Are the Stories You Tell Yourself Helpful? Really?


Stories are a huge part of coaching and frequently show up in sessions, whether I’m the coach or the client. The stories you tell yourself have a profound impact on your life. They influence how you see the world, the decisions you make, the relationships you form, and the overall course of your existence.And we all have stories. The aim of personal growth isn't to get rid of our stories (more on why below), but to get better at noticing and questioning them when they come up.A significant proportion coaching involves unwrapping and examining the stories we tell ourselves. We look at those stories that are serving us, those that aren’t, and find ways to reframe situations and relate to the world so that we can create stories that are more truthful and constructive in the present and future.We dedicate time to stories because they have a huge impact on the way we experience ourselves and the world around us. When we examine those stories, we can see how true they are, and whether they're skewing the way we see and experience the world.I've dealt with, and continue to deal with, my own quota of helpful and not so helpful stories about myself and the world. In this post, I want to share an exercise I've found helpful on my own journey—I hope it's helpful for you too.

Optimism & pessimism: how the stories you tell yourself shape your life

Usually, these stories exist for a good reason that involves some kind of self-protection or preservation. More often than not, though, we’ve outgrown those reasons and no longer need the stories we’re telling ourselves. In his book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz describes the importance of noticing the difference between the facts of our lives and the stories we tell ourselves about those facts. If realism refers to the facts, then optimism and pessimism are both separate outgrowths of the stories we choose to tell ourselves about those facts.


Byron Katie offers a set of questions she calls Inquiry to get to the root of our stories:

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Like I mentioned above, it’s not realistic to expect ourselves to get rid of our stories altogether. Stories are how we make sense of the world and filling in gaps with our own meanings is an automatic function of our minds. Some stories can also be helpful.

How to uncover the stories you tell yourself

It's important to your wellbeing and experience of the world that you become aware of the stories you tell yourself and learn to question them. You can use Byron Katie’s questions above for this as well as the following exercise adapted from The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working:1. Think of a recent event or circumstance that triggered strong (negative) feelings for you.2. Write down the facts (and only the facts). This is what actually happened. Stick to objective events and leave your interpretations or assumptions aside for the moment.3. Now write down your stories about the facts (this is where you can go wild with your interpretations and assumptions!)4. Compare your responses to 2 and 3. What differences do you notice between the two? What do you observe about your stories compared to the facts?Do you want to explore the stories you tell yourself further? Enter your email below to download your free workbook with 10 powerful questions for clarity, confidence and self-connection:[mailerlite_form form_id=1]Further reading: How to reframe difficult experiences with one simple question & re-writing our stories with Sas PetherickImage: Ermin Celikovic via Unsplash