Find your power story
The story you tell yourself about your life shapes your perception of who you are and what you believe you’re capable of achieving. What story are you telling yourself in your life? Do you focus on your strengths or your weaknesses? Are you caught up in a narrative that is less than empowering?
There’s no doubt that stories are powerful. In fact, the stories you tell yourself change and shape your brain. Dr John Arden in his book, Rewire Your Brain, explains, “The more you describe your ongoing experiences in a particular way, the stronger the neural circuits that represent those thoughts will become. Your narratives can be positive or negative.”
Focusing on limitations
It’s easy to get caught up in negative narratives and to focus on your perceived limitations and weaknesses. Do you fixate on what you haven’t done, what you can’t do and what you feel you should have done in your life? Not only is it easy to get stuck in these perceived limitations, it’s also quite normal.
Dr Russ Harris says in his book The Confidence Gap.“The normal human mind has a natural tendency to judge and criticise; to find the negative and predict the worst; to tell us scary stories about the future and dredge up painful memories from the past; to become rapidly dissatisfied and seek more.”
Despite how normal this negative brain bias might be, if gone unchallenged it can have a negative flow on effect in your life. When you focus solely on your limitations, it alters how you see yourself and how you show up in the world. It can stop you from getting out of your comfort zone and doing the things that matter in your life. I know this was true for me.
My life path has been anything but the norm. I went through a seven-year journey with an illness in my early 20s which greatly impacted my life. During the years I was sick, I couldn’t do what most people my age were doing. I struggled with my life journey as I began to focus on what I hadn’t achieved and couldn’t do. I struggled to reconcile how I thought my life would be as opposed to how it was actually unfolding. I became stuck in a narrative that was based on my limitations.
After doing some deep reflective work, however, I began to see how my experience living with a chronic illness was a valuable and defining part of my life and story. Through those challenging years, I learned a lot about myself and my beliefs, and about the brain–body connection. Going through a chronic illness shaped me in positive ways and gave me the strengths I value so much today.
This adversity set me on a new path as a wellness writer, it showed me the importance of self-care and stress management, it began my deep fascination with the brain, it helped me be more resilient and it gave me greater empathy for people going through tough times. When I looked at my experience through a new lens, I could see how it had made me stronger, wiser and kinder. I was able to stop looking at what I felt it had taken away. Shifting the narrative I was telling myself gave me more control, confidence and calm in my life.
When you buy into your limitation story, whatever that might look like for you, you become blinded to your strengths, your uniqueness and what you have to offer the world. You can start to think, “I’m not talented enough,” “I don’t know enough” or “I’m not good enough”. These thoughts can make you feel like an imposter, stopping you from taking action in your life and getting out of your comfort zone.
If your perceived limitations are holding you back, you’re not alone. Over the past seven years I’ve worked with many intelligent and talented female entrepreneurs, many of whom have also been caught up in their limitation story. They struggled to see how amazing they were and what they had to offer the world.
One client I worked with didn’t feel that she could go after her career goals because she hadn’t been to university. Like me, she had also experienced illness early in her life which had interrupted her plans to study. Over the years, however, she’d done many short courses, but she struggled to feel that it was enough. She looked at her life journey and saw what was lacking.
As an outsider, however, I could see her uniqueness and her strengths shining through. I could see that her decision to study in a way that worked with her health issues showed great resilience, creative thinking skills and a deep passion for her industry. While we were both looking at the same “facts” about her life, we had very different perspectives. As I showed her another way to interpret her life, she felt more confident, empowered and excited about her future, and she’s gone on to do great things.
Choosing a new story
Is the story you’re telling yourself holding you back? Do you need to shift your narrative? You don’t have to stay stuck in perceptions and thought patterns which are holding you back. You can choose a new story. Dr Arden says. “Your assumptions can be rewired by reflecting on reality instead of your worries.” You can choose a story that’s a truer reflection of who you are and what you’ve been through. I call this your “power story”.
Your power story is a narrative about your life that focuses on the key events and experiences that have shaped you and given you the strengths you have today. Uncovering your power story is about honouring what has made you who you are, whatever those experiences might have been. In fact, it’s often the difficult times in life that equip you with the skills, perspectives and passions you value so much today. Uncovering your power story is an exercise in looking back in order to reconnect with your strengths and with gratitude for all that has gone before.
Four steps to uncover your power story
Very rarely does life go as you planned or imagined it would, but you are more than the setbacks you have faced. You are more than the knockdowns and failures you have experienced. You are more than the things you didn’t do or can’t do yet. The life you have lived has given you the unique skills, perspectives and wisdom that make you you. What have been your life’s defining moments?
Step 1: Identify your top three life influences
What have you experienced to become the incredible person you are today? Looking over your life, what have been the three biggest influences? For example, was university
a life-changing time for you? Have you lost a loved one which transformed your whole outlook on life? Reflect on what has shaped you. Consider your:
Step 2: Identify how they have shaped you
Reflecting on these three big life influences, how have they shaped you? What positive insights, skills and gifts have you been able to take from them? Why are you grateful for them? For example, did travelling solo teach you how to be resilient? Did a health challenge spark a new career that you love? Did a relationship breakdown inspire you to turn to personal development to understand yourself better?
Consider how these big influences in your life have:
- Challenged your beliefs
- Given you a new perspective
- Equipped you with new skills
- Set you on a new path
- Helped you understand yourself better
- Made you more grateful
- Given you greater purpose
- Allowed you to meet amazing people
Step 3: Flip your weakness
We all have some “not enough” story going on in our minds which can stop us from stepping out of our comfort zone and living our full potential. But what if your perceived weaknesses were actually your strengths? Hidden within your insecurities there’s often a path to greatness.
When I started to write about neuroscience and positive psychology, I was concerned that I didn’t have a “right” to talk about the brain because I’m not a trained scientist or therapist. This belief was holding me back from doing the things that mattered to me and sharing my message of hope with more people.
Reflecting on what I felt was my weakness, I considered how it could be viewed instead as a strength. Because I wasn’t a scientist, this meant I was able to explain brain concepts and strategies simply. I was able to write and speak in a way that the average person could understand, making it relatable through my own life story. Not being a scientist was my strength. Even though it felt like a weakness and it made me feel like an imposter, it was the very thing that people liked about me and connected with.
What are your top perceived weaknesses? How could they be your hidden strengths?
Step 4: Improve your self-talk
How do you speak to yourself? Your internal voice has a huge impact on how you feel. When your internal voice is negative, it makes it hard to believe in yourself. Improve your self-talk by intentionally choosing a new dialogue, helping to offset your negative inner voice and building confidence and self-compassion.
You can do this by choosing a mantra, or what I call an “anchor statement”. An anchor statement is a simple phrase that draws your focus towards what is true, rather than what is fear-based. In contrast to the “not enough” dialogue that can take up so much space in our minds, your anchor statement grounds you in your strengths. What you focus on magnifies, so choose the thoughts you repeat to yourself wisely.
Choose your own anchor statement, or try one of these:
- “I am proud of who I have become”
- “I have skills that are useful and needed”
- “My voice matters”
- “I can help others”
- “I am strong and resilient”
- “I have enough to start where I am”
- “I have a lot to offer the world”
- “I’m OK as I am”
Look back to move forward
Dr Sarah Edelman in her book Change Your Thinking says, “Acknowledging our skills and abilities as well as our past achievements can help build self-efficacy.” As you reflect on the life you have lived and what has made you who you are today, you will start to see your strengths and reconnect with your power.
Feeling confident, proud and grounded in who you are is an important part of believing in yourself and moving through life with resilience. Psychosocial rehabilitation specialist and educator Kendra Cherry says people with high self-efficacy “recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments and view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered.” She says, “Our belief in our own ability to succeed plays a role in how we think, how we act, and how we feel about our place in the world.”
Embrace your unique journey
Don’t devalue your experiences simply because they look different from what others have been through or what you expected of your life. You have walked your own path; be proud of that — fitting in is overrated! As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
d what it’s taken to get where you are today — what you have done differently in your life and what you have experienced is what makes you unique. Look back on your life and move forward with confidence, knowing who you are, what has shaped you and what you have to offer the world. Step out of your comfort zone and write the next chapters of your power story.