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The Stories We Tell Ourselves: How Beliefs Shape Our Narratives

The stories we tell ourselves are woven from a complex interplay of beliefs and attitudes. These narratives, often shaped by our experiences and perceptions, can influence our outlook on life and our potential for growth. Understanding how beliefs can become limiting and how they shape our personal stories is key to unlocking our full potential.

Beliefs as Narrative Anchors

Beliefs serve as anchors in the stories we construct about ourselves and the world around us. They are not just ideas we hold; they shape our perceptions and judgments. For instance, if we believe we're not good at something, that belief can color how we approach challenges and opportunities. It becomes a part of our narrative, influencing how we see ourselves and what we think we can achieve.

Our personal narratives are built upon the foundation of these beliefs. They shape the way we interpret events, make decisions, and interact with others. If we hold limiting beliefs—such as "I'll never succeed" or "I'm not worthy"—these narratives can hold us back from reaching our true potential. They create a lens through which we view ourselves and the world, potentially stifling growth and resilience.

Recognizing and challenging limiting beliefs is essential for personal development. Research shows that when we question these beliefs and examine the evidence behind them, we can reshape our narratives in empowering ways (Freedman, 1996). It's like editing a story—we revise the plot to include strengths, achievements, and possibilities we may have overlooked.

The Role of Cognitive Processes

Research suggests that our beliefs and attitudes can evolve when we gain new insights or information (Freedman, 1996). When we engage in deep thinking or consider different perspectives, we can break free from the constraints of limiting beliefs. This process allows us to rewrite our stories with optimism and confidence, emphasizing our capabilities and potential. By staying open to new experiences and challenging our assumptions, we expand our narrative possibilities. This flexibility helps us adapt and grow, fostering a more positive and resilient self-concept.

Identifying Limiting Beliefs

The first step in overcoming self-limiting beliefs is to acknowledge their existence. These beliefs often manifest as internal narratives that undermine confidence and competence. For instance, beliefs such as "I'm not capable enough" or "I'll never be as successful as others" can profoundly impact decision-making and leadership effectiveness.

The Process of Challenging Beliefs

  1. Recognition and Documentation: Begin by asking the coachee to identify and write down a specific belief they hold about themselves that may be limiting their progress. This could range from doubts about their skills to fears of failure.

  2. Critical Inquiry: Once the belief is identified, guide them through a series of probing questions:

  • Fact vs. Assumption: Ask whether the belief is grounded in factual evidence or assumptions. Research in cognitive-behavioral therapy underscores that challenging such beliefs can alter negative thought patterns, thereby reducing anxiety and improving overall mental well-being (Curtiss, 2021).

  • Contradictory Evidence: Encourage mindfulness and prompt them to consider instances or achievements that contradict this belief. Studies suggest that this process can lead to changes in neural pathways associated with self-perception, impacting behavior and performance (Schuman-Olivier, 2020).

  • Perspective Shift: Encourage the coachee to imagine advising a friend who holds the same belief. Research in educational psychology highlights that fostering a growth mindset through such exercises can enhance academic performance and motivation (Limeri, 2020).

  1. Reframing the Belief: The ultimate goal is to help the coachee transform their limiting belief into a more empowering statement. For example, "I lack the skills" could be reframed as "I have the capacity to learn and grow in new areas."

Empowerment Through Reframing

By challenging these beliefs, executives not only gain clarity on their strengths but also cultivate a mindset conducive to growth and resilience. This process of reframing empowers them to approach challenges with confidence and embrace opportunities for development.

In executive coaching sessions, this exercise serves as a foundational tool for personal and professional development. As coaches, guiding executives through this introspective journey fosters self-awareness and unlocks untapped potential. It equips them with the mental agility needed to navigate complex leadership roles and inspire their teams effectively.

The Main Takeaway

The stories we tell ourselves are not fixed—they are dynamic and can evolve over time. By understanding how beliefs influence our narratives and identifying limiting beliefs, we empower ourselves to rewrite these stories in ways that support personal growth and fulfillment. It's a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, where each chapter represents an opportunity to embrace new perspectives, challenge old beliefs, and create a narrative that reflects our true potential.


Curtiss JE, Levine DS, Ander I, Baker AW. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatments for Anxiety and Stress-Related Disorders. Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ). 2021 Jun;19(2):184-189. doi: 10.1176/appi.focus.20200045. Epub 2021 Jun 17. PMID: 34690581; PMCID: PMC8475916.

Freedman, Jill & Combs, Gene. (1996). Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities. Psyccritiques. 42. 

Limeri, L. B., Carter, N. T., Choe, J., Harper, H. G., Martin, H. R., Benton, A., & Dolan, E. L. (2020). Growing a Growth mindset: Characterizing How and Why Undergraduate Students’ Mindsets Change. International Journal of STEM Education, 7(1).

Schuman-Olivier, Z., Trombka, M., Lovas, D. A., Brewer, J. A., Vago, D. R., Gawande, R., Dunne, J. P., Lazar, S. W., Loucks, E. B., & Fulwiler, C. (2020). Mindfulness and Behavior Change. Harvard review of psychiatry, 28(6), 371–394.

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