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January 09 2014

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

By Mark Sisson
96 Comments

TypewriterExperts have understood for decades that the human brain is geared toward storytelling. As anyone who created bizarre scenarios to memorize random facts for high school tests knows, we recall information better if it’s organized within a story. In Grok’s day, this fact likely had clear benefits for passing on crucial information such as hunting and foraging strategies (and epic mistakes), medicinal remedies, migration routes, navigation principles, survival tactics, and familial bloodlines. From a less pragmatic sounding (but rather pivotal) angle, the human mind is also moved by narrative in a deeply emotional way. Sure, band life was organized around the daily company and collaboration of members, but Grok and his crew weren’t automatons. Stories of many kinds undoubtedly helped maintain or explain those bonds with tales of history and alliance (and, I imagine, humor). It’s kind of fun blow-ten-minutes thought: what would Grok have laughed at? But I digress…

While this “natural affinity for narrative construction” proved adaptive for the species, it worked because it operated in individuals of course. On that level, our forebears used story to lead, impress, teach, learn, remember, entertain, interpret and negotiate – generally, we assume – to their benefit. Each of us ever since was born with this affinity. For better and for worse, we experience our lives and our environments within this cognitive “narrative” framework every day. Indeed, we experience our own selves within this narrative context – for better and for worse….

Stories, of course, naturally highlight what we’ve done and been and what’s happened to us. Likewise, however, they suggest what we haven’t done or what we don’t consider ourselves to be. They reveal us but inevitably circumscribe us and define us to a point.

Think for a minute about the stories that you tell yourself – about you. Not necessarily the narrative you would like to tell about yourself (some meticulously crafted testimonial or eulogy). In fact, brush away all the public posturing and cocktail party introductions we all end up doing to some degree at least in certain situations. What is the real narrative you live each day when it’s just you and you. In other words, what inner tape ends up playing? What lens gets applied to the outer circumstances? What’s your role, and what characteristics describe this figure you walk around in each day?

Obviously, this concept has broad applicability in our lives. In terms of health, how does it play out? In terms of vitality, what reflection do you see? What does your script say about fitness, food, play, self-care? Does your script have you assigned the role of fat person? Does it tell you you’re a sugar-holic? Does it suggest you’re not an athlete? What does it tell you about your relationship to food, to fun, to overworking? This is the stuff that makes for people who lose 100 pounds but who sabotage themselves into regaining because they can’t recognize themselves in the mirror. There’s an emotional difficulty running underneath this that can’t integrate the new look (and attention) into the old psychological template. They have a new body that’s incompatible with the old mental operating system – a system that was likely founded in actual events but self-bolstered over time again and again.

Part of understanding why we get so hooked into these narratives and the assumptions about ourselves that they impose is understanding what incidents or outside messages created them in the first place. As they say, if you don’t process the past it will keep showing up in your present. The fact is, we can talk ourselves into (or out of) any myriad of opportunities or changes simply because we’re ruled by past scripts. We never really get off the ground for a fitness goal because middle school gym class taught us we didn’t belong or would never meet the standards. We battle food because it was our coping mechanism, and we were always praised for being the “good eater” in the family. We can’t learn to prioritize ourselves enough for some meaningful self-care because we were supposed to be the caretakers. Stress management seems like a nice but foreign concept because we grew up in emotional or logistical circumstances that always seemed to be foreboding another impending crisis.

Psychologists examine how the enormous collection of random incidents in our lives get sifted into actual memories and then further filtered by the power of repetition or magnitude (e.g. trauma or celebration) into “self-defining memories,” those experiences and messages that become a watershed for our self-perception. It’s the nature of human subjectivity (and a brain that can’t and didn’t evolve by storing every bit of input). Data isn’t created equal on a cognitive level. Our ancestors scanned but prioritized their attention. We do the same whether we’re surveying traffic or filing emotional feedback. What we end up with at the end of this cognitive filtration process is what becomes our personal scripts, the memories but also messages we use to define ourselves.

Once we recognize some of the original inputs, we can see how we ourselves have reinforced the stories over time by giving them – or their messages – too much of our faith and attention. Our stories, we find, need to be rewritten.

To dismantle such a foundation can feel unsettling, however necessary it is for our health and happiness. As fundamental as these narratives – these organizing principles of personal past and formulated identity – may seem, they aren’t real. They don’t exist in the same way the tangible present does. Things happened in the past, but they have no more significance than what is happening literally right this second. The past only has the power we give it each day. What could it mean to absorb this idea – to live the rest of your life in it?

Experts have examined our cognitive processing of memories and demonstrate that our self-stories clearly influence our behaviors. Yet, how we frame these memories also determines our relationship to them. Do we define ourselves by past disappointments, or do we see them as challenges overcome? Do we use failure to justify a negative self-concept, or do we weave it into a bigger story of redemption? How we make meaning from our negative experiences will significantly determine their impact on us. The more we can act in the spirit of the latter choices, experts suggest, the better we’ll weather life’s difficulties and encounters with our own human fallibility – and the more confident we’ll be that we can make effective change.

How Do You Change Your Story?

There’s the old adage, whatever we give our attention to grows. Changing our scripts means retraining our brains. Moving beyond old messages necessitates creating a new narrative. What are we dumping from the old scripts? What do you need to let go? And what needs to take its place? What do you want to be living? What are the messages you want to believe when it’s just you and you?

First, accept that new messages won’t ring true for a while. This doesn’t matter. Set your intention, and your mind will catch up eventually. Visualize what you want – on you, and continually take tangible steps toward making it happen in each mundane day. I caution putting up photographs of other thin, fit, happy, etc. people. Instead, put up a list of accomplishments or events you will do, and start scheduling them. Put a new piece of clothing you want to fit into in full view in your closet. Buy high quality exercise clothes and shoes for yourself to make you feel like you’re already an athlete – because you are. (You’re just honing your skill and strength or endurance.) Make a list of a hundred things you like to do instead of eat compulsively or overwork, and put it on your wall. Schedule some every week. Make sure you do at least something every day toward that intention. Afterward, acknowledge you made a choice to live from a different place than you used to – because you did.

On another note, affirmations or mantras might seem woo-woo to a lot of folks, but I’ve seen them work more times than I can count. It’s in part basic functioning of the brain. For something to get lodged in our brains, it’s got to either be the shock of major trauma or the consistency of daily input. An affirmation/mantra/personal saying/whatever you want to call it is totally meaningless said once or twice or ten times. Depending on many factors, you might begin to feel something after 30 days. Maybe it will take 100 days or 300 or 3 years, but every day you’ll be closer. The ultimate point is whether it’s worth it. Do you want to keep living with the same tape going in your head, or do you need a new script to live the life you want? If you do, it takes some persistence, which is pretty easy when you think about it. Just show up for the message each day, and eventually you’ll find it’s already there, inherent in you and how you approach your day. You’ll have 100 and then 300 and then 1000 stories that show you the life you’re living, the one you’ve chosen one thought and action at a time.

Let me turn it over to you now. What stories have fueled your Primal journey, and what have you had to let go of? What’s helped you in this process, and where are you looking for feedback or support. Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading.

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96 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves”

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  1. YES! I can get so caught up in the stories I make up. I can get in my mind so much, and then all of the sudden, I’m believing something that’s completely untrue from reality. It’s something I’m working on 😉

    1. I have started a list on my smart phone
      Each statement begins with I am. Example I am healthy. I am taking care of my body. I am positive, etc. I have made up 50 statements and repeat them each morning and evening. It really helps.

  2. Storming post. I have a constant script in my head about how busy I am and how there just isn’t time to get it all done. It seems to make me less efficient and more stressed, so that I constantly feel like a failure. Investigating mindfulness as a way of helping but I’m definitely going to try consciously rewriting my script. Hmmm, how would that go…..? Something about a fabulously fit superwoman… Where are those stars, I want to aim for them 🙂

  3. Sometimes in the quest to please others, your own image becomes secondary.

    Like a soldier fighting in the field to carry out the generals orders, or perhaps on an excavation dig rummaging for dinosaur bones ….. Whichever, either way you end up covered in dirt, sugar coated or not.

    I once had a pet hamster, who refused to go on the wheel, despite my ongoing attempts by prodding the poor creature repeatedly with a pencil, and luring it with sunflower seeds, in the end it refused to leave its straw filled hut.

    One day i found it flat as a pancake, rigomortice had obviously set in ……..

    Maybe I should have let it out of its cage to enjoy running about in its ball once in a while.

  4. I got so emotional reading this. I still, after about 8 years, don’t dare tell my parents I’m not a vegetarian anymore. I’m 38 by the way.
    The reason?
    Well because I’m the good daughter of course.
    The one who lets other peoples choices be more important than my own just so I won’t upset anyone.
    And yes, I was the slow one in gym class.
    I’m good at thinking about stuff and academically clever but just not very good at doing anything practical, right?
    I have to get out of this unnecessary picture that’s holding me back, but is it holding me back enough for it to be worth the confrontations changing it would mean?

    1. When I turned 40 my mind changed over to “if you don’t like what I’m doing then you’ll have to turn your head” attitude. Maybe that will happen for you, it was wonderful for me to not worry about what people were thinking about what I was doing…… turns out most of them weren’t thinking about it anyway.
      May you have success in moving forward. Its your mind, change it if you want or not. 🙂

      1. 40 is good for that but 50 is even better! I love the fact I really care a lot less about what other people think (or what I think they think!) now… ‘It’s none of your business what other people think of you’ is a line I read somewhere that made me laugh… I try and live by that now.

  5. I am…

    Someone who lifts weights regularly.
    Someone who doesn’t like starchy and sugary food.
    Someone who gets good sleep.
    Someone who is running a 5K this Sunday.
    Someone who is not drinking for the month of January.
    Someone who runs sprints once in a while.
    Someone who meditates.
    Someone who is happy about their life.
    Someone who can make big decisions that improve their live.
    Someone who is really good at their job.

    1. Ditto….. except for the 5K. I’d be running a 5 miler in March…. and except the no drinking thing. (got to have my glass of red wine every night. : )

  6. I dunno. I keep going through phases of thinking I can do stuff, training for it, becoming better at it, starting to believe… and then falling flat on my face normally with a horrible injury. Just recovering from broken bones after thinking I can do martial arts, and I have almost believed it. So, I dunno, maybe the stories I told myself ain’t exactly untrue, and I should listen before I kill myself in a misguided attempt to do more.

    It’s kindda the ‘strove for better, but ended up just like always’ ….

    1. OMG, I feel your pain!! Well, not literally since my bones are currently intact. Bless your heart though! I’ve been sidelined in my path by weird injuries or sudden sickness or life catastrophe and it seems like I’m being conspired against — or as the old folks used to say, I feel snake-bit. After a while, that old “I’ll never be able to change anything, I’m just stuck where I am and what I am” tape begins to play and I have the most awful time trying to drown it out.

      But my mantra these days is “I floss twice a day and have for at least ten years now. If I can start flossing, I can make this change. It is possible to (insert goal here) because I now floss twice a day every day.”

      It’s funny how that one little change in my life gives me heart. It think it’s important to set up monuments in our minds to those events/achievements that call us to better stories and recall them during moments of crisis and doubt. Floss has gone a long way for me.

      1. Thanks for this comment, specifically about flossing! I’ve often said that I’m going to “floss more often” and have just as often fallen back into once every week or so. I started flossing daily about two weeks ago, and it’s become an easy part of my routine (and takes so much less time than I always think it will!) I hadn’t thought to link a change that really was so simple to a bigger change that I’d like to make. “If I can change to flossing every day, I can change my bedtime to 11:00.” (Still later than Grok, but significantly earlier for me than ever before.) The next step will be, “I’ve started flossing every day, and I’ve started going to bed by 11:00, so I’m capable of not eating sugar.” I’ll work on my wording. The process of coming up with just the right wording is helpful to me. Thanks for giving me a great starting point for my thinking!

        1. That’s great! Except, my first thought was, “hey, even I can floss!” I don’t think the “even I” is supposed to be part of the script. 🙂

    2. Maybe your expectations are getting in the way. Like I think it is really awesome you tried martial arts, even if you did get hurt! Being open to experiencing new things, whether they make you happy or cause you pain, is important. You know, part of your life journey.

  7. Hi Mark This is my first comment on your site, which I have been following daily for 6 months or so. This post is excellent and could just as easily have been called “How we see ourselves”. My compliments to whoever wrote it; you or a worker bee. It reveals a deep understanding of the human psyche and the power of our own minds, and the varied responses so far show just how differently we all respond to the idea. I try to constantly remind myself that I shape and have the power to shape every aspect of my life by the way I envisage myself … health, exercise, success, relationships – everything. We are really only restricted by our own ability to see ourselves as we really want to be, and reminds me of one of what has become my every new year resolution: exceed yourself … the only limits we face are the ones we set ourselves.

  8. I’d always thought of myself as overweight since middle school, not fat mind you, but overweight and I was. After eating primal for about 8 months, I still had this story in my head. Everyone had been telling me how I looked thin but I couldn’t see it until a friend sent me a picture and at first I didn’t recognize myself. I still have some leaning out to do, but I look at this picture every now and then and it helps me keep on track.

  9. I’ve adoped a quote frm Steve Jobs to help guide my personal journey: “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.” It helps me stay focused on what’s important to me and to let go of what others think.

    1. Sometimes others see the truth we do not see ourselves, good and bad. If you have a self impression that is flawed it is wise to at least consider help given in a loving manner.

  10. Absolutely fantastic post, Mark. These old stories about ourselves that play on a perpetual loop in our heads – the script. How many times have I narrated mine to any willing audience: “You see, my father…… that’s why I am blah blah blah blah blah blah.” He actually died 20 years ago but I’m still telling the old story to any who’ll listen. I’m even boring myself now. Reading this post has planted a small seed of possibility – a new script to give me the life I want. Thanks.

  11. ” I am not…whatever’s running through my head.” I love it!

    Sometime in the past year, Mark wrote similar post and lots of people responded with their mantras. Does anyone remember which post that is? Could you all list your mantras right now (if you have them)? So helpful!

    By the way, I’m pretty sure Grok laughed when other people farted. That one’s innate. 😉

    1. My mantra: “Today you are closer to the person you were always meant to become.”

      I can’t remember where I gleamed it from and how much I made up myself, but it proved helpful in losing my first 50 pounds =) This post helped remind me of that during a time (aka. right now) that has been challenging for me, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Time to keep reminding myself of it.

  12. If anyone out there wants more information on this subject, I read a book called Psyco Cybernetics a few years back. It explains Marks post perfectly. It was written by a plastic surgeon who would transform the hideously disfigured into beautiful and handome people. Most would embrace their new lease on life where others still saw what they considered the ugly person looking back in the mirror. This led Dr. Maxwell Maltz to study the brain and how peoples perceptions can be so far from reality. I was told by a mentor that if I read this book 5 times that there would be nothing in life that would ever stand in my way. So far only have read it twice…

    1. Try The Book of Not Knowing by Peter Ralston. It really changes you.

    2. I just read Dr Maltz book for the first time and I am about to reread it.
      I had a feeling If I searched his name on MDA I might get a hit. Glad I did nice post. I got my copy on internet archives.

  13. Instead of “I am…”, I will say “I was…” then choose what to put after “I am…”.

  14. This is the answer. For years I have been unable to understand why I lose 15 pounds then gain. Why I go a week on Paleo then just can’t do it! Thank you thank you thank you.

  15. In the words of George Costanza from Seinfeld…….. ” If you truely believe it.. It’s not a lie” !!!!

  16. This reminds me of the research on Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets (Dweck, et al). Developing a growth mindset was a large component of my Master’s program at Harvard (so it must be good stuff, right?), and we spent the entire year correcting ourselves and each other – instead of saying “I don’t eat right,” you say, “Eating well is a challenge for me, and I face it every day.” Instead of, “I suck at squats,” you say, “Squats are an exercise that I can improve on.” We learned this in the context of students (“I’m bad at Math,” “I’m a good writer”), but it applies to all of us every day. If we think of each skill as a continuum, rather than a binary set, then we allow ourselves the space to grow incrementally. The trouble is, as Mark is saying here, that kids grow up hearing “You’re so smart,” “you’re good at Math,” “you’re not athletic,” and then that switch that tells us to keep trying is turned off. That’s how we end up with adults who won’t do things unless they’re “good” at them – like eating well, running, squatting, etc.
    I highly recommend checking out the Dweck articles. It’s really eye opening stuff.

    1. My son’s school is doing this “mindset” beginning this year. It will be interesting to see what happens. I look forward to reading the book.
      I like the idea of encouraging the effort instead of the outcome, however, it’s challenging to retrain our mind so that we speak that way.

      1. Great book, and this is a great article. My intention is to re-write my script this year and let go of limiting beliefs. I’ve already made a major decision, one I should have made long ago, and am acting on it. Thanks for the great post and web site

  17. Great read. This is my first visit and I will keep coming back.

  18. This is such a wonderful and inspiring post. I love the posts such as this one that encourage introspection. It’s amazing how inhibited we can be by what we tell ourselves about ourselves. Thank you for this reminder and the tips to change on personal narratives.

  19. The universe is amazing! You have no idea how much I needed to read that today. Thanks, Mark!

  20. Once again it seems you are reading my mind! My word of the year this year is “story.” It has other applications too, but one of the main ones is that I want to reframe the stories I have told myself over many years.

    I often hear myself saying “I’m weak” or “I’m wimpy” or “I could never do that.” I would never say such things about another person! I’m sure it holds me back. So I’m deliberately doing things to change my mindset. For instance I have long been afraid of getting cold, so I’ve been following your advice to try showering with cold water. On the first day I tried it I gave up after 2 seconds, literally. I’m now up to 40. May not sound like much but it is a psychological breakthrough for me.

  21. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

    Mark Twain

    1. Yes!!!

      Or Abraham Lincoln:
      “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” 😉

  22. “Middle school gym class taught us we didn’t belong or would never meet the standards.”

    I love this one! Middle school gym class has, over the past fifty or more years, been one of the single biggest reasons children get discouraged from moving, playing, and exercising. Some children are told (or it’s strongly implied) that they aren’t fast, or strong, or co-ordinated, or whatever. And they start to believe it.

    So sad.

    1. My son had no interst in sports in school. The moment he showed interest in cycling I jumped on it. I used to race bikes in college, so I told him that if he would train with me all summer we would do a fun ride in the fall. That September he rode his first metric century, he was 11. He just turned 15 and still loves cycling, we do a century ride every year. Once a child shows an interst in ANY sport it should be encouraged in any way possible.

    2. I am still badgering my trainer to get a rope for me to climb because that was my total #fail along with can’t do a cartwheel. After this, I’m just done with that nonsense and resetting to what I want to do now.

      And Rema, you are so right: We know now that teaching kids individual activity lasts a lifetime. Kickball not so much.

  23. I’ve been laughing as I drive to work for the past month. No reason – just making myself laugh. Now, it’s a habit, and I am happier. Pretty damned simple.

  24. Ya know Mark– I have done well getting in shape and trimming down– but many times in my mind I still see the fat guy who weighed 225 lbs — even though its been years since I was that big.

    But then, I have always been my strictest and worst critic– never able to fully be satisfied. Even when I run hills, if I make it to the top on the 5th or 6th try I still feel I should’ve done it faster. (or in bare feet!)

    But as a preacher who has to care for a flock– it’s made me better at being more concerned about others than my own self image– but not much better!

  25. My montra is simple: “let it go.”
    I try not to hold on to negativity and even though I have regained weights since losing a lot (of mostly muscle mass) while being a vegetarian, I am not constantly hating myself every time I look into the mirror, anymore, and it is wonderful! Most of my problems were in my head, ones I blew out of porportion.

  26. Thanks for this great post. I’m reminded again how powerful words are, whether they’re spoken to us, or implied, by someone outside of ourselves, or by ourselves to ourselves.
    To Tom re: Mark Twain. It caught me off guard and I laughed. But, everyone has lived through a version of hell. But we grow up and now have a choice, though it may take effort, or even be excruciatingly difficult to make the better one, we still have a choice to choose move forward in our lives in a better way. As a man/woman thinks, so is he/she. Just one decision at a time.

  27. A fabulous tool to use to address those unquestioned scripts is The Work of Byron Katie, which has people worldwide learning and using this simple, powerful and radical method of self-inquiry.

    I found that affirmations aren’t a very strong tool for me because, no matter how long I tried on an affirmation my mind would always respond with some version of “No, you’re not”. The Work was my turbo-charged tool to propel me past a lot of untrue stories completely and quickly. It’s available to all for free at thework.com

  28. This article reminded me of something I was told in an educational conference about engaging boys. They say it takes about 5 or 6 positive thoughs to neutralise just 1 negative one.

    Also, as a vocal teacher. I did a research paper on tone deafness. 15% of the population belives they are tone deaf, when in reality it is close to 4%. When looking into why so many people think this, it was due to many of them being told at a young age that they were bad at singing……just goes to show

    1. This reminds me of a TED talk where the speaker tells a story about asking students “who can sing?”, all kindergarteners raised their hands, and only a hand full of high school students. We can all sing, just not in the car with our kids!

  29. What a deep topic, Mark! In my late twenties, I shed 100 pounds. I was surprised that I didn’t also lose the low self-worth. I realized, at a certain point, that I was homesick for my old body and felt adrift and vulnerable. It really is a physical feeling, and it took me a lot of time and support to get over it. If I could have read these ideas back then, I think it would have sped up my journey! Thanks!

    1. That’s awesome… Mark should sell wrist bands with WWMD on them. Brilliant. I’m a WWJD fan too so please don’t think I’m being blasphemous here…

  30. Mark – I have read almost every one of your posts for 3 years. This is the best one.

    By far.

    “Things happened in the past, but they have no more significance than what is happening literally right this second. The past only has the power we give it each day.” You truly understand the meaning of “health.” It is not merely nutrition and exercise. A myriad of factors are responsible for wellness, and this post addresses the core of all of them. Thank you.

  31. For me wearing my VFF everyday in public was life changing. Instead of trying to hide it so no one would notice, I embraced it and became “that girl” or “vibram girl” at the gym. haha I love it!

  32. Such a great post Mark and so relevant to all aspects of our lives and especially timely with the new year and new intentions! Repetition is key when trying to start a new storyline. We consistently tell ourselves the old stories, and need to remember that the new ones deserve as much or more airtime!

  33. I guess I’m like a snake – I shed my old skin when it needs to be shed.

    My current narrative is that I’m a badass along the lines of Trinity in the Matrix, complete with the shiny black rubber outfit – kicking butts and taking names!

    When I was very young I was not like that at all. I’m not sure when I changed, but I found my inner superhero somehow and that outlook has helped my life immensely.

  34. This line of thought sounds remarkably like the teachings of the Landmark Forum (or EST to those of you Baby Boomers out there). I’m curious, Mark, as to whether or not you’ve been a participant? I find it remarkably liberating to consider that my past, or the stories I’ve created about events in my past, don’t have to define my present or future. Despite the difficulty of breaking the rather comforting habit of pigeon-holing oneself, it is undoubtedly a worthwhile and ultimately fulfilling practice to undertake. One that I struggle with daily.

  35. Some of my Stories:
    It’s my mind and I can change it if and when I want.
    Don’t believe everything you think.
    Just do your best and understand it will be better on some days than others.
    Put it in a bubble and let it goooooooo. (Watching it float away into the air)
    If I have the blues today I shal revel in them and enjoy them because they will soon be gone.
    If you don’t like what I do then turn your head and don’t watch. 🙂
    Try to speak the positive of the negative – Not “I hate milk” but “I’d like to drink water instead of milk”
    Yes, it took 59 years to get this far – from a worthless, good for nothing person to “I’m fine, I may not be perfect but I’m fine”

  36. what the mind can beleive,the world can concieve.
    living in the present is the only way.

  37. Yeah, my mom told me all the time when I was growing up that I was built just like her. Which meant very overweight in her 30’s and for years now morbid obesity. I’m in my 50’s and still don’t weigh as much as she did in her 30’s, but I still hear that tape playing in the background, which makes it hard to concentrate on losing the few pounds I really do need to make go away. I’ve tried writing it out, now I think I need to come up with a personal story to displace it. We’ll see if that works.

  38. “There’s an emotional difficulty running underneath this that can’t integrate the new look (and attention) into the old psychological template. They have a new body that’s incompatible with the old mental operating system – a system that was likely founded in actual events but self-bolstered over time again and again.”

    My mental picture of myself has been overweight for my entire life, because I’ve been overweight for my entire life—but as I get older I think I wasn’t as big as my mental picture made me think I was. Anyway, when I recently got down to 187 pounds (after being 241) and people started calling me skinny, I had a weird reaction to it. It didn’t fit with my mental picture of myself, at all (plus I really dislike that word, almost as much as “fat,” but I digress). I feel like something changed for me mentally and I’ve had a really, really hard time staying primal ever since. An odd combination of pressure to continue to be the skinny girl everyone was seeing and of remaining “me,” even though physically I’ve changed quite a bit. I honestly don’t remember weighing less than 180 pounds, and not knowing what I would look like kind of scares me. It’s a really odd feeling and I’m not sure I can explain it. But this post made me tear up, because it’s just exactly what I needed. Thanks Mark

    1. Wow. Keeping putting that left foot in front of the right. I hope you find your healthiest you!

  39. there are lots of quotes and sayings and cliches out there that can give you inspiration and motorvation,but it really does just boil down to knowing that YOU control your thoughts,feelings,actions,story ect.you are your own master and no one can tell you how to feel or react to feelings.
    and to throw in another from sly,
    “its not how hard you hit,but how hard you can get hit and keep moving foward”

  40. The story I keep telling myself? That after reading MDA and everything Paleo for about 2 years, including the Friday success stories I am still not committed. I have started, stopped so many times! The weird thing is that I KNOW Paleolithic is the way and when I follow 80/20 I feel fantastic. I have 2 kids under 3.5 and packed on about 60lbs from that, stress and of course food. While I have no medical complaints – thankfully – I do want to look better, be more active as a positive health model for the kids and have less brain fog. I even have a supportive (climber) husband who can cook a badness piece of any meat you give him. My sugar demon gets me every time and it is a chain that goes to gluten and then the FOG.
    My friends have told me that I am passionate when I talk about Paleolithic. I fantasize about being the Jamie Oliver of Paleo. Going from school to school and even hospital, prisons and making folks well and less foggy and aggressive via food. I believe it is all possible. I teach and for long classes I bring almonds and jerky to share. No more junk food in my classes! But I don’t fee l I can tell strangers about Paleo as I am not there yet and still carry lots of weight.
    Now if I could just stop putting my ghee on toast…

  41. I love this article. We too often determine our own failure before we ever give ourselves a chance to succeed–attitude and perspective are very important!

  42. Loved this post! I especially identify with the idea of perpetuating identities we set up for ourselves (or were set up for us) as children. I wrote about this on my blog last year, if anyone is interested: http://www.practicebalance.com/2012/10/maximize-happiness-by-recognizing-your.html

    I am a physician who grew up in a doctor-phobic household, thinking I was too squeamish for such things. I am also an athlete who grew up thinking I was too clutsy to play sports.

    You can be whoever you want!

  43. I’m going to chew on this for a few days. Thought provoking.

  44. Thanks Mark…this is a great reminder that often our internal monologue is compounded by an initial choice – a choice to see ourselves in one way or another – in a good way or a bad.

    One way I’m trying to improve my own version of myself when faced with a damning obstacle (finishing those last few hundred meters on the rowing machine, speaking in front of large crowds, resisting that piece of chocolate) is by reminding myself that I have chosen to be here in this moment, and that I have a choice to conquer and win or to give in. By making this choice, I’m building myself up one step at a time.

    And it’s working.

  45. I am working on my “personal brand” now for a variety of reasons and this is right on topic. I’ve noticed (and am also working on) that sometimes we can pick up great parts of our story from others. (As my of you have comments, and not so great, but I’m listening now for the great side).

    For example, I sprained my knee in December and when I called make a PT appointment, the scheduler asked me what sort of activities I do. I told her, and she said “Wow, you are very active.” And I’ve been walking around ever since then with this little “very active” halo over my head, continuing my activity while tending to my knee. Think of all the people she must talk to and to think I’m very active! I rewrote my story on the spot. Never would have come up with that on my own.

  46. Mark, did you go on a psilocybin trip over the holidays? JK, but these are the exact revalatory thoughts experiences like that can provide. Not that it takes a psychedelic experience to invoke these thoughts, but it is important to reflect on the tape we play each day. We can choose to modify the tape, take the movie in another direction. We can modify our gene expression and become the exact person we want to be. I think the Primal Blueprint inherently causes deep reflection and personally it had a profound effect not just on my diet but overall lifestyle.

  47. I have been struggling with being second best my entire life. I have felt, because of the recurring tape that plays in my head that I’ve always been the “also ran” in every event or competition, regardless of the goal.

    Today, I change that tape and rewrite the script. From today, I am the winner, I can achieve, and I am the one that finishes first. I am ready to “Party like a Grok-star!”

  48. I love this post. I adhere to the primal lifestyle: eating, sleeping, exercising, avoiding injury. I’m still working on a few areas as we all are. Now I’m attempting to get my aging, overweight, unhealthy parents (wow that sounds mean) on board. The hardest part is getting them to accept that eventually, they will have to change their lifestyle. I think the trick will be to introduce small changes that they can implement gradually while all the time keeping a vision of a healthier happier life! Thanks again for the great post, Mark. You Rock!

  49. I find myself constantly peppered by the ongoing battle of the little red devil on my right shoulder and the annoying white angel on my left! A third glass of wine gives me whiplash. An appointment for a massage turns into a running commentary on “it’s a good healthy thing that makes me feel better,” vs. “a massage, really, why don’t you go volunteer at the homeless shelter for that hour, you slacker.” I find I really don’t worry about what others think of me all that much, I’m too damn busy trying to figure out what I think of me.

    How can I be a world traveler spending my days working for clean water in impoverished countries and also be an artist who really doesn’t like to leave the house unless it’s on fire? I fear my mantra would go something like, “I am an artist, well, I try to be, but what do I know, really.” “I am a great cook, except for that Indian dish which ruined my pan last week.” I suppose I will confidently keep making art, cooking meals and all the other things that fill my days… I just need to flick one of those voices off a shoulder and stop the second guessing. Any advice on which one it should be?

    1. Are you familiar with the old TV show “Herman’s Head?” I suspect we all have not just two, but often more, voices in our heads giving us various directions. At least I do and they made a TV show about it.

      Family Systems Therapy is a fascinating effort to help us ID and reconcile these voices, also known as “parts.” I suggest a Google. It explains a lot and helps reconcile these internal conflicts. (Or in my case, I at least know who’s talking and winning :)).

  50. I would like to share something on this subject more deeply. I once worked with a person who advised me that we make agreements with ourselves as we go from baby to adulthood. That’s the content of the script we read.

    He suggested we can remake these agreements and recommended a multi-part path for doing so, including words, images, colors, sound, etc.

    From others, I have learned that somewhere in me is my “best self,” and finding ways to gently connect to that and let it guide me have been very lovely.

    It’s certainly not a straight line and we don’t always have an easy time hearing our own story or understanding what others perceive it to be — that’s the first challenge to me — but a bit of beneficence toward ourselves is wise.

    Another self-story project I have done is “the path not taken.” Draw a vertical line representing your life, and draw the forks in your road, noting which you took and why. We probably all find some regrets but also courage and enterprise. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

  51. I loved this post. I think it is the next thing in the chain to start working on.

  52. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a valuable tool in changing the stories we tell ourselves, for the better.

    There are a variety of techniques involved, for example, taking a previous bad memory and shrinking it down in the mind, making it black and white, and pushing it as far back as possible. You can then play it backwards with comical music, realizing that it’s just a small silly memory that has no basis on the present reality.

    Of course, this is just one technique, but I encourage anyone interested to check it out!

  53. “Maybe it will take 100 days or 300 or 3 years, but every day you’ll be closer.”

    This should probably be my mantra, haha. I’m an extremely impatient person and often if I don’t see results within a week I give up. I need to change that story.

  54. What an enlightened post. I’m equally impressed by the humble, honest comments, what a supportive community. I’m a long time vegetarian that is trying to embrace primal/paleo with seafood and eggs (can’t bring myself to eat red meat or fowl). This site is a great inspiration, love the holistic approach.

  55. Thank you Mark for a great post!
    I do let my past, my self-defining memories and my untrue thoughts tell me who I am but they are wrong!
    – I was the worst in my gym class – always last in runs, worst in jumps and throws, always got hit by ball in all the ball games, more often than not ended up with sprained ankle or wrist. In the last few years I have started to do bodyweight exercise, walk and even run (not anymore as my left knee doesn’t like it:) and realistically I think I am in better shape than most of my class mates who were making fun of me then.
    – I do believe I am sugar-holic and that I have no self-control. But then I did Whole30 last August and I am doing it right now. My colleagues think I do eat super healthy and actually envy my willpower.
    – When I was younger I was always told by my family and my ‘friends’ that I am not pretty and that I am fat. Right now while not skinny I have an hourglass figure and am slimmer than some of my peers. What is MORE important though is that I am stronger than most of them. And yes, I also believe I’m beautiful in my own way. Not that it matters but have to fight the past….
    This makes me see my life much more positive and gives me hope for future! Thank you.

  56. Thank you so, so, so MUCH for this article! This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. I am enacting this method tomorrow! Time for a new story!

  57. This is so true. The mind has incredible powers. I think it was Henry Ford who said: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” That’s one of my favourite quotes and rules to live by.

  58. I have to say thank you. This is something that I have struggled with for years, and have read numerous self help sites, habit books, etc. But this is the first time that any writing actually laid out a way to turn your mindset around.

  59. FABULOUS POST!! Reminds me of how easily I changed “Don’t forget…” to “Remember….” in my vocabulary because it’s more positive and people tend to “forget” the “don’t” part as I learned in a marketing class. I need more “remember” type language in my own conversations with myself.

    I have heard this message from multiple sources over the past week and am heeding it… currently HayHouse Radio is posting daily classes on this exact thing, too. Affirmations and positive self-talk is so important to sticking with this. I think it must be a natural thing for those who find it so easy to transition to in life. I’ve been struggling and partly because I worry about what happens when I’m no longer protected by having “fat and ugly” as an excuse for so many things.

    People say to never take financial advice from a broke person or health advice from a fat person. No wonder people don’t listen to me when I could so help them with health issues. It’s time to change the tape and become someone worth listening to.

    Thanks, Mark and Team!

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  61. This is the most profound post I’ve currently read and it hits the nail on the head. Having been defaulted into caregiver role for my father, brother -both deceases – and now caretaker of my dementia burdened mother, it’s very difficult to see my life as nothing but negative and only time waiting for the other show to drop. But, these events have written my script about me and my future. This is not who I have to be.
    Thank you for this. I am seeing this at exactly the time I need to. I have to stop fighting against better changes as hard as they are right now. Rewrite the narrative and open the door to freedom and a HAPPIER future.

  62. Awesome, I picked up this topic from an addiction class that I am facilitating on Brain Chemistry of Addiction. Very well written and something I will pass on to my Group. Thank you

    1. Thanks for writing, Harland. Glad the post spoke to you and offered input for your course facilitation. Best – M