Rewriting your Life’s Story
I was enjoying a rare day off watching all my favorite TV until 2am last night and was now sipping cinnamon-infused coffee while sunbeams streamed lazy-hazily through gauze curtains in my office. Or part of a day as Saturday usually I usually see two or three clients. And two of them appear to now be in crisis, so I also need to check in with them today.
But I never mind. Because that’s my purpose and passion. Then it hit me! What I feel when I’m healing clients nurtures and energizes me. But lately I’ve had some very challenging times with a colleague who wants to get me fired. And another consulting venue that’s so totally disorganized I can’t do my work well. I’m also waiting for the contracts to be signed for a better opportunity, but haven’t heard back as yet. Probably bound in yellow corporate “caution” tape. All heavily-stressed energy-draining scenarios at best.
So I got a pack of cigarettes yesterday. And smoked and smoked. I very rarely do that. Only when I feel hopeless. I threw the rest of the pack out this morning. And, while standing at the trash realized what my life’s story was. Like a multi-lumen lantern suddenly switched on in my head.
You see, I had worked through my own process . . . the one I laid out in my last article which you can read here . . . by writing voluminous answers to each question. So true to the way we’re wired I started the process consciously and my unconscious mind took care of the rest.
I discovered over the trash can that I’d been doing this my whole life . . . punishing myself. It began with feeling punished for my passions, especially my love of art, theatre and writing, by others. And somewhere along the way that scripting metamorphosed into self-punishment for not doing what I was called on to do. Now I realize why I’m ultra-sensitive about people laughing at me. Even when I get the joke.
So I now understand that my starving-artist mindset was only the tip of the ice floe below. Dive under the water a few fathoms and you get the real story, which is:
I PUNISH MYSELF WHEN I’M NOT LIVING MY PURPOSE AND PASSION
Makes total sense to me. So then the question burgeons . . . when we identify a major belief that rules our lives where do we go from here? Well, these types of life stories or images spawn further beliefs that determine more feelings and behaviors. This is the basis of Cognitive Therapy pioneered by Albert Ellis in the 1960s, which helps “a person change attitudes, perceptions, and patterns of thinking from irrational to realistic thought about self and situations“. So if my beliefs are punishing in nature, then I’ll have punishing thoughts, which will in turn lead to punishing behaviors like smoking.
Why do we need beliefs in the first place? Well, they give structure to our world and stability to our lives. But when they force us into poor and sometimes even life-threatening choices that’s when it’s time to consider changing them.
For example, I work with eating disordered individuals. And I can’t begin to tell you how scary some of their beliefs are, such as feeling fat when they’re skin and bones and 69 pounds. Or that they must only eat certain foods in certain ways. Or they feel the only way they can control their spinning-out-of-control world is to throw up or not eat anything at all. These are truly beliefs run amok.
It is possible to change irrational beliefs, even those as ingrained and insane as these. But only when you can identify them first. Change these beliefs and you can then change feelings and behavior.
The first step . . . take up your journal and write down all the beliefs that you think stem from your identified life’s story. But first sit or lie down, take a few deep breaths and meditate on that story. If you don’t regularly meditate, just stay quiet for a while. If I were doing this process, I’d then ask myself, “what punishing beliefs do I have?” Here’s what might come to mind for me . . .
I’M ALWAYS GOING TO BE FAT
I’M TOO OLD
I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO MAKE ALL THE MONEY I WANT
I’LL NEVER BE A MODEL FOR SENIOR HEALTH
I’LL NEVER EXERCISE ON A REGULAR BASIS
I’LL NEVER BE AS FAMOUS AS LEE STRASBERG
. . . and many others
It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense. Just write them down. Then do yourself a favor . . . close the book and go about your day. You need time for your unconscious mind to also work on this process. So, when you think you’re ready to continue, pick up the book and read through what you wrote. Add more if you want. Then circle two or three that you’d like to change right now.
Why are we working on what seems like mini-beliefs? Well, it’s almost impossible to change a big ol’ honkin’ life-story all at once. It’s just too scary. And there may be a part of you, crazy as it may seem, that harbors an irrational belief and executes its accompanying behaviors as a way of coping. So instead, we chink away at it like a sculptor shaping a block of marble. Chink away enough and something beautiful may be revealed.
So I chose the punishing beliefs “I’m always going to be fat” and “I’ll never exercise on a regular basis” to start. And I’ll tell you what I did with them in the next installment. Sorry but gotta get on the stairmaster and bowflex before work. Chinking away at it.
Leave Your Comments About Poking Through Clouds to See the Light Part Two Below
What irrational beliefs do you harbor about you life’s story? How have you changed beliefs, feelings, and behaviors in the past?