If You Can’t Change Your Life, Change One Line of Your Story

When one thing improves, everything rises to meet it

Everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves.

It’s not a story you review every once in a while, over drinks with friends, driving back to a place you haven’t seen in years and reflecting on how far you’ve come. No, this is a story that’s with you all the time. This is the story that skips like a broken record in your head, the software that makes the hardware run, your unconscious mind telling your conscious mind what to do.

As we get older, we find our place in the world by figuring out what our story is.

We feel best when the story makes sense, even if all it does is make sense within a context that isn’t best for us.

If we’re bullied when we’re young, it writes a line of the story. If we’re successful at something, it writes another. If we have a bad experience at a certain event, it writes yet another. The most powerful stories we tell ourselves are the ones we repeat over and over again.

When the story is that we’re bad with relationships, we keep being bad with relationships because this is all we expect for ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we attract and create circumstances that make this true. Over time, our story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you want to change your life, you need to rewrite your story.

Most people don’t realize they even have a story, let alone that they can choose what it says.

If you’re at the bottom of the mountain looking up, you’ll know it feels impossible to rewrite it. It will feel impossible to go from: “I am a self-loathing, do-nothing, piece-of-shit failure that nobody really likes” to “I am a strong, successful, capable person who is fulfilled, loved, and happy.” In fact, when we try to make a shift that drastic, it backfires, because we are so far out of our comfort zone we immediately sabotage any positive movement for the sake of feeling safe again.

The story is the comfort zone, and though we’re told we should leap and build our wings on the way down, self-development almost never works like that. It’s usually most effective when it happens one small piece at a time.

If you feel you cannot change your life, just change one line of your story.

That’s it. One line.

Instead of: “I am a self-loathing, do-nothing, piece-of-shit failure that nobody really likes,” start saying you’re a “self-loathing, do-nothing, piece-of-shit failure that one or two people like.”

Every time you feel uncomfortable, every time you come up against your blocks and limitations, every time you run into the same old problems again and again and you don’t make it through them, it’s because you aren’t rewriting any lines of your story.

Everything around you seems to affirm that you are an anxious person, you are not smart enough, you are a failure, you can’t handle hard things.

But what if you found the courage to see something change? What if you could acknowledge that there is, at least, one thing you are kind of smart at? What if you could add that you had at least one small, maybe insignificant accomplishment under your belt? What if you could say that you know at least one or two people like you?

Are you willing to reach, even that softly, in the direction of where you want to go?

When you change one line of your story, your entire life will rise to meet it.

Growth is not an isolated thing. When we choose to change, invest, or develop one part of our lives, it has a ripple effect.

The point of changing one line of the story is not so that we live with a slightly better but still pretty sucky self-narrative.

The point is that when you change one line of your story, everything else will improve, too.

Because growth is not an isolated thing. When we choose to change, invest, or develop one part of our lives, it has a ripple effect.

We start eating better, and all of a sudden, we have more energy. That energy gets reinvested into something around us. All of a sudden, we start keeping our space a bit cleaner. We start working on our side projects with a bit more seriousness. In a few months, we find that we’re healthier physically, mentally, and financially. It was a domino effect that started with one line: “I am a person who can nourish myself well.”

Maybe that’s not your line that changes, though.

Maybe your line is that you deserve a relationship in which you are truly cared for. Maybe your line is that you’re ready to live the life of your dreams. Maybe your line is that you’re willing to change, even if you don’t know what to do yet. Maybe your line is that you’re on a journey of growth. Maybe your line is that you’re going to get financially free. Maybe your line is that you’re ready to start over. Maybe your line is that you know you’ve done hard things before, so you’re willing to do whatever it takes to finally be happy.

When you change one line of your story — when you change one thing about your life — everything beneath it will either need to rise or be released.

Because some things won’t make sense anymore.

It won’t make sense that a highly productive person lives in a pigsty. It won’t make sense that an empowered woman settles for a lukewarm relationship. It won’t make sense that an ambitious person is content with few financial resources.

Your story will start to disrupt itself.

A new one will need to be born.

Holly Whitaker, an author and entrepreneur whose life journey began with her decision to get sober many years ago, reflected on the moment she changed one line of her own story, and what happened when she did.

“Before I stopped drinking, my story was that I was a volatile, unstable, insecure, gossipy drama queen mess and that I’d never be okay. I would always barely make it by, I would always be in tumultuous relationships, I would never follow through on anything, and I would always be a bulimic, cigarette smoking, alcohol abusing pothead bitch. This was my story,” she said.

“This was what ran through my head day after day, sometimes minute by minute. I’m inherently fucked and I always will be. And then I changed one line of my story. I became a non-drinking chain-smoking volatile pothead drama queen bitch. Then the rest slowly fell into place, because I just couldn’t stop there. The truth is no matter what we think we are, we are always changing, always evolving, minute by minute, nano-second by nano-second. Today my story is not that same bullshit sad one I had held onto my entire life. It’s a story of hope and a story of courage and a story that continues to evolve.”

I can think of so many times in my own life in which the lines of my story started to change.

Because this rewriting? It’s not a one-time thing.

The lines change when I’m at yoga, attempting a pose that was previously too hard for me. The story goes from “I can’t” to “I can.” The lines change when I’m writing something new and more daring than I would have before. The story goes from “What will they think?” to “Here’s what I think.” The lines change when I invest time in my relationships. The story goes from: “I’m not good at this” to “I am so proud of having a partner and friends who I love and who love me.”

As our lives move forward, we are constantly given new opportunities to write the story of who we are.

It’s not a story we tell other people, it’s a story we tell ourselves.

Over time, we show other people that story in what our lives become.

Author of 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think and six other collections. Visit briannawiest.com to shop for books and more.

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