…And one thing led to another…
Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Blues
How many of us have longed for a better life and yet have felt so stuck, so exhausted, so afraid to even hope that we simply don’t try? Maybe we tried once upon a time but fell flat. Maybe we couldn’t find the energy to try again. Maybe we couldn’t even stand up again. Maybe we don’t even feel like we’re standing right now. We may find ourselves trapped, too tired to try again, too weary to even think about trying again.
We’re officially in a rut.
Seth Godin, in his episode “Hitsville” from his Akimbo podcast, calls human beings “story telling machines.”
He’s not wrong. For every interaction we have, we have a story behind it. If the woman we pass by every day doesn’t say “Good morning,” after we say it to her, we can create a narrative why she didn’t say it back. She’s angry with us; she is psychic and knows that we don’t like her. Bob in accounting told her about our party that we forgot to invite her to. In reality, it may have nothing to do with us. Maybe she’s running late, stressed about a meeting with her boss, trying to practice a speech, or worried about her marriage.
We just don’t know why. But we make up stories anyway.
We may look at our lives, wonder how we got here, and create a narrative which consists of all these little stories we tell ourselves, stories that we’re underpaid, overworked, sucky at relationships, don’t have enough money, or time or energy, have been hurt too much, weigh too much or too little. The list of stories is practically endless.
They may feel true; they may even appear true to an outsider. But they don’t have to be true.
The thing’s that’s so great about being a story-teller is that we can change the narrative at any time. We can change the direction the protagonist (that’s us!) takes.
I love Wikipedia. I can start the morning with a cup of coffee in hand, through the endless links only to find the day gone, my half-cat sitting next to my empty mug, licking her lips in satisfaction.
That’s my cat, Tiger Lily. If she’s brave enough to bop my dog on the nose, she’s damned well brave enough to steal my coffee. Cause Italian Sweet Creme coffee creamer.
But I digress. I’ve found that, for me, digging into the “where” or the “why” of a belief can be a lot like reading through Wikipedia. It’s interesting, sure, but it’s nothing more than trivia, like the fact that George Washington didn’t really have wooden teeth. In my experience, knowing the “where” or the “why” of a belief doesn’t undo that belief; it merely provides a distraction when we really don’t want to face it.
Staying focused and shunning those rabbit holes of distractions are difficult; examining the story perhaps moreso. But changing our beliefs that limit us is a worthwhile challenge, and doing so requires our taking a long, hard look at the stories we tell ourselves and how we act based on those stories.
Like an iceberg, the belief is what lies beneath the waterline. The more visible part–the most obvious part if we’re aware of it–is the action or actions that result from the belief. Unlike an iceberg, however (or maybe actually JUST like one, and I just don’t know enough about icebergs), the action–the result of that belief–further reinforces that belief.
Here’s an example:
Simple enough, and I think many people might feel that way. Maybe our iceberg looks a little like that. Maybe it looks a lot like that. Because we feel that we don’t have enough money, we can be so afraid of letting go of it that we never actually do anything with it. Because we grasp tightly–both to our money and the story of how we don’t have any–the actions just reinforce the belief that we don’t have enough.
It’s a cycle and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We can take a look at another example, the idea that we aren’t creative. Again, each part informs the other and creates a cycle:
Whatever that narrative is, we may not even realize that we believe it. It may only be when we start looking at our actions that we’re made aware that those actions stem from chapters of that narrative. Maybe we do realize it but have resigned ourselves to it.
Here’s the upside: Until the moment we die, there is always possibility. But even then, even at the moment of death, the possibility for possibility still exists. .
Nothing is ever certain.
How do we let go of these beliefs? How do we discover the possibility that maybe things don’t have to be the way they are?
We start by starting.
There are two angles from which we can approach this: by examining the habit side or the belief side. I’ve found that starting by looking through the lends of a habit is far less difficult than looking at a belief and determining the habit.
After all, we can see the habit.
We can look at our not doing anything creative or holding onto money, or any of a thousand other habits. Why do we do this? If it’s not something we can figure out easily, we can write.
I’m a HUGE fan of journaling. I think it’s one of the most therapeutic things we can do. We can take a blank page, sit down with our favorite beverage (although, I strongly recommend something non-alcoholic) and just write. Whatever comes to mind. It’s prompted free writing, and I’ll be sharing more about this in an upcoming post.
If we can’t figure it out on the first try, we can try again. After all, life is a practice.
Everything can be a practice. We can try again and again and again until we find the belief that hides under the water line, the foundation of the habit.
That’s the first step.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching
Congratulations, we’ve officially begun our journey.