What Stories Are Holding You Back?

We are all natural storytellers. We love to tell stories and they have fueled our civilization since the beginning of time.

But there is another kind of story. It’s the ones we tell ourselves, and frequently it’s a negative one. We all have a radio playing in our heads. Are you tuned to the right station?

The negative voices we hear are the source of most of our fears and anxieties. These voices tell us, “You’re not smart, not capable, or you should know better.”

These voices hold us back from being bold, taking more risks, asking for what we want, or simply believing we can make positive changes in our life.

It can be hard defining who’s doing the talking until you consider the source. You may be hearing your parents, teachers, well-meaning friends, or bosses who thought they knew what was good for you.

Our minds are tricksters, convincing us things are real when it’s really our imaginations on overdrive. We fear the worst, and we create drama in our lives to match our feelings. This justifies our behavior, quantifies our circumstances, and supports buying into the stories we tell ourselves.


Negative thoughts manifest as:

  • Frantic impatience
  • Utter exhaustion
  • Misunderstandings
  • Emotional paralysis
  • Shame
  • Defeat
  • Feeling out of control
  • Confusion
  • Overwhelm
  • Victimization

The truth is we are invested in staying in stuck places. We get attention when we complain, or when we feel that circumstances are working against us. It gives us an excuse to give in, give up, or simply put up with whatever it is that’s not working for us.

If we never take risks or fail to get what we want, we can always blame it on circumstances. We can ignore the signals that demand we make different choices.


In a recent study, researchers at University College London found that repetitive negative thinking is linked to cognitive decline, and a greater risk of dementia. Depression and anxiety are root causes of mental decline in people 55 and over.

Let’s face it. During the COVID-19 years there has been a lot of negative thinking. The stress of continual news cycles has kept worry levels high. Keeping ourselves safe from contracting the virus has been a major priority for all of us to avoid the dire circumstances that it could kill us or our loved ones. It’s hard to be positive under such circumstances, but in order to maintain a healthy quality of life we have to find the bright spots.

In Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, he tells the story of his own depression and how he began to recognize and challenge pessimistic thinking to develop more positive behaviors. He believed that in normal circumstances, depression is learned helplessness, and by developing optimism you can consciously challenge your negative self.


So how do we identify the stories that are holding us back and train ourselves to be more positive? How do we tune into the stations that propel us forward?

It takes effort. We must question our thinking, and we must be willing to change. We have more control over our minds than we think we do!

Life is change. Circumstances change. People change. Life is a constantly moving target and we need to learn how to roll with it.

Change has been the biggest driver of my life, whether I invited it in or not! Through several decades of unsparing change, I have consistently been challenged to change my thinking and behavior, and while I may have resisted at times, it has always been clear that the only way through is to figure out how to do life differently – how to be different.

Less than 2% of the world’s population makes a conscious effort to change. Most of the time change happens by circumstance.


Change means facing our limitations, our feelings of inadequacy, and our belief that we may not be good enough means challenging a state of mind that impacts the quality of our life.

To change, you must let go of limited thinking, and confront the behaviors that are not serving your best interests. Letting go of what doesn’t serve you is your journey of discovery.

A simple test is to ask, “Is my life working for me the way I want it to?” If not, what needs to change?

We spend our lives looking for answers, but what if you spent your life looking for the right questions. What do you think would happen?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

It takes courage to look yourself in the mirror and ask:

  • What do I need to do differently?
  • Who do I want to become?
  • What will I need to do to make my life different from what it is today?
  • What is the best way forward?
  • Where do I stand in my own way?
  • What do I need to change to live the life I imagine I want for myself?
  • What does a good life look like?

To make changes that stick, you must be prepared to dig deeply and find what matters most to you. You must believe in yourself and be willing to do the work to become the better version of you.


To transform yourself, you need to cultivate resilience and be willing to endure the discomfort that will occur as part of the change process.

As I cheerfully tell my clients, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” It’s how we change for the better.

When you no longer see the benefits of remaining in your stuck place you are ready to begin an adventure of discovering other choices and other outcomes.

Choice is an option. When you don’t choose, you are making a choice.

Next time you hear a negative voice in your head question its source. Ask yourself who is doing the talking. Is there a familiar sound to that voice? If you can name it, you can change it. Decline the invitation to complain. Decline the invitation to blame. Decline the temptation to just give in, or give up. Tune into a different station!

We are all capable of change. Pay attention to your negative voices. Choose to take another approach. Choose positivity and strengthen your ability to trust yourself. Embrace change and see what happens.


Jacqueline Wales is the author of The Fearless Factor, The Fearless Factor @ Work, When The Crow Sings, and Fearless Women Leading The Way to be published in 2023.

She has explored human behavior and asked tough questions to discover hard truths for more than 35 years and is a trusted advisor to high-achieving women who helps her clients take accountability for their actions and responsibility for their decisions to achieve remarkable results.

Her programs include 

She is also available to speak to groups and corporate events on why fear matters to your success. To learn more about these programs click on the links or give me a call. 



Scroll to Top