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Jun 26, 2024

Rewriting Your Inner Script: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Sheila Tucker

Photography By

The trick is to avoid telling yourself the same old story. Instead, create a new story, one that acknowledges the setback and ends with a call to try again tomorrow.

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By the time I was old enough to read, I would sneak away and hide in the spare bedroom closet at my grandmother’s home. Book in one hand, flashlight in the other. Nestled on a bed of pillows and blankets to make myself comfy. My own personal secret fort.

I’ve always loved a good story. And it’s a good thing, because I have a running dialogue inside my head most of the time. I tell myself stories about everything. Sometimes, it’s a creative endeavor that I sink into, but mostly, the stories are about myself and my experiences.

Often, it’s like my college philosophy class all over again – if this, then what? The deductive logic of conditional arguments is oddly exciting and satisfying.  

Sheila tucker, LMFT, owner of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling, Hilton Head Island

It often appears as, if this thought happens, then what will I do? My go-to answer is “be prepared.” I’ve never been in the Scouts but being prepared was a motto imprinted onto my mental psyche sometime in my early years.

I talk to my clients a lot about the stories they tell themselves. If they get still and quiet for a moment, what do they notice they’re saying to themselves or about themselves? What do they observe?

Most of us will recognize that our thoughts are usually negative. In her book Bird by Bird (Doubleday, 1994), Anne Lamott refers to these thoughts as two channels of persona chatter on our personal radio station, which she calls “KFKD.” 

“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo,” Lamott warns.

She continues: “Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open, and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.

“Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to poop, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

Yep, that sums it up.

Think about it. We tell ourselves stories throughout our entire day. When someone pulls out in front of you, you have thoughts. When someone you care about doesn’t text back right away, you’ve got a story about that. When you feel unmotivated, or it seems like someone else is more motivated than you, you’re telling yourself a story about that, too.

The problem with stories is created when we become hooked into them, like the plot of a good book. Or we incessantly replay them like a favorite song.

First, you believe the hype without fact-checking. The story is no longer a creative rendition of your thoughts and feelings – it has become the truth. Then you take action. This action could be yelling or withdrawing, minimizing the situation, blaming, giving yourself a high five, or waiting.

The way you react is determined by many factors. One factor is the meaning you make out of the story, which is why the stories you tell yourself matter. They shape how you see the world and, more importantly, how you see yourself.

If you want to learn more about the stories you’re telling yourself, I invite you to try this exercise: Notice.

This is my very favorite first step for almost everything. 

“But how do I notice?” you ask. 

When or after you’ve experienced charged emotions, whether you consider them positive or negative, think back to what you told yourself in the moment. What is creating the feelings or reactions you’re experiencing?

Now, use noticing to take an inventory of what you tell yourself throughout the day. Notice if you consider your stories good, hopeful, helpful, or if they’re negative or unhelpful. Try to recognize when you become hooked on a story or stuck on replay.

What if you get stuck replaying an unhelpful story? Here’s a suggestion.

Introducing the helpful skill creatively called “STOP.” 

(S)top – as in be still – if you can. Or take a moment to pause when you revisit the story later.  

(T)ake a breath. Yes. Literally. Sigh, take a deep breath, count your breaths. The goal here is to intentionally breathe.

(O)bserve. What are you telling yourself? How does this story make you feel about yourself or others? What do you typically do in these situations? Notice that your stories are merely words that are put together to create sentences. Your collection of sentences becomes stories. It’s only when you infuse meaning into those words that they become something you believe to be true and react to.

(P)roceed. Now that you’re more aware of what’s playing in the background. You’re better positioned to scroll past KFKD (or at least tune it out) and respond in a way that better serves you. This is where you ask yourself what do I want to do? What other story might I tell myself?

Side note: In case you’re wondering, no, you can’t stop thinking and crafting mental stories. Your mind’s function is to think – that’s what our minds do. But what you can do is begin to change the narrative.

As with most experiences in life, there will be progress and setbacks. The trick is to avoid telling yourself the same old story. Instead, create a new story, one that acknowledges the setback and ends with a call to try again tomorrow. Something like, “Ugh. I fell back into my old story trap. Tomorrow is a new day.”

To repeat what I said earlier, the stories you tell yourself matter. They not only color the way you view the world around you but also the way you see yourself. Stay curious, notice what you say about yourself and others, and choose your stories wisely.  



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