Changing your story

I didn't know what a paradigm was...

As I was enjoying a hike with a good friend this last weekend, we started bantering on the topic of personal paradigms. I first heard this term in my freshman year of college in 1995 (time keeps a-turning doesn't it?) I was taking a western civilization class from a very controversial professor that was known for her feminism, but also taught about history from the "loser's perspective." During her first class, she informed us all that we were about to undergo a radical paradigm shift this year, and to prepare to question everything we thought we knew about our culture, our faith, and even our country. Wow. Those are some big words. I didn't know exactly what a paradigm was, but I suspected that it was important to me, and shifting it may be slightly uncomfortable, or itchy. A paradigm is defined by as: such a cognitive framework shared by members of any discipline or group. Now, living in Idaho, it's not uncommon for the majority of my culture to be caucasian conservative christians. This is the opposite of my comfort zone, but my culture nonetheless. The paradigm this professor shifted for me was like a pandora's box of "holy @#%&*!" moments that left me feeling lost, alone, and at times depressed. 

Yes, I think too much...

As my hiking buddy and I started talking about personal paradigms, we tried to figure out where they even come from. Family of origin. Yes, I've discussed this throughout many of my articles. The importance of these themes are why we feel disappointed in life, pressured with jealousy, codependency, addiction, it's endless. Personal development is dependent on the belief systems we are fed in order to make sense of the world around us. When my daughter was three, she asked me about God, and where things come from- good vs. bad. If you knew her, you wouldn't be surprised. She's a thinker. As a parent that has focused a great deal of her life on psychology, I felt somewhat pressured to answer these questions wisely, understanding her need for a personal construct, but wanting to avoid any potential damage by creating limiting beliefs. Yes, I think too much. At the end of the day, I chose to teach her an eclectic myriad of belief systems while focusing on a very liberal and open version of Christianity. This decision to teach her about these particular beliefs, and to attend an organized church (mostly for holidays- as of late) has impacted her paradigm about life. Everything from the meaning of Christmas, to the metaphor associated with bread and grape juice. This has changed her story, the filter she will see the world through for the rest of her life. 

Little one at church Easter egg hunt - 4 yrs old

Little one at church Easter egg hunt - 4 yrs old

Likened to fingernails on a chalkboard...

But what about another person's story? A child that's born into a home in which they are pressured to do every extracurricular activity under the sun, and be the best at all of them- on top of academics. That child's story or filter will all be seen through a lense of success and achievement. Everything less will be associated with failure. A powerful paradigm. Or a neglected child that sees adult males as dangerous, women as weak, drugs as an inevitability. That story will leave it's mark on every decision or direction in his/her life. People feel confined to these paradigms, as everything outside of them is perceived as uncomfortable, and likened to fingernails on a chalkboard. Imagine trying to tell Westboro Baptist Church, that gay people are valuable human beings in this world. It would elicit rage among it's churchgoers, yes? Of course! It's challenging their strict and very narrow paradigm. 

Darn tootin it's going to be hard!

I've met with patients that truly believe that life is hard. They will report a colorful rap sheet of life tragedy, rattle off the details of their toxic relationships, and wonder why these things keep on happening. Well, it may have a little to do with the story they have written for themselves. If they believe life will be hard- darn tootin it's going to be hard! Some people have written a story about poverty, that men are all cheaters, that religion is damaging, that they will never succeed in life. These are stories we create to explain our circumstances, or perhaps they were taught to us by family members trying to prepare us for this big bad world. These stories create the paradigms in which we live and breathe- thriving or not. The real trick is to write a new story if this one isn't working. Just a clue- if it hurts and makes you feel rotten, it's not working anymore.

Changing your story...

How do you create a new story? If it's all you know, this is no easy task. You don't just wake up one morning full of optimism, oozing with a new desire to persevere in the world. That's not how it works. Here are a few ideas about how to change your story.

  1. Look around you. Who do you know that has a life you admire? Sometimes it feels as if these people were handed life on a silver platter. I'm guessing you'll notice something about them. They never doubted their success. It was a fact. It wasn't a struggle. That mindset has everything to do with re-creating your story. 
  2. Identify what you want. If you a living in a one bedroom apartment with a dead-end job but wish to pieces you had a chunk of that American dream- what does that look like? How will you know if you have it? How will it make you feel?
  3. Write it down. I tell everyone to write everything down. It's the best idea ever. From rating depression, practicing gratitude, to this exercise I'm giving you. It works. Write it all down. You need a reminder about what you want from time to time, or you'll get lost in the monotony of the daily grind.
  4. Vision board. This is one of my favorite exercises in the world. I first heard about it when The Secret came out over ten years ago. A vision board is a poster board you cut out and paste representations of your dream life on it. It can include words or pictures- anything. I make a new one every year to focus my life goals. This year I have everything from a picture of a person on top of a mountain (I love to hike) to the words freedom, success, laughter, and snuggles. It's chocked-full of inspirational pictures I wake up next to every morning. It's a constant reminder of my priorities.
  5. Give up the negative talk. If you're used to complaining about money, love, work, family etc... stop it. All that negativity is spilling over into your story and keeping you down. Replace the negative talk with affirmations like: "Money flows easily and effortlessly into my life, love is readily available to me, I am a valued part of my work team, and I am blessed to have family in my life (even if they're driving you nuts and you want jump out of a window when you're near them). This is all about creating space for the blessings- for the story you are wanting!

Now this is not what I would call an easy transition. Our brains like to go back to those old stories from time to time. I still have to stop myself from the single mom blues story occasionally. We are all a concoction of imperfect parts just greeting each day with hopes of a brighter future. Every time you catch yourself telling your old story- pause. Breathe. That isn't your struggle anymore. Replace it with your new story. Example: Rachel just got divorced. Her husband had a drinking problem and wasn't kind to her. He cheated, he lied- your basic country song. Now Rachel is on her own with two kids, and has something of a jaded exterior. Everytime she gets together with her girlfriends, they talk about bills, being alone, and how rotten men are. That's some story. If Rachel decided to change her story, she might try spending time with people who have a more positive outlook. Instead of saying men are rotten, she might say her last relationship was disappointing, but she is open to being loved in the future by someone who values her worth. Bam! Story-changed. It takes some practice, but the exercises I suggested earlier make this rewrite of life a lot easier. I've seen some miraculous transitions in people based on some simple changes. Shake your paradigm up. You are in control of this story my dears. What will your next chapter be?