, some were major fails but I certainly didn’t let these failures end my cooking journey. If I had, well, that would’ve been really sad as I was able to learn that I love cooking and am quite good at it. It even helps me destress, which is why I’m so happy I disproved this narrative.
Disproving our narratives is the best way to realize we have the power to evoke change in ourselves.
What narratives keep coming up for you that you can disprove this week?