“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo
The guys at Kodak knew they had a problem. They were about to introduce a revolutionary new slide projector. Instead of a linear format, theirs had a round configuration. They thought they might call it the “wheel,” even though it sounded antiquated. The wheel was innovative for its time, but it came a long time before sliced bread and cat’s pajamas.
Enter hotshot ad wizard Don Draper. He decided it wasn’t a wheel, it was a carousel. It turned like a wheel, but took you back to your childhood—nostalgia!—to a place we all wish we could go back to. Of course, we can’t go back in time … unless we buy a Kodak Carousel slide projector!
In terms of the feelings evoked by the two words, carousel is much better than wheel.
You don’t have to be an advertising executive to understand and leverage the power of words. Ordinary people can do it too, and when they do it successfully they may even become extraordinary.
Here are some people from humble beginnings who led extraordinary lives: Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. What do they all have in common? All have had a tremendous influence on the world and have brought about great change in the face of apathy or opposition. And they did it not with great armies or political power but with words. Words formed into ideas shaped into stories.
Movements have been started with words. Nations have been declared into existence. Some might say everything was started with words: “In the beginning was the Word.”
Words are not simply labels for things, they are containers for meaning. The meaning you create depends on your choice of words and how you interpret them. Are you choosing words that serve you well? Or do the words in your head hold you back?
Because beliefs are expressed in words, the words you choose also shape your beliefs. Beliefs—which are neither right nor wrong—are notions that you hold to be true. They are in essence closely held opinions that you have formed based on your interpretations and misinterpretations of your experiences. Your beliefs are the filter through which you give meaning to events. If you’re like most people, you tend to look for evidence that supports your beliefs—we call this confirmation bias—which then become stronger over time.
Your inner story is also expressed in words, which were probably not well chosen. Remember, you wrote this story when you were a child, with a very limited vocabulary and an even more limited understanding of the world. In addition, you developed a set of beliefs based on that false narrative created by your child self.
Don’t you wish you could go back and write your inner story all over again, but with better words?
Of course you can’t go back in time, but you can rewrite your inner story. You can use better words, based on more useful interpretations of your experiences, which will then support more powerful beliefs. This revised story and the beliefs that you draw from it will be the foundation for a life surpassing all of your previous expectations. Contact me to find out exactly how this works!
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” — Mark Twain
How long does it take to change? Various studies have found that it takes three days, three weeks, or 30 days. I never understood how they measured that—it sounds like they’re just pulling numbers out of a hat. A more recent study says it takes 18-254 days. That’s quite a range! So what’s the real answer? As long as it takes.
I know, that’s not much of an answer. As in so many areas of real life problems, the real answer is: It depends. It depends on a variety of factors, such as:
Your nature. Are you determined and focused, or are you easily distracted and prone to quitting? Obviously you will do better if you are determined and persistent.
The type of change. Some habits are relatively easy to adopt, for example, drinking a glass of water every morning. Others, such as adopting an exercise regimen or diet, are more challenging. Changing your mindset or beliefs can be extremely difficult.
How badly you want to change. For this one, let me tell you a story, as told to me by my grandfather.
My Grandpa Sam was a dashing fellow (so he told me), and smoked according to the fashion of the day. Cigars, pipes, cigarettes, whatever was handy—he’d fire it up and contentedly puff away.
Sam had three young daughters. Nothing brought him more joy than to walk into his house after work and have them run to greet him at the door, smothering him with hugs and kisses.
One evening he came home and braced himself to receive the onslaught of affection. The three girls charged at him. My Aunt Irma, the oldest and fastest, reached him first. As she threw her arms around his neck she noticed the strong scent of tobacco. She drew back instinctively and said, “Eww, Daddy, you stink!” The two younger ones followed their big sister’s lead and refused to come near him. He tried to coax them over but they were having none of it. The rejection pierced him like a knife to the heart. He never smoked again.
Are you hoping things will change by magic, or are you committed to doing whatever it takes?
Do you have a plan? It isn’t enough to just want to change, it takes work to make it happen. A wish is not a goal, and hope is not commitment.
One of the best plans is a set of rules. Instead of saying “I will drink more water,” adopt a rule such as “I will drink a glass of water every morning when I brush my teeth and before every meal.” No exceptions. Instead of deciding to exercise more, make a rule that “I will exercise four times a week, and do 20 pushups before bed.” You must also define what you mean by “exercise,” for example, a 5K run, an hour in the gym, or 30 laps in the pool.
When it comes to rewriting your inner story, your plan may take the form of a series of challenges. For example, suppose your old foundational story says you are low on confidence and socially inept. Years of living by that script written by your child-self has reinforced your behaviors. After you disprove the old story and rewrite it to reflect your new reality, you will need to test and reinforce the new story by designing a program of challenges. These challenges must be relevant to your objective, and they should be increasingly difficult or complex. A simple set of challenges might look like this:
Ask a service representative for help
Ask a stranger for directions
Strike up a conversation with the concierge at a hotel
Make small talk with someone you don’t know at a party
Offer your opinion on a matter in conversation with someone you don’t know
Try to persuade someone to change their point of view
You would attempt each challenge a number of times until you feel comfortable and confident, and then move on to the next one.
Whether you have support or some system of reinforcement. Anyone can quit smoking for an hour, or maybe a day. Anyone can go to the gym once, or order a diet meal. But permanent change is not easy to do on your own. It helps to have a loved one to encourage you, an accountability partner, or a coach.
Change happens all the time, whether you like it or not. Why let change simply happen to you, when you can choose to change purposefully for your desired result?
Personal change is never easy. In fact, most people who embark on a self-improvement challenge make only modest progress, if any. We start an exercise routine and give up. We go on a diet, lose a few pounds, and then regain it all. We vow to become more enthusiastic and sociable, only to fall flat. Does any of this sound familiar?
Perhaps the most difficult thing to change is the voice in your head repeating negative messages. I’m not good enough. What if I fail? I’ll just embarrass myself. What if people form a negative perception of me? People don’t find me interesting or attractive. I never get the good opportunities. The voice drones on and on, and you can’t turn it off.
Where did this voice come from? This voice was shaped by your inner story—the set of fundamental beliefs about who you are and how you relate to others, your place in the world, and how life treats you.
Imagine you’re five years old. It’s the holiday season, and you have been visiting friends and relatives with your family. Your mother asks you to greet someone you don’t know, but you’re reluctant. Maybe you’re hungry, or tired, or overwhelmed by the parade of strange faces, or just uncomfortable in an unfamiliar place. You take evasive action and hide behind your mother’s dress. After some unsuccessful coaxing, your mother gives up and says, “Don’t mind him/her, he’s/she’s just shy.”
Shy, you think to yourself. Mother says I’m shy. Mother is so smart, she knows everything, and she would never lie to me. I must be shy. I wonder what shy means? I think it means I don’t like to meet people, or I’m afraid they won’t like me, or I don’t feel important or worthy or interesting. I’m shy.
This incident may seem insignificant, but to your five-year-old self it takes on a very real meaning. You may have misunderstood what happened, didn’t place it in the right context, or made an incorrect inference. None of this matters! Five-year-olds aren’t very good with nuance. They don’t understand words, themselves, people, relationships, or the ways of the world. Your child self does what it can to make sense of what’s happening and records it as a rule for living, along with other incidents that reinforce your beliefs. These rules, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations become part of your inner story. Meeting people is uncomfortable and threatening. They won’t like me. I’m not important or worthy or interesting. I’m shy.
As you grow up you try to make sense of the world and your experiences. Your inner story becomes a script for your life. When things don’t go well for you, you use your inner story to explain why. I knew they would ignore me—I’m not important. Another job application rejected—I’m not worthy. Of course she broke up with me—I’m not interesting.
If you follow the same patterns, enter into the same type of unsatisfying relationships, and experience the same outcomes, it’s because your inner story is leading you there.
However, this inner story is not accurate. How could it be? You wrote it when you were five years old!
As you got older, this false narrative tightened its grip on you. You have been living by this false inner story for so long you may not even recognize it as a story, you think it is simply who you are. You may not be aware that your script was written by your child self, and that it can be rewritten by your more experienced and enlightened present self.
Repeating affirmations, trying to change your mindset, practicing new behaviors, and other self-help techniques will not work if they only scratch the surface. If your inner story is not aligned with your new beliefs and behaviors they will not take hold. To truly develop you must get to the root of the problem and rebuild your life on a solid foundation with a new inner story.
How can you replace your old, inaccurate story with a new, empowering one? The process looks like this:
Uncover your inner story
You will have to think back to some of your earliest memories. The fact that you can remember one or a few incidents from a period where almost everything has been forgotten is revealing: you remember those few events because they were formative. What assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and rules did you develop as a result of these incidents?
In the above example, being called shy may have created a belief that you don’t deserve to succeed or to get what you want. You don’t expect to have good things come your way, and when they don’t you explain the outcome by thinking I knew it, I never get what I want! This belief comforts you in your disappointment by explaining that it wasn’t you, it’s just the way things are.
What’s wrong with it?
Try to understand how and why the false narrative came into being, the purpose it has served, and that you can change it. What does it mean? How did you misinterpret it? How has it affected you? Was it ever true? If so, is it still true now? Have you evolved?
Reexamine your story critically. Instead of trying to keep proving it to protect yourself (and prove you’re right), play the angel’s advocate (the positive alter-ego of the devil’s advocate) and try to prove you’re wrong. In other words, that imaginary little devil on your shoulder has been whispering words of comfort—lies—to make you feel better: it isn’t your fault, it’s just the way the world is. You want an angel on your other shoulder that will tell you the truth: It isn’t you, and it isn’t them. I’ll show you, see, the devil was wrong, your interpretation was wrong, and we’re going to fix it.
In our example, you might conclude that when you were small you felt intimidated by older or more powerful individuals, which deterred you from expressing or asserting yourself. While this may have continued for many years, you have since grown and matured. As an adult, you are no longer small and weak. You are not a pushover. You are often able to influence and positively impact others.
The fact that you may have been labeled shy as a child does not define you now. You don’t always get what you want, and neither does anyone else. But you often do, and as an intelligent, empathetic, accomplished professional you are able to achieve excellent results at least part of the time. With focus, effort, and skill, you are capable of accomplishing even more going forward.
Rewrite your inner story
Can you reinterpret the situation, relationship, or another person’s intentions in a positive way? Change or eliminate the disempowering parts, and build up and enhance the empowering parts. Draw on your strengths, talents, and positive qualities.
Returning to our example, you might reframe or change your story to reflect new truths that you have discovered that just don’t align with your old story. I used to believe that I was shy, weak, and unable to stand up for myself. As a result I found it difficult to trust others and have confidence in myself. I played it safe and missed out on many opportunities. I now understand that my inner story was not accurate. I have much to offer and I want to contribute. I see that most people mean well and I can build positive relationships. If sometimes things do not work out it is not a reflection of me.
Internalize your new narrative
This is the most challenging part. Your old story was lying to you for so long it will be difficult to replace. You will have to test your new story until it drowns out the old voice and becomes real to you. You might set up simple encounters designed to be easy wins, progress to more challenging situations, devise an affirmation, adjust your expectations of others, etc. There are many challenges you can set, and they should be matched to your needs. Some people are able to do this on their own, though most would do better with coaching.
This process of setting challenges and proving your new story takes time. It becomes easier as you progress through your program and see the results. You will feel like a new person—the person you were meant to be, with the life you deserve.