When I was fourteen I was diagnosed with anorexia. Unlike what some people think, this was not a deliberate choice. It wasn’t ‘extreme dieting gone wrong’. For some reason, subconsciously and very quietly, I just started telling myself that food was no longer my friend — that fat, carbohydrates and generally any sort of ‘fun’ foods were simply off limits.
So what I did, again, completely subconsciously, was to draw up what I call my ‘black list’. This was a list of foods that I came to believe as being a complete no-go: fried foods, red meat, creamy sauces, cake, pizza, cheese, pasta, the list goes on…
These were the sorts of foods that I would never choose to eat, under any circumstances. And if for whatever horrendous reason I was forced to eat something from this list, I would often feel physically sick just at the thought of doing so.
While now I’m able to reflect back and see this list for what it really was — a figure of my imagination — at the time, it was my reality, it was my bible. And until very recently, almost ten years after my original diagnosis, it felt so real that I’d never questioned its existence.
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago when someone gently woke me up to the fact that actually I could choose not to believe my own thoughts that I was able to put the list down.
It just doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.
And what I find so interesting about this is that it’s all about storytelling. It was me telling myself a very compelling story that I started to believe: “If you eat that pizza you’re going to feel sick and uncomfortable. You’re going to get fat and that’s not what’s going to make you happy is it?!”
But as long as we are able to see these stories for what they are— believed thought — we don’t have to pay them any attention. We really do have that choice.
Despite what your English teacher may have told you at school, it turns out that we’re all pretty convincing storytellers. And while this can sometimes be helpful, often we are unintentionally holding ourselves back: “I’m too young to get that promotion”, “I’m not brave enough to get on that plane”, “I’m not a good enough writer to start a blog”. You get the idea.
But no matter how convincing that story may be, you don’t have to believe it. Really, you don’t. And when we realise that, it can be pretty liberating.
So — what stories are you telling yourself right now that are holding you back?
Sometimes they’re not always easy to spot, particularly if we’ve believed them for some time. But when you do notice them, I find it useful to ask myself: “How much of what you’re thinking right now is actually true?” And more often than not, the answer is not a whole lot.
So the next time you find yourself thinking “Oh I couldn’t possibly do that because…”, ask yourself this question and you might be surprised by the answer.
Now, pass me some cake.