“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” – Douglas Powers
The woods were still wet from a thunderstorm the night before when Bill, our friend Al, and I stepped onto the Horseshoe Trail for a run last Friday.
All day long, I had to keep reminding myself it was not Thursday. We usually do our trail runs on Thursday and I am a creature of habit.
Maybe that’s what threw me off. I was lagging behind on the trails this week. We generally run single-file on single-track trails. Al is ordinarily in the lead, followed by me, then Bill brings up the rear.
Al, an outgoing and garrulous retired chemistry teacher, has a wide variety of stories in his repertoire. Bill is typically quiet, especially when he runs. It is my role to respond to Al’s tales and to throw some of my own anecdotes into the mix as well.
This week was different. I couldn’t keep up with the guys. They ran ahead of me, slowing periodically to make sure I made the appropriate turns onto the correct trails. I heard them talking as they ran ahead, alone with my own thoughts and happy to have a bubble of relative quiet around me.
I thought about the group Al and I used to run with and the tales that were told as we churned out the miles. The group was a loose association of parents whose teenagers were friends or teammates. I was their kids’ chemistry teacher and one of only two females in the group.
Once, not too long after I began running with the group, the other woman, Eileen, and I decided to do a 20-mile training run together. We were both training for (different) marathons and our long-run schedule coincided.
I was slightly anxious about doing a three-plus hour run with a woman I didn’t know very well. Unsure if our long run paces would match, I was worried about running out of things to talk about.
My worries, as usual, were completely unfounded.
Eileen and I, as it turns out, had the same philosophy about long runs (run slowly and take frequent walk breaks). We had plenty of time to exchange life stories.
Eileen is a nutritionist and yoga instructor. She is a world traveler, with fascinating tales to tell about cliff-diving in Belize and meditation retreats in Tibet.
We talked for the duration of the run, showered at her husband’s place of work (and our destination), then continued talking on the drive home.
We began the day as relative strangers and ended it as very good friends.
That’s the power of telling our stories.
I come from a family of storytellers. Some of the best memories I have from my childhood is of my mother telling me stories about her childhood.
I learned compassion and empathy from listening to my mom. I learned she knew what it was like to be less than perfect, to do dumb things, to feel left out or neglected or alone.
My dad, it was said, would talk to a fence post.
When my children were babies, Dad, recently retired, would visit my house every morning to take them for a walk in their stroller. It gave me 30 precious minutes to take a shower, grab a cup of coffee, or clean up the mess in the family room, but Dad had an ulterior motive.
He used my (adorable) sons as bait to begin conversations with people he passed on the sidewalk, where pedestrians would ask him, “Are they your grandchildren?”
I learned to have the confidence to be outgoing and to be interested in other people’s stories from my dad.
The most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves.
We tend to tell ourselves the same stories over and over, so it’s important that the stories are (1.) true and (2.) positive.
The stories we tell ourselves define who we are. If I say to myself, “I can’t stop worrying, that’s just the way I am,” eventually I will take that message to heart.
If I tell myself, “I am not good at math“, or “I don’t have an active imagination“, or “I don’t enjoy exercise“, or “I have bad luck selecting suitable partners“, then I will not be good at math, have an active imagination, enjoy exercise, or select suitable partners.
Here is the thing: we can change our stories.
We can use positive self-talk to improve our outlook and our actions.
First, we need to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves. If the stories going through our minds are not helpful, let’s get rid of them.
We tend to live up or down to our own mental image. If I tell myself, “I can’t eat healthily, I love sweets too much to give them up“, (which I once did), I will fulfill that story.
To break out of the unhealthy patterns we have locked ourselves into by the stories we tell, we must say the following four powerful words: “I can do this.”
“I can give up sugar.”
I might not give it up completely, I might cheat every once in a while, I might slip up now and then, but I am committed to changing my life by changing the story I tell myself.
If I make a mistake today, I will do better tomorrow.
Stories matter. Words matter.
We all have the power to change our lives by changing the stories we don’t like. We need to frame our stories in a positive way by telling ourselves, “I can do this.”
Or maybe you prefer, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
You can find the places I link up here.