How to Rewrite Old Stories and Achieve Your Greatness

UPDATED: January 7, 2019
PUBLISHED: December 31, 2018

It was a wintry day in 1990 and the most anticipated event of my fourth-grade year was upon us—the skiing field trip to Wild Mountain in eastern Minnesota.

I had never been skiing before, but based on what I had heard, this was going to be the single greatest, most fun day of my entire life. That morning, a couple hundred 10-year-olds wearing 20 pounds of winter gear each, plus a few parent chaperones including my very own father, piled into a caravan of school buses that carried us to the ski spot.

As the bus wound its way up the mountainside, I could barely contain myself. I just knew it was going to be an experience to remember. And it was. But not in the way
I expected.

While my friends swished down the hillside, I spent the day caught in ropes and falling over even when I wasn’t moving, my limbs all twisted upon themselves as I toppled down the bunny hill. I’m pretty sure I am the only fourth grader in the history of the Wild Mountain Field Trip who spent the whole day with skis on my feet, but never actually skiing.

A story was born that day—not the kind you celebrate or even acknowledge, but rather the kind that quietly sheds its origin like a snake sheds its skin and then buries itself into your soul. There it lives, not as a story, but as a truth.

In my case, the “I hate skiing” truth.

I lived quite happily with that truth for many, many years. Then I met my husband, who loves to ski and who, nearly three decades after that fateful field trip, wanted to go skiing with our kids and another family during a winter holiday. My truth was going to be tested.

The Transformation Myth

While I’ve always celebrated the coming of the new year, I think we can agree it brings a fair amount of pressure to suddenly transform ourselves. When the ball drops, we’re expected to upgrade and never go back to the rags of the year before.

I’m guilty of falling into this transformation fairytale. I’ve set 100 goals to complete in 100 days. I’ve joined gyms, subscribed to apps and have a stack of business books that stands taller than me. And while each of these devices, tools, programs and plans are valuable, they don’t stand a chance against the stories we tell ourselves. These stories become an impenetrable shield, and over time and with repetition, morph into unchallenged truths that we accept about ourselves. Truths like: I will always struggle with money. I’m not good at exercise. My work will always hinder my relationships. I hate skiing.

Dream all the dreams, set all the goals, buy all the things… but until you identify, challenge and rewrite these stories, nothing will change. The ball will drop, the confetti will fall, and before you know it, it’ll be April and everything will be the same.

So how do you rewrite old stories that are stopping you from achieving your greatness? It starts with identifying what those stories are in the first place, then
challenging them.

Related: 5 Steps to Personal Greatness

Is It Real?

We don’t spend much time watching television in our home. However, every once and a while you’ll find my 7-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter and I curled up on the comfy couch enjoying a show together. And every time we watch something, without fail, the question inevitably comes from one of them: “Mama, is this real?”

We could be watching Dancing with the StarsE.T.Chopped Jr. or Moana, and they never hesitate to try making sense of what they’re watching. Are the people real or imaginary? Are they being themselves or pretending? That childlike act of questioning a proposed reality is a valuable exercise that adults typically skip or avoid.

“Is this real?” is the perfect starting point for changing the stories that are holding you back. For example, on New Year’s Eve before 2012, my husband and I sat down to do a little financial transformation. We started by taking a look at our current situation and, per usual, the first thing that jumped off the page was the purchase of a luxury condo at the top of the market, which had us swimming in debt. For years this condo was the big asterisk on our ledger, and we had come to accept that we would die before the debt would be repaid.

Until that New Year’s Eve.

Because that night, we asked ourselves is this real? Was this really an impossible obstacle, or was there something we could do to change it? It turned out that, with a little savings-maneuvering, a little good luck with falling interest rates and renting the condo out at a slightly higher monthly rent, we could be breaking even by the end of 2012. A financial wound that had been hemorrhaging money for as long as we’d been together was suddenly stable, all because we made the decision to identify and challenge the story.

Reflect, Reset, Revise

That night we learned a life-changing lesson; a lesson that creates the kind of true transformation I was hoping to achieve when I bought the Yoga Booty Ballet DVDs or paid for the three-year subscription to a meditation app that I only thought to turn on when I was driving and couldn’t close my eyes.

The truth is, you are a great storyteller. You likely have a library full of stories you tell yourself about yourself. Some are true. Some work in your favor. And some of them were put there long ago without your permission or awareness. As you stare this new year in the eye, remember: If there is something you really want but feel like you can’t have or can’t do, take some time to identify the stories you tell yourself and challenge a few of them to see if they are fact or fiction.

That’s exactly what I did with my “I hate skiing” story. After all, it had been decades! Maybe I just had a bad day on the slopes. I decided to challenge the story—to put on my big girl boots and goggles and hit the slopes.

And as it just so happens to turn out… that story was a true one. I really don’t like skiing. But at least now I know.

Related: How to Tell Your Story

Kindra Hall is the bestselling author of Stories That Stick and a sought-after keynote speaker. She is the president of Steller Collective, a marketing agency focused on the power of storytelling to overcome communication challenges.