This weekend, my wife Sarah and I were cleaning out our storage closet and I found a box full of old cassette tapes from the 80s and 90s.
I found tapes from my alternative music days, my classic rock phase and even early “contemporary” Christian music (contemporary—really?). I even found a few “mix tapes” that Sarah had made for me. One was simply called Summer and another was titled For my Sweetest. Each mix tape was designed to tell me a story or to remind me of something.
It was a fun trip down memory lane for sure. With every song, distinct memories—people, places and choices—came rushing back to me. Truth is, we all have certain “mix tapes” from our past that we replay from time to time. Certain voices that have shaped and continue to shape who we are. For good or bad, these internal narratives form our opinion of ourselves and often either propel us toward success or keep us from becoming the best version of ourselves. Here’s what happens.
1. We listen to the music
Even though words have no impact unless we listen to them, some voices from our youth were unescapable. It’s usually the voices of the ones we love or the ones that were supposed to love us, that tend to have the greatest impact on how we see ourselves. To be sure, many of us were blessed to have people in our lives who spoke life into us, while others of us weren’t so lucky. Most of us had a mix of the two.
My parent’s made a special effort to remind me that I could do anything. My mom was almost obnoxious about it, in a good way. It reminds me of Picasso’s mother who famously said, “If you are a monk, you’ll be the Pope and if you’re a soldier, you’ll be a General.” Turns out he was an artist and became Picasso. But not everyone loves us like a mother. I had a few coaches growing up that did a good job of bringing me back down to Earth.
Truth is, the sometimes vicious echoes of our parents, teachers, friends, coaches, pastors, etc have an amazing way of coming back to haunt us at some of our lowest moments. You know the setlist…
- “You’ll never amount to anything”
- “You’re just like your father”
- “You always…”
- “You never…”
- “You just don’t have the talent”
- “You’re too fat, too thin, too…”
2. We begin to believe it
Part of growing up is learning to process through the opinions of others and separating fact from fiction. Unfortunately, often we end up internalizing other people’s words to the point that we actually begin to believe them for ourselves. This is when we add our own voice to the voices of others. And that’s a deadly combination.
Rather than simply realizing that some people say things they don’t really mean or that some people are simply mean, inevitably we find ourselves accepting untrue words that someone else has said about us. The moment that we begin to believe them, the destructive internal narrative begins to actually shape who we are and dictate what we do.
3. We adjust our actions
Believing negative words will not just affect the way you think, it will affect the way you act. After all, we’re just the sum-total of our past, right? (No, that not true!) Those old “songs” will lie to you about your own limitations, they will make you lazy, unmotivated and uninspired. Bottom line, this untrue belief system is the Enemy of all creative endeavors. It’s what stops would-be authors, entrepreneurs and artists in their tracks. It’s the most insidious force in the universe.
As a Christian, I think these negative beliefs come from the darkest place you can imagine. Just a note here: it’s important to separate a dark season in life with an untrue, destructive self-narrative. We all go through valleys. In fact, we’ll spend more time going up or down the mountain or in the valley than at the top of the mountain. And these moments can, and have, inspired some of the most beautiful and meaningful art in history.
What I’m talking about it is listening to the ongoing messages that seek to sabotage us. So, how do we quiet the voices from our past? There’s only one way that I know of.
We have to change the setlist
In order to get out of the mire of the past, we have to find new voices to listen to and believe. That comes by reading the right books and blogs, spending time with the right people, meditating (I like to take time to pray and read the Bible every morning), and beginning to swap out the old story about you with a brand-new one.
Bottom line, we have to begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Not for who we were. Not for who others say we are. But for who God says we are and who we are becoming. How about you? How do you deal with the negative words that try to steal your time, emotions and energy?