Change Your Story, Change Your Life
The story you have about yourself — who you are and what you are capable of — has a profound impact on your level of confidence and success in life. If you have a toxic, problem-saturated story, overcoming anxiety can be quite difficult. But when you learn how to change your story for the better, life begins to completely transform around you.
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What Is Your Story?
I’m particularly excited about today’s show because I get to share with you the idea of your story. If you haven’t heard this before this is something that totally changed my life… Not to be dramatic, but it literally changed my life when I was 19 or 20 years old when I discovered it. And it really started shifting for me, a number of years before I really started to break free from shyness because I still had a lot of work to do but you can say that was the starting point, that was the turning point for me and so I’m hoping that by sharing this with you today it can be your turning point, it can start to shift things for you.
So let me describe what I mean by the idea of your story, and this idea is so powerful that it is an integral part of a number of the therapies that have shown to be effective for shyness including cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and a variety of others.
If you remember back to the last episode, we talked about what the source of shyness is, what the cause of social anxiety is, and that it is the belief that there’s something wrong with you and that therefore people are not gonna like you, they’re going reject you and you’re not worthy of love, acceptance, belonging, and approval for the person that you are. That’s a story too isn’t it? “People aren’t going to like me. I’m not good enough.”
But a story is something we tell ourselves about the world around us, about ourselves that predicts how things are going go, and explains what happened before or explains what’s going on right now. Because if you think about it, there is so much information coming to us all the time that we have to process. I mean as you listen to this, I don’t know where you are, but you could be in your car and you are processing thousands of bits of information right now. You’re looking at the windshield, you are paying attention to other cars, you’re taking care of the task of driving, you’re feeling your hand on the wheel. There could be air conditioning, there could be other things you’re dealing with, there could be predicting what is going to happen at the stoplight.. All these things are happening but you could be focused on the sound of my voice.
Any environment you are in, there is so much information that we have to cut it out and simplify it and we do this most frequently in personal interactions and predictions about ourselves.
We really tend to simplify ourselves.
We can have a story about, “am I attractive or not attractive?” You have a collection of ideas and stories often have evidence, so we’ll say, “are you attractive?”
And you might say, “what do you mean? You mean as a friend, or sexually to people that I am interested in creating relationship with?”
Let’s just go with sexually, so, “are you attractive to women?” Of if you’re interested in men, if you’re a gay man, “are you attractive to men?”
And I want you to think about that question for a second. Regardless of what you say, “yes” or “no,” how do you know? Where did you come up with that answer?
Well whether you know it or not, you go into some database in your mind of references that verify if that story checks out. So, if you were to say, “yes, I am attractive,” then you might have some references. You might have, “well when I was 7, my mom told me I was attractive and when I was 12, Tina gave me a kiss under the bleachers,” and then this and then that and you have positive responses from other people, and people directly telling you that, so you concluded “I am attractive.”
Now unfortunately many people — not just shy people — but many people in our society have concluded that they are not attractive. It might have something to do with the bombardment of the freakishly beautiful people in the news or the media and just seeing them again and again and again and never really seeing what normal people actually look like, and so we tend to conclude, “I’m not attractive enough” or not good enough in some way.
So you might have the story that you are not attractive and if I were to ask you, “how do you know?” well you can have all kinds evidence. You can say, “well you know, no one ever kissed me under the bleachers nor has any woman come up and talked to me and then when I did try to ask that woman out one time she said no and no one ever told me that I was attractive and when I was in middle school kids used to say I had big ears and was a weirdo.” So those are your references.
What You Believe About Yourself Comes True
Now I’m not here to challenge anything right now. I’m just highlighting the idea of a story that we are narrating. Back in the days of EST which was a personal development community that said “what’s your racket?” What’s your story? What do you tell yourself, what do you believe about yourself?
Because what you believe about yourself determines what you do, what actions you can take, how you relate to people, the level of status and success you let yourself achieve, the kinds of people you approach to create relationships with, the women that you are going to move towards. If you believe that you are unattractive, you’re going to live that out, you’re going to act that out.
Remember the cause of shyness is this belief that not only are you unattractive, you are totally unlikeable, and unlovable and unworthy and people are really gonna dislike you when they get to know the real you.
So can you see, how as a story, how crippling that can be, how restricting that can be, how much that can hold you back in your life and keep you stuck in a place of not moving forward. And just think about that for a minute… It does really keep you stuck!
Let’s say you believed that you were not attractive, that women were not interested in you, that people wouldn’t want to be your friend, and you’re going to a gathering and there are several people in small groups talking to each other and you’re thinking to yourself, “people don’t like me, people don’t want to talk to me and if I go talk to someone they will be annoyed and wish that they could talk to someone else.”
Are you going to go talk to people?
Maybe. Maybe you’ll force yourself to do it but are you going to do it in a comfortable way or are you going to be kind of stilted and nervous and awkward the whole time? And if you told yourself and if you believed, really believed this on a deep level, “hey, I’m a pretty likeable guy, I got a lot going for me, I’m funny, I’m engaging, I’m attractive, I’m a good catch” and you really believe that, would that impact how you walked into that gathering and whether you interact with people and how you interacted with those people?
Absolutely. Our belief becomes our behavior.
Our story, which is just a bunch of beliefs about ourselves and about the world around us becomes our behavior and if we add up all our behaviors through the course of the day and the week and the month and the year, that becomes our destiny, that becomes your life, that becomes where you end up and what you are able to achieve and do and give and all of that comes from the ideas and the stories that we have in our head.
So hopefully you can see how absolutely essential it is that we learn how to identify our old story and start to shift that, cause if we can’t shift our story there’s no way that we are going get more confident in ourselves, let alone create better relationships.
Discovering Your Story
So what’s your story? Have you been thinking about it? Have you thought about what is it that I tell myself on a regular basis? Where is it that I say I’m not enough? Do I tell myself that people wouldn’t like me? Do I sell myself short or talk myself out of it because I am convinced that I have nothing to offer?
Where do I think, “I’m pretty good in some ways and I know what I have to offer?”
Can you identify and acknowledge your strengths and what’s good about you? So maybe your story isn’t all bleak but a lot of the time when we’re stuck and have social anxiety and you’re nervous and you’re about to go meet someone, the story can really kick up, cant it?
I know for many years I was hypnotized by the story that I was unattractive for a very specific reason and that was that I — if any of you have ever seen a picture of me, on this podcast or on the inter webs — I am half Pakistani, half Anglo American, European Heritage. Basically I’m half white, half brown and I have a light brown skin. My dad was born in Pakistan and the people of India and Pakistan, a lot of the men there have darker pigmentation around their eyes, just seems to be part of the ethnicity or characteristics of that race. And so what I inherited was slightly darker pigmentation around my eyes.
When I was about 14 or so, a freshman in high school, I don’t know how I heard it but I locked on to the idea that these are really unattractive, my eyes, around my eyes is very unattractive and that is the reason why no woman would want to date me which is what was happening at that time and that’s why I’m unattractive. And I was convinced about it, I was obsessed with it, I remember I’d be flipping through a random magazine and see an ad for a women’s product in which it is further propagated the area that that’s unattractive, so the ad says something like, “do you have raccoon eyes, do you want to shift this?”
I was like “oh my God, see, even the magazine is telling me I’m unattractive!”
But I didn’t realize at that time is that is the point of ads in the magazines. To create a feeling of insecurity so you purchase the product and probably increase your likeability. So this idea that “I’m not enough in some way, and I need to do something to try to make up for my flaws and hopefully then I’ll be lovable,” that’s not unique to you, that’s not unique to shyness or social anxiety, that’s an epidemic in our culture but it’s just worse for shyness or social anxiety because we believe it all the time. And so it thoroughly inhibits us in our lives.
But sure enough I really believed this and I wrangled with this for years, I’m talking, 10 years maybe, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years and I would tell myself that frequently, there would be a woman I would want to go talk to and guess what I would say, “I don’t know, my eyes are so gross, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, I bet my eyes are even worse today, there’s no way that she could find me attractive.”
I even went so far as to take an Oxy10 cream for pimples, it was like this brownish color and what I’d do is I would take a thin layer of that and put it underneath my eyes hoping that it would make them slightly more brown and hide some of the darker pigmentation. So I was really stuck on it and I believed it and if anyone asked me at that time “what’s your story?” or “are you attractive?” The answer would be a resounding no, and here’s my evidence… and believe me, I had evidence.
I remember one time Chris said this to me about my eyes, I remember that one time Paula asked me at a party, why my eyes were so dark. I had these little memories that pieced it together and you might have the exact same thing. You might have a lot of evidence for your story, so how do we break free from it?
How do we make a dent in this propaganda campaign that has been going for in my case 8, 9, 10 years and yours might be the same, you might have had this story for the longest time.
So we need to learn how to break free of it, we need to learn how to shift it and the first thing I want to do is help you start with an experiment. So what I would want you to do, and if you’re driving, this is going to be a little harder to pull off but see if you can. But if you’re not driving it’s even better, but what I would like you to do is look around the room that you’re in right now and look for everything that you can see that is green. Everything that is green, look up, down, left, right, behind you, all directions, look for everything that is green and count it, count 1, 2, 3, how many items you can find that are green and go ahead and take a moment and close your eyes and I want you to think of everything you saw that was brown.
Now if you’ve done this, I’ve done this with many, many people and the result is often, well, “I thought I saw a lot of green things,” how many brown things did you see, 1, 0, sometimes 2 tops. And how many green things did you see? I don’t know, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, so what our mind focuses on finding, we will find.
There is a term for this in psychology, they call “confirmation bias.” That means if you have an idea about something and go looking for it, then we tend to confirm it, we seek it out and find it. What you seek, you will find and it’s the same thing with our beliefs and our story.
And so I had piles of evidence as to why I was unattractive because of my eyes. You know what? I was searching for green and I wasn’t searching for brown. What would brown be in that situation? Well brown is just anything other than what you’ve been telling yourself, another story, maybe even “I am attractive!” Notice how I say that?
I say that in a very questioning way because that’s often how we come up with a new story. It’s like “I’m possibly attractive to women?” No, no, no, no that couldn’t be right so we need to discount that, and that’s ok if you immediately discount the new story the first time you come up with it. It’s new. And it differs from the propaganda campaign which says “you’re not good enough, you’re not attractive, people won’t like you, you’re not good enough, you’re not attractive people won’t like you.”
If you’ve had that playing on loop for five years the first time you come up with a new story it’s not going to change anything, but its still essential that you do that. It’s a necessary step to come up with an alternative story.
And you know what the strangest thing is?
That new story that you’re sure is not true, that feel so implausible, is actually potentially more true than the story you been telling yourself.
I know that might sound crazy, that might sound so far-fetched and you might think, “well ok, he doesn’t know me and my exact story and look my story is very true and I got a lot of evidence for it.”
Trust me I have had buckets of evidence. The guys that I work with like Eric who I mentioned in the last podcast had a treasure chest of evidence as to why he was not good enough and that’s because our mind searches for what we look for. So I want to share in next segment how to start to shake off some of that evidence and how to come up with something that is truer for you that you that can start to adopt to improve your life to feel better about yourself and to really be free of this old negative story.
How To Change Your Old Story
So how do we break free from our old story? How do we come up with something that is truer, that is more empowering and helps us feel better about ourselves and move forward in life in the direction that we want?
Well that’s what we’re going to talk about now. You first have to identify what that old story is and then you have to come up with a possible alternative. That’s it. Now that might seem overly simplistic. Installing the new alternative can actually — as you might experience — be quite difficult. So the example that I was sharing about difficulty with meeting women because I thought I was unattractive because of the area around my eyes. With that an alternative is “actually women could find me very attractive the reason that I’m not meeting women and dating has nothing to do with my eyes. It actually is because I don’t talk to women, I avoid them and if I do end up in a conversation with them I am nervous and awkward and exit the conversation as quickly as possible.”
That was the truth of me in high school. It had nothing to do with my appearance and it didn’t matter that’s what I said and that was my belief. So what is an alternative? So in that case the belief is women won’t find me attractive because of my eyes.
The alternative belief is: The reason I’m not having successful women is because I’m not talking to them. So what I’m doing there is I’m identifying the old belief, the painful belief or sometimes it’s referred to as the self-defeating belief. You identify what it is, write it down, and then you write out an alternative. So that’s what I’m gonna have you do in your action step. Is to identify what your top three beliefs are and write them down. I’m going to get to you know the action step at the end here.
But what it is, is you’re gonna identify your belief and then come up with an alternative. And at first the alternative might seem not true and it seems like total BS. But you know what? It is. It’s BS, it’s a belief system. It’s a new belief system and the other one your old one is also a BS. It’s also a belief system. So which one’s true? Well whichever one you can find evidence for.
So that’s a next part. Once you come up with an alternative you have to look for evidence for the alternative. And there are two places you can find evidence, one is in the past and one is in the future.
So if you come up with a new belief let’s say yours is “I’m unattractive because of x,” and you have your own thing. It’s not your eyes but it’s your nose or it’s your belly or it’s your hair or something like that. Like one person I was working with not too long ago was going bald and he was convinced that that’s why he was not having success with women. He ended a relationship, or she ended it actually with him, and he’d been single for a while and was just not really having much success with women and he was convinced! He’s like, “look Aziz, no one wants to be with a bald guy. I mean sure if they had a choice between a guy with hair and a guy without hair who’s gonna pick the guy without hair?”
So what is he doing right there? Well he’s building a case. Isn’t that funny how not only do we have this terrible belief that makes us feel bad about ourselves but then we defend it? Now if you’d ask me and said, “Aziz it’s not your eyes it’s you’re not really talking to women.” At that time in school I would’ve been like “you don’t know what you’re about, you don’t know what it’s like, you don’t have to deal with this…” Same thing with my client there who was losing his hair. “You don’t know what it’s like. It’s because I’m bald.”
So once you have identified the story you have to come up with an alternative and then you have to look for evidence that supports the alternative. So the alternative in that case might be being bald has nothing to do with attracting women.
“There are many men who are bald who are with beautiful, compelling, funny, intelligent, amazing women.” That could be your alternative. Then you have to find evidence for it. So one is in the past and well in this case he hasn’t been bald before so he couldn’t go back into his past. But in the case of me I could say you know what, actually, there was one woman in high school who was attracted to me and I found out through a friend and that was actually able to take a risk and ask her out because I got the mega green light. So there was one woman who was attracted to me. Now what we often do with the evidence that goes counter with our negative beliefs is we discount it. We say, “yeah but, she was desperate,” or “yeah but she’s the exception to the rule. Most other women would find me unattractive.” This way we can maintain that terrible BS belief.
So what we need to do is we need to not discount it. You need to find evidence from the past that supports your new idea. And in the case of this client he didn’t have evidence from the past what we did is said, “well have you ever seen a bald guy with a woman, dating a woman?” And he said, “well I don’t know about that.”
So what we actually did is his homework for that week was to do an internet search and to spend some time out and about in the city of Portland where we are, finding bald actors and other people and seeing are they dating women which they were. And when he was out and about in the streets of Portland, going to places and restaurants and stuff he should spend an hour walking around noticing bald guys and are they with women. And sure enough yes, of course they were. So he was able to find evidence that discounted his belief and of course there’s also the category of future evidence which means you go out and you try things and you see what happens.
You see how the world responds. So if you say “there’s no way a woman would want to be with me because I’m bald” and you say, “ok I’m gonna go out and learn how to build up my confidence to go talk to women,” and you go talk to ten women and four, five of them say, sure I’ll give you my number let’s go out. Then, that’s great evidence to discount your belief. In fact that’s the most rapid and accelerated way to break through your old beliefs is to generate that evidence by going out and trying it right away. In fact that’s going to be what your action step is for this week. And as we’re getting to the end of our time here I’ll just jump into it now.
Time For Action
Your action step is to write out your top three worst stories. Your BS, your belief systems, that are keeping you stuck, that are limiting you. Things like “no one could ever wanna be with me”, “I’m unattractive”, “I’m incapable”, “I’m inexperienced”, “I don’t have what it takes to succeed”, “I’m not smart enough”, I’m not blank enough, I’m not… you know find the thing that you tell yourself frequently.
That you’re not enough, you’re not good enough for this reason write out an alternative a different belief and then find evidence for it. Find evidence in the past for it and in future episodes we’re gonna get into how to find evidence for the future.
In fact the next episode’s going to be all about taking action in the world, how to do what scares you, approaching what scares you and I’m really excited because we have an awesome guest for that show who really embodies that way of living — of going towards what scares you and its pretty impressive. This guy is amazing – he really works on himself, reads, it’s crazy and the response he gets from women. I mean this guy, there’s no shortage of beautiful women who wanna date this guy. So I’m particularly excited, we’ll be interviewing him next week and teaching you how to take action and move towards what’s scares you. So make sure you catch next week’s show. Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are. Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Aziz.