Our lives are composed of stories, habits, and rituals from our sense of style to how we get to work, from what we choose to eat to who we choose as friends, from how we define ourselves to how we view others. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the world around us have profound implications on our daily choices, current health, and our future well-being.
These stories shape how we go about our days- for example, if your dominant story line is one of low self-worth, it will be hard to wake up in the morning, complete your responsibilities and tasks, be around other people, and make healthy decisions. You might try to escape feelings of shame, inadequacy, depression, and anxiety. However, if your dominant story line is one of high self-worth (not arrogance or egotism)- you will wake up with vitality and purpose, surround yourself with positive influences, triumph over struggles, and choose what nurtures and nourishes your health and well-being.
How do these story lines develop?
Past events and experiences in utero, early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood significantly influence our physical health, mental health, and well-being. Close relationships also play an influential role in shaping how we view ourselves and others. These past events, experiences, and relationships create our identity narratives- the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
We do not always have influence or control over the events, experiences, and relationships that happen to us. For example, it is not your fault if your mother experienced trauma while pregnant, if you were bullied by your peers, or if you were sexually assaulted. You did not deserve that. Even though we do not have much choice over what happens to us, we do have the power to learn and choose how we respond to adversity. Our identity narratives play a key role in how we choose to respond in the face of hardship. Our identity narratives should work for us, not against us. Our identity narratives should foster resilience and self-efficacy to help us prepare for the inevitable so we bend, but do not break.
How do we prepare for the challenges that lie ahead?
Daily habits are a great place to start. Our daily habits shape and are shaped by our identity narratives. For example, if you have an identity narrative characterized by low self-worth, it’s likely you will not care very much about your health, and might end up engaging in unhealthy behaviors (e.g., binge drinking, using drugs, and disordered eating). However, if you make a commitment with support from others (both personal and professional) to stop engaging in these unhealthy habits- your daily habits around health will change. This habit change will re-author your identity narrative from “I don’t deserve to be healthy” to “I am worthy of good health.”
Another example- if you have an identity narrative characterized by low self-worth, it’s likely you will avoid any experiences that challenge you, and will isolate yourself from opportunities due to fear of failure. However, if you make a commitment to do something out of your comfort zone every week (e.g., eat lunch with a co-worker, go to the gym, strike up a conversation with a stranger, give someone my phone number, ask or answer a question during lecture, contribute during a staff meeting), you will gain mastery, confidence, and resilience as you accumulate little wins, victories, and “failures.”
An important element needed to change behavior is an identity narrative which includes the following: “I can change. I am capable of change. I believe in myself.” Without belief in yourself, it will be impossible to create lasting change- high self-worth, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and confidence all boil down to genuinely believing in yourself.
If you ask the people around you what you are good at, what they like about you, what your strengths are, you will end up with a long list of characteristics, traits, attributes, and examples. Other people see the good in you, other people see your worth, and it’s time you do too (if there is a voice telling you, that’s not true- that is the exact identity narrative you need to reclaim and re-author). The only thing getting in your way, is the problem-saturated, self-deprecating story you continue to believe- it’s a fictional story and you have the power to re-write it.