Stories play such a huge role in our lives; from a very early age they help us to learn. As we grow, we start to tell our own stories. Throughout our lives these stories continue. The stories we share with others entertain and often serve to educate, but we also tell stories to ourselves. These internal stories can limit our behaviour, prevent us from trying anything new and keep us trapped in our comfort zone. If we ever share these internal stories with others we share them as solid facts that can’t be argued against. We live our lives by these even though they can hold us back.
We regularly tell ourselves the same stories over and over again, especially when we are thinking about trying something new. We all tell ourselves stories such as:
"I’m no good with money"
"I’ll never be a success"
"I’ll never master that skill" or
"I don’t have what it takes".
These really limit us. And we all experience them.
Everyone tells themselves limiting stories no matter how confident or competent they may seem.
Recently I challenged one of the stories I told myself. I would love to say that I blew the story apart and it no longer holds me back, but I haven’t. Getting rid of these stories can be hard and it can take time. You often need to keep challenging it and succeeding before you are willing to update the story to a more accurate one. It is crazy really, how much we hold onto these stories. We cling onto them just as strongly as we cling to our favourite stories from childhood. Deep down it’s as though we don’t want these to change and if anything, we look for evidence or anecdotes to make our limiting stories even stronger. So, yes, changing these stories, replacing them or rejecting them altogether is hard work and takes persistence.
One of the stories I have always told myself is that I am no good at art. I can’t paint and I can’t draw. This story is so strong that I very rarely try to paint or draw. The thing is I would really like to paint. I’d love to mess about with watercolours or have fun layering acrylics, but I stop myself from having a go because I believe that I’ll be no good. But I don’t need it to be good, I just want to play and enjoy the painting process, whatever I create would be for my eyes only, but still that story stops me from giving it a go.
Over the summer I challenged this story in quite a bold way. I decided to have a go at painting a mural.
Earlier in the summer I had gone to the Good Life Society’s Summer Camp and fallen in love with their GROW mural.
During the camp I spent time with Rob, the very talented artist from byUmberto, who had created the GROW mural and learnt some basic skills in his mural painting workshop. When I got home, I wanted to recreate something similar (but much smaller and simpler) partly in homage to the mural and partly to act as a very visual reminder of the wonderful community of people I had met there. A corner of my garden had become very neglected, and it had a wall which needed painting, so I had the perfect canvas, or wall, for my mural.
I knew that I would never be able to sketch the letters onto the wall so had to find a way to do this. Luckily, whilst I may not be artistic, I am creative and very good at problem solving so I had soon found a way to make a template.
I bought the paint and that’s when the fear kicked in. All of a sudden the story of how bad I am at painting took over.
It’s like sitting down to story time at school only instead of your kind teacher sharing a picture book with you, they have been replaced by your inner critic who is repeating your story over and over again in the most condescending and brutal way. Limiting stories are your inner critic's favourite type of fiction and they are quick to list everything that could go wrong and all the different reasons you could be mocked for trying to challenge your limiting story. Your inner critic thrives here.
My inner critic was taking great delight in pointing out that whilst the wall is in my garden at least one neighbour can see it. The critic made me feel uncomfortable and out of my depth. Would the neighbours judge me? Laugh at me for attempting something I am clearly not capable of? Would I be mocked? These thoughts very nearly made me give up.
Luckily I decided enough was enough. I had bought the paint, the mural was going to mean a lot to me so lets give it a go.
Every time I went to paint another little section, I could hear my inner critic ridiculing me again, but as soon as my paintbrush touched the wall the inner critic went quiet.
I really enjoyed the process; I love the finished piece and my inner critic has fallen silent (for this project at least).
It’s not perfect, but it’s not meant to be.
From a distance it looks great, if you really analyse it up close you will see wobbly lines and bits I’ve missed but I think it gives it character. And I’m the only one likely to look that closely at it.
It reminds me of an old saying which I love “done is better than perfect”.
Every time I look out of my kitchen window I am reminded that whilst I’m not Picasso I can use a paintbrush to create something simple and something that brings me great joy. It reminds me to question those stories I tell myself and, that if I can create that, what else am I capable of.
We all battle with limiting stories and our inner critics, but you don’t have to. I don’t think you will ever rid yourself of your inner critic and to be honest I don’t think you would want to lose the critic altogether as it is there to protect you, but taming it certainly is beneficial. So, I’ve shared some tips below on how to tame your inner critic, so it becomes less destructive, quieter and more helpful.
Here are 5 ways to challenge your limiting stories and quieten your inner critic.
Identify your story
To challenge your story you need to identify it first. Choose which limiting story you want to work on. The chances are you have many different stories and you can’t target them all at once, so pick out which one you want to focus on.
Look for the evidence
Our limiting stories are mainly fiction. There is usually very little, if any fact within the stories, so a powerful way to start challenging your story is to look for the evidence. We might try and swing around this with comments such as “it’s just true” or “I am [INSERT LIMITING BELIEF]”.
When I do this exercise with my clients, I ask them to present evidence that would stand up in court. We are looking for solid evidence only. In almost every case there is no evidence to support your story. The closest you are likely to get to evidence is a mistake you made once, but that doesn’t mean you are automatically bad at something. Just think how many times a baby falls over when it is learning to stand, it doesn’t give up and we don’t think the baby will never be able to stand up, so don’t take one mistake as a sign to give up.
Where is it rooted
Next, it is really useful to look at where the root of your story comes from. So often we take other people’s insecurities or fears and turn them into our own limiting stories. If your story has stemmed from someone else recognise that, cut the cord and free yourself from it.
Our limiting stories can also come from our own experiences. I know that my story about being bad at art stems from a lack of art lessons at school as well as comparing myself to my sister who is a very good artist. I know that if I take the time to learn the basic skills, practice and not compare myself to others I could improve my artistic skills and confidence. But I have continued to believe my limiting story for years because it is much easier for me to believe I will always be bad than take the time to learn and improve. At times we all take the easy route!
Find a way to challenge your limiting story and the inner critic
Finding a safe way to challenge our limiting beliefs can really build confidence. I chose to challenge my belief in the privacy of my garden rather than working on something publicly. I knew that if it went terribly wrong or I hated it I could just paint over it. Finding low risk options like this allows you to take your time, build your skills and perhaps ask for advice or support which will build your confidence.
Even if you don’t like the end product you have experimented, learnt new things and developed skills, which you can use to help alter your story to a more positive one. Don’t set the bar too high for yourself and aim for perfection because you are likely to fall short of perfection. When I planned my mural I wasn’t looking for perfection, I just wanted it to look reasonable. I’m not a sign writer, it won’t be perfect, there will be (and there are) flaws in it, but I embrace those flaws, it makes it more personal to me because I did it. It looks good enough not to offend Rob when I share it with him, but he can certainly rest easy in his bed at night knowing that I won’t be stealing his job!
Be kind to yourself
If your inner critic is particularly loud and boisterous it can be a sign that you need to practice some self-compassion. You can, and should have an inner cheerleader but this one usually gets drowned out by the critic. Take time to look after yourself and be proud of what you have achieved. We all spend so much time ruminating on what went wrong or what could be done better, but we glance over what went well. These positive thoughts are generally gone in a flash, we push them out of the way to focus on the negativity. Try to balance this a little more. Whilst its always useful to look at what we could do better it’s important to celebrate what went well as these also offer us opportunities to learn and develop.
It’s also useful to take a moment to see your mental and emotional state when your inner critic is at its loudest. Our limiting stories start playing loudly and on a loop when we are tired, stressed or anxious so it’s useful to check in with yourself. If you are tired or stressed, take a break, go for a walk, relax a little and then go back to it when you are feeling more energised and calmer – suddenly that inner critic will be much quieter.
And finally be on the watch out for new limiting stories, we keep generating them throughout our life so don’t let one mistake write another story for you.
Other the years I have helped many people rewrite their limiting stories and calm their inner critic. Are you ready to challenge what holds you back?