I don’t know anything about business, so how could I possibly succeed?
I don’t want to get involved in ‘marketing’ because marketers are slicksters who try to get people’s money.
When Kate Swoboda started working for herself, these are the stories she carried. She didn’t question them. Instead, she believed them wholeheartedly. She wholeheartedly believed that she innately didn’t understand business-related information, and clearly couldn’t succeed. She wholeheartedly believed that marketing was bad and always used as a manipulative ploy.
Many of us do the same. Our stories just have different subjects.
For instance, according to Swoboda, spouses may carry the story “I’m just not in love anymore,” making it that much harder to work on their marriage. New moms may carry the story “If I’m not always paying attention to my child, she’s missing out on my love,” losing themselves and their happiness.
All of these are examples of limiting stories.
Limiting stories are internalized beliefs and assumptions about the way the world works, who we are and what we’re capable of, said Swoboda, a coach and author of the new excellent, eye-opening book The Courage Habit: How to accept your fears, release the past and live your courageous life. These stories also tend to dictate our actions, leaving us stuck and spinning our wheels.
“A story that ‘everything is figure-out-able’ is a pretty helpful story, but a story that ‘I just wasn’t born as courageous as everyone else’ is not so helpful,” Swoboda said. And that latter story may keep you stuck in a toxic relationship. It may keep you stuck in an unfulfilling job. It may stop you from pursuing all sorts of nourishing, energizing goals.
“In essence, limiting stories are in play when we assume that we (or the world) must be a certain way in order to get what we want, and that we are not up to the task, and then we feel stuck.”
Limiting stories are stubborn and often slip by our consciousness. Because we’re blind to any contradictory evidence. We’re too busy amassing proof that our stories are true, which means we see the evidence everywhere.
Swoboda, founder of YourCourageousLife.com, shared these examples: When your marriage is going through a rough patch and you believe “I’m just not in love anymore,” every disappointment is simply additional confirmation that your love is gone. If you’re a mom who believes in being with your child all the time, when you finally do take a break and your baby bawls, you see this as pure validation of your over-parenting. (In reality, “it might be as simple as a normal adjustment reaction from a child who is used to getting on-demand attention.”)
“If you look for the evidence that a limiting story is true, you’ll always find it.”
The great thing about limiting stories is that they’re not permanent, perpetual things. Once we recognize them, we can revise them. Swoboda suggested these steps.
Explore alternatives. To start, Swoboda recommended asking yourself these questions: “What in my life doesn’t feel good? Where do I yearn for something more, yet feel like I can’t get it or be it or have it?”
Jot down your responses, and then explore the question: “OK, is this really true? Can I find any place where it’s not? Is there an alternative?”
For example, when you examine these questions for your story that practicing self-care leading to your child missing out, you recall how much you loved spending time with your maternal grandma. You recall having an incredible experience at a summer soccer or art camp. You realize that your original story isn’t accurate, and other people can provide love and care for your child, and sometimes your child benefits from your absence.
Focus on your deep desires. Ask yourself: “Well, what do I really want, here?” Which is especially important to ask when you’re convinced that your story is true. For instance, if you truly believe you can’t have success in business, consider these additional questions from Swoboda: “What do I really want?” If I really want it bad enough, is there a way to learn? Is there someone else before me who was really, really bad at something who figured it out? Is there help? Is there value in going after what I want even if I’ll never ‘succeed’ by traditional measures?”
Honor your reactions and connections. Swoboda stressed the importance of trying two other strategies (which she explores in her book): “accessing the body” and “reaching out to create community.” This is vital when you realize that emotions like anger and sadness accompany an old story. Maybe, she said, you’re sad because you’ve carried a story for way too long, and you’re just now starting to question it.
“I think it’s really helpful to give yourself time to cry it out and have that authentic reaction, and to get out of your own head and be connected with [your community] who will reflect back to you that you are good enough, you are whole, you are trying your best and that is all anyone can ask.”
When Swoboda questioned her own stories about her business, she found a realistic and genuine reframe: “I might not ever be the best at running a business, but I bet I can earn enough income to support myself”; “I can define what marketing with integrity looks like, for me.” She didn’t sugarcoat her updated stories or paint them with positivity by saying she’ll be the best business person in the world and earn trillions of dollars.
Again, she sought truth.
“I try to look for a reframe that seems authentic and that builds in the direction of where I want to go, one small step at a time.” And that’s the other great thing about stories: When we revise them, even slightly, they can inspire and empower us, more than we ever thought possible.