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  • Scott Hatley

The Stories we Tell Ourselves

We all tell ourselves stories on a daily basis. Some are small stories with little impact while others are whoppers with significant impact. Some of these stories are lies we tell ourselves which are detrimental to our potential.

Most often it’s about our mindsets, limiting beliefs and unfair judgments. Do you have limiting beliefs that you have internally adopted as reality? What are they and how do they impact the way you function? Do you hold unfair judgements based on perception about others?

It can actually be a matter of perspective when you get down to it. In fact, perspective matters in all situations. Seen in one light, one specific perspective is yielded. Viewed from a completely different side or angle, a completely different perspective is seen.

A noun, Merriam-Webster defines the word “perspective” in two ways. First, it means a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance. Second, it means the proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it.

An example of these definitions is someone who tries to get some perspective on their troubles. To illustrate this point, let me share a story of some trouble I once faced.

As a person with a disability, there are times when you can leverage your disability to your advantage. One such way can be in the academic setting. Many with disabilities are able to secure accommodations through their colleges to assist in completing their academic course work. Physical limitations of course vary from person to person, depending on the disability each individual faces, but the majority of available accommodations are often necessary for each individual in overcoming the obstacles they face.

At times during my college years, I experienced a significant amount of anxiety around larger class projects, and by “larger projects” I mean 15+ page papers. I didn’t have the maturity and discipline needed to break the project into smaller, more manageable parts. The anxiety I felt at that moment in my life led me to procrastinate on the project. I procrastinated until I was so low on time I nearly didn’t have enough time to complete the significant work still ahead. I also didn’t desire to pursue the traditional college student route of pulling all-nighters until the work was done. Make no mistake: this was a personal choice I made by not better managing my time.

Most of the time, I had an ace in the hole: I could ask my professors for additional time on a project, and they were more than willing to grant my request for an extension. Of course, they didn’t know the backstory of my request.

You can imagine my surprise as a Junior in college, the last time I made such a request, when it was met by a resounding “NO!”

I’ll admit, I was in a bit of shock at first, followed by anger and then suddenly turning into even greater panic. How in the world was I going to write 17 pages in a little over 24 hours? I didn’t want to stay up late, and yet clearly I had procrastinated my way into a pickle, getting caught up in perfectionism. My excuse was that I didn't believe I should have to stay up late, out of concern for my health.

Did I wait too long to ask? Maybe. Would it have made a difference? NO! After getting past the initial shock and figuring out a plan, the reality of the situation was: I loved that my professor said “no.” It amused me to no end as I told all my dormmates the situation. It was almost like a badge of honor. More importantly, this simple act inspired excellence and pushed me beyond my boundaries. It established the expectation that I was no different than any other student. Excellence was desired from me as much as it was from all the professors' other students. Hearing “no '' motivated me. And wouldn’t you know it! I got the paper done, and on time!

I could have completed this project without all the consternation. The story I told myself about this project was littered with limiting beliefs, unfair judgments and anxiety. I didn’t believe in myself or my abilities. I also had an unfair expectation and judgment of what was right and fair. This contributed to my anxiety.

The situation was a matter of perspective: from my seat, from my professor’s viewpoint and the objective reality of the situation. We all have stories of overcoming a not-great mindset to achieve greater success. We also all have those stories where we didn’t. We learn through experiences, through doing and not doing. We learn through the hard times and the good times. And, in the end, it’s really all about how we handle and respond to the stories we tell ourselves.

The next time you are in the middle of telling yourself a story, consider a different perspective or viewpoint. It may just lead to a different outcome.

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