Shifting Stories

How changing the stories we tell ourselves can transform how we think and behave  

Have you ever decided that you aren’t very good at something and told yourself “that’s it – I can’t bake/ draw/ run/ do technology… it’s the story of my life”? Well, according to Andrew Scott, the author of Shifting Stories,  to make meaning in our lives and understand our realities, we tell ourselves stories all the time. Often these stories, based on fact, are negative ones with limiting consequences – not just for us, but for our relationships with others; for example, how we perform in the workplace. What we attend to, and how we interpret reality to construct certain narratives, impacts on how we behave.

This is linked to confirmation bias and how we notice what fits in with what we believe, and we attribute gravitas to those stories that confirm what we believe. This bias leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy – a destiny, how it’s meant to be. And these stories can be manifold, often about the same reality of ourselves and others.

Rooted in narrative therapy, Andrew asserts that it is possible to change these negative stories into positive ones, to see ourselves differently and change our way of being. We need to actively choose the positive narratives and he suggests three stages in making this move. An outline sketch of each stage is below. Does the first stage resonate with you in any way?

  1. Loosening the grip

Decide on a story that you tell yourself that has a negative effect on you. For example, “I’ve never been good at drawing – I always came bottom in art at school…” or “I’m not very assertive in meetings – I rarely speak up or call things out”. Then name that unhelpful story to detach yourself from it and make it separate – ‘Bad artist Amy’/’Unassertive Anna’. By doing so, you become the author rather than the main character.

  1. Discovering more helpful stories

Now think about occasions when the unhelpful story was less in evidence. What made this exception possible? Using the drawing example, when you did draw something well? Think about this more, giving more weight to this positive exception. How would it be if there were more occasions like this? Can you give this more helpful story a name? “Artistic Amy”? What possibilities for the future does ‘Artistic Amy’ offer you?

  1. Enriching the plot

This stage is about deepening the attachment to this story so it’s ‘strong enough to survive’. Explore further examples of this positive story and it’s important that you believe this, enough to ensure the unhelpful, old story doesn’t resurface. Also, to explore how to make sense of the old story in light of the new story. What possibilities does the future offer for you with this new story? What does ‘Artistic Amy’ say about what is truly important to you? Finally, if it works, consider how you might celebrate this success and who with?

What (many?) stories do you tell yourself and of others that you could shift; to change how you think and behave, and even change your relationships – for the better? Let me know!

For a deeper understanding of Andrew Scott’s work see