Getting Off Course
Some days are better than others. There are days we’re in the zone and days we don’t know who we are. When I’m having a down day, usually I feel lost, scattered, and not sure what to do next. Years of using countless productivity systems and reading personal development books will tell you it’s because you’ve lost touch with your why. You’ve gotten away from your mission, your passion, what drives you.
I logically know if I’m not focused on my highest priorities, I can easily stray off course. However, there’s a difference between getting off course and wondering if you’re on the right path. What does it even mean to be on the “right” path? There are so many paths we could choose to pursue each day, it’s overwhelming. Add crippling self-doubt, and you’ve got a recipe for a miserable existence.
Start With Reflection
I spent several days this past week trying to determine the disconnect between what I consistently do and what I say I want to do, the work that would get me closer to my stated goals. I reviewed my goals for the past decade and for the ones I didn’t achieve, I tried to determine what had kept me from reaching them.
Firmly believing it’s not the goal which is essential, but who we become as we work towards the goal, I had to ask: Why had I not become the person I needed to be to achieve my goals?
It wasn’t a lack of knowledge, planning, or effort. It sure wasn’t because I had goals too small or goals too grand – they were all over the spectrum. It wasn’t a lack of support from friends and family. It wasn’t money or time. They weren’t someone else’s goals for my life. They were my own.
Through writing, self-reflection, and several probing questions from key people in my life, I eventually identified the disconnect between my goals and my actions.
I hadn’t achieved my goals because the stories I’ve told myself are not congruent with the type of person I would need to become to attain those goals.
One goal has perennially been to write a book. However, I never pictured myself as an author or someone who would be disciplined enough to put in the work to create and publish a book. It’s as if I thought I would just sit down one day when inspiration struck, crank out a book, and send it off to a publisher. That wasn’t my thought process, of course, but looking at my life from the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking so.
So if I wasn’t telling myself stories to get me closer to my goals, what type of stories were being repeated?
Release the Brakes!
I’ve been able to do some great things in my life, but there has always been a tape running in the background. It’s a story which plays out in little and large ways almost daily. Mostly, it’s without any awareness on my part. The story became automatic at some point, like background music. And I’ve grown comfortably numb to it. I don’t want a comfortably numb existence, though. I don’t want to feel like I’m driving through life with the emergency brake still on: I’m making progress, but it’s slow and painful.
My stories, in one form or another, all boil down to thinking I’m not good enough. And when that thought flavors every decision, situation, and interaction with others, it’s hard to make the choices and take the actions which lead to growth. This story doesn’t have to be about self-loathing. It can be as simple as wondering if we’re qualified enough to do our job, or if we’re worthy of being loved.
If the stories we tell ourselves are not congruent with who we want to become, we quickly become overwhelmed, discouraged, and can create self-fulfilling prophecies from our old, tired stories.
I don’t know exactly where my old stories come from, and frankly, I don’t think it ultimately matters. I’m a big boy, and no one is forcing me to think the way I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, or even someone entering mid-life. I accept full responsibility for my stories, my thoughts, and my actions. I realize it’s up to me to put better stories in my head until the new ones are the defaults, playing automatically.
If you are like me and are still telling yourself stories that are stealing your life away, I invite you to join me on this journey of creating better stories for our lives. I don’t have all the answers (who does?), but I do know the first step is to take full responsibility for our lives and the results we create. If we think something outside of our lives is dictating the results we are getting, that’s the first story we need to change. We can be intentional about changing our stories until we get the results we desire.
We all need compelling stories which represent who we want to become, so that in the moment of daily decisions and stress, we can choose the options leading us closer to our goals and more importantly, to a life of joy. That’s how better stories lead to better lives.