What To Do When You’re Stuck In Your Same Old Story

When I was ten years old, I started a small business. I didn’t mean to – it just happened. I designed a placemat with my name on it, and a neighbor friend laminated it for me. I took it to school, and then all the kids wanted one.

I started charging $1 for each placemat, but when I went to place my order with my neighbor who laminated them, he told me he couldn’t make very many of them. My creativity and business idea evaporated with the bad news.

That was the first time I quit something, but it wasn’t the last.

By the time I graduated college, I’d been to two universities in two cities, two apartments and a house, four majors and five years of treading water and changing my mind.

I graduated college only to land in one year of full-time ministry. I didn’t like who I was in the role so one year later, I quit.

I started relationship after relationship during high school, college and beyond. But nothing fit. I quit them all. Or they quit me.

At some point in my mid-20s, I found myself a grown women, married and with a degree and a career, but somehow I was terrified to take on new tasks and responsibilities. It didn’t make sense on the surface, but when I looked back at the wake of my life, all I saw were the quitting moments. I saw all the times I changed my major. I saw all the failed relationships and all the tiny commitments I’d made that I never followed through on.

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My story was simple: I was a quitter. Except at the time, it was a present tense statement: “I am a quitter”. From that statement, I pulled many other perceptions of myself, like, “I can’t start things because I won’t finish them,” or “I cannot be trusted with responsibilities or projects because I won’t follow through.”

Quitting was my personal narrative, my story. Sure, there were reasons why I quit things. Some of them were legitimate. Some were not. But the label of QUITTER was the overwhelming truth I told me about myself.

I was sitting in a conference one afternoon in my mid-twenties when I realized I had a choice. I could choose to change this story about myself with a simple act: I could forgive myself for quitting and see what God had to say about me instead.

So I did it. I wrote out a few forgiveness statements for myself for times I had quit things I should’ve stuck with, and I broke up with the guilt and shame I felt attached to those memories. Then I did something bold and a little crazy. I asked God what he thought about me instead. And he whispered a simple truth: “You are a finisher.”

In one moment, I went from being a failure to a finisher. And with that revelation, that new story of myself, I saw so much of my life for what it was. I had finished things. I had finished college and earned a degree, even though I wanted to quit so many times. I found a man I loved and married him. I hadn’t quit on that.

Many other examples of my commitment and tenacity unveiled before the eyes of my memory as piece by piece, God showed me my skewed perspective was only part of the story. I had been missing a huge piece of the rest of my life.

In the weeks and months that followed, my perspective of myself radically changed. I started volunteering for tasks and projects at work. When it came time to apply for a position as my Master’s degree program wrapped up, I bravely stated the contributions I wanted to make, finally believing the commitments I was making were no longer empty promises.

This one choice to change my story started with a question, a sentence and a prayer. But the impact in my life has been nuclear. 

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re living with a story about yourself that feels so true, and when you look around, all you see is evidence. Maybe you are telling yourself, “I will always be late to everything,” or “I will never be good with money”, or “My relationships always end”, or “No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to lose weight and stay in shape. I will always have this struggle.”

I bet if you’re like me, you didn’t even realize you were telling yourself a story with these words and this slanted memory. But that’s exactly what you’re doing. And your story of your past and present is a better predictor of your future than your hopes and wishes for yourself.

So today, like many people, you may be wrestling with what kind of resolutions to write. You may feel afraid to write anything down for fear of disappointing yourself or failing once again. I’ve felt that feeling too.

But instead of just making an empty resolution, let’s get to the root of the problem: your story. Your belief about yourself.

Here’s where to start:

1. Write out (or draw or voice-record, depending on how you process best) a few of the resolutions you most want to make this year but are afraid to commit to.

2. Write out (or draw or voice-record) why you are afraid to make these resolutions.

3. Recognize and write/draw/speak the one or two-line stories you’ve been telling yourself about these areas of your life, whether it’s your career, your family, your relationships, your finances, your health or weight, or anything.

4. Forgive yourself for your failures in these areas. Where it’s applicable, be bold and ask God to forgive you for not taking care of yourself, or your money or time. You may even have to ask others to forgive you for not caring for yourself or for them. (For example, if you’re making a resolution to care for your family by being fully present with them, you may need to ask forgiveness for being preoccupied with work or social media. If you’re making a resolution to be more kind to your kids, you may need to apologize for being a grump. Got it?)

5. Ask yourself what kind of person you would like to be and write, draw or voice-record the new story. It will probably sound like the opposite statement of the one you made before, but make them “I am” statements, like “I am fit”, “I am prompt”, “I am reliable” or “I finish what I start”. Writing the statement in present tense is key. In my example, I went from being a quitter and a failure to a finisher. It’s really that simple in terms of how to write or say it. If you need help, ask a friend or ask God how he sees you. That makes a huge difference to get his perspective.

6. Don’t keep this new story a secret. Get some accountability. Tell a friend. Join a support group. Tell your small group at church or your gym partner or your wife. You really need to tell someone you’re doing this and tell them what kind of support you need from them to follow through. (I joined Jon Acuff’s 10-day Do Over group, which is currently closed, but you can still get the 10-day Do Over eBook and updates right here.)

In short, if you want to successfully write a new story: forgive yourself for the old one, write down a new one, say it out loud and tell someone else. 

We can change our stories. Even if we’ve lived most of our lives in destructive cycles, we don’t have to be stuck there. Let this be the year you do more than make a resolution. This year, recognize how you can move beyond behavior modification to write a better story and see all the good that will come of it.

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(H/T to my friend Vickie for this awesome pic. You should steal it and frame it.)

Happy New Year. Here’s to a powerful and life-changing story for you in 2015.

{Want to stay inspired this year? Join me on this journey by subscribing, and I will send you my two eBooks on hope and calling free. Thank you.}

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