Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Story You Tell Yourself

The past week has brought a flood of memories. Surrounded by family, all of whom were in town for youngest daughter Merilee's wedding, it was time for a backward glance and some reflections you might find useful. 

I thought about all the times in my life when I felt "stuck" with no sense there was any way out of my circumstances. As I reflected on those times, I penned these thoughts.

Remember this - nearly everything in life is based around the story you tell yourself about your past. I've felt "stuck" many times in my life, like I didn't have the control over my circumstances I thought I did. The roadblock occurs when you get stuck in that story, rather than letting it evolve. 

Victims get stuck. Survivors triumph and tell themselves a different story. 

You can't access the answers you seek as long as you have a story that says it's impossible. So I've learned to come up with stories I tell myself that say, "Yes, you can, David. You can do whatever you want to do." 

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when we go on missions to the far-flung countries of the world today, we've all seen lots of people put their pasts behind them and move ahead by making a huge commitment to join the Church. To do this they had to repent, embrace the Savior's atonement and create a new life for themselves. It's not easy to change, but people do it every day. 

As a business development guy and sales trainer, I have come to define success in my job as helping others make incremental improvements in their jobs. Sometimes the progress seems as rapid as watching my toenails grow, but when we look back to measure the results it's often satisfying and stunning. We've moved the needle toward improvement because people become convinced that change can be a good thing!

It's possible to change for the better, but only you can do it for yourself. You take the best elements of the story you are telling yourself about your past life, and you sift out the worst things you want to eliminate. Then you build the life you envision for yourself and your family. 

After 66 years of living, I can tell you the mid-course corrections I've made along the way turned out to be fabulous! There has always been a way to escape from the negative pieces of the story I was telling myself about all the bad things that happened along the way. 

I was thinking the other night with all our family surrounding me, 45 years ago not one single person in that large family group picture was in my life except Patsy. 

We began our lives together without much going for us. We used a little cash from our wedding day to buy our first car. I still had my college degree ahead of me and I was working two part-time jobs and going to school full-time. But we made a humble beginning and we kept on trudging ahead with an eye on what we hoped our future would look like. 45 years later I can't imagine being happier than I am. And there was a lot of sunshine to overcome all the cloudy days.

We met a lot of people at the reception for our daughter. More than one gave me the impression they might be feeling a little "stuck". 

We all know the power of belief; it can change your biochemistry. I've got many examples where miracles occurred just because people clung to a dogged determination to make a better future for themselves. Faith is what makes a dream into a reality. It's the substance of things that are hoped for, but not seen. 

It might be true you went through hell as a teenager. Maybe your parents divorced, maybe you were abused as a child, maybe your father was an alcoholic, maybe your mother abandoned your family when you were young, maybe unemployment put your family out on the streets in a homeless condition. Often we bring adversity upon ourselves, but sometimes it is the result of the actions of others over whom we have no control. We keep replaying the list of horribles in our lives, and it gets us nowhere. 

Which is the very definition of "stuck".

But that's not why you're not having what you want today. No matter how horrific your past may have been, that's not what today is. You stand on the brink of the whole rest of your life (and, oh by the way, it's going to be a great life!) It's hope that makes it so.

We went in to get our passports renewed the other day. Compared to our youthful pictures that stared back at us from the old passports, the lady behind the desk commented, "Well, you've changed a little since then!" And she had no idea how true that statement was. Gone was the dark hair, the svelte figure, the fire of youth. In its place was a story I told myself that turned out very differently than the old one. . .  and better.

Let's suppose you were one of those fantastic Mormon missionaries. You taught others what to do to get "unstuck". And now you must turn all the lessons inward upon yourself and do something different that embraces your "good" past (your mission) and rejects your "bad" past (your pre-mission days). 

You probably think all the avenues you hoped were open to you after your mission now all appear to be closed. That's the reason you're giving to yourself today and you may be tempted to think it's okay. 

But it's not okay to feel stuck because of what your circumstances seem to dictate to you right now. Be heartened by this reminder from Amos Bronson Alcott: "We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes."

A lot of people might be deathly afraid of what it's going to take to move beyond the disappointments to do something different today. 

You just need to take a first step in a new direction of your choosing. You are free, and you are powerful! 

You can't always see beyond the edge of the light today, but just like a powerful train headlight, you can go to the edge of the light you can see, then beyond the edge of the light your future is illuminated. But you have to go as far as you can to the edge of the darkness.

Tell yourselves that story instead.

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