Two years ago I told myself that I REALLY wanted to move into New York City – I told all my friends, I looked at apartments, I looked for jobs, and more.
And you know what happened? Nothing.
Nada. Zilch. Nothing AT ALL happened.
We often think of all the physical, obvious stuff holding us back in our lives – not knowing what to do, money, time, resources.
We often want to achieve goals… and there’s always this… STUFF… standing between where we are, and where we want to be.
What should I really do? When should I do it? Do I have enough time to do this stuff?
But we rarely forget what truly holds most of us back from achieving our dreams: The Narrative.
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Why “The Narrative” Is Really Holding Us Back
The Narrative is THE primary story we tell ourselves, day after day, about our life. It’s really how we interpret the world – and that’s why it’s so dangerous. It’s often untrue.
It sabotages us because we often take something that happened once, and we tell ourselves that it’s a fact.
Failed trying to stick with a diet once? The narrative might become “I always fail.”
Did your mother or father tell you once that you’ll never be thin/beautiful/happy/wealthy? Maybe the narrative becomes, “I’ll never be slim, beautiful, happy, and wealthy.”
The narrative is so destructive because it’s something that happens ONCE, or a few times, and then we internalize it and apply it across every situation our entire lives.
In fact, it’s even more important than what we actually do, because if we’ve got an overwhelmingly negative narrative, we aren’t going to want to do the “what” that we said we would. We’ll get discouraged quickly. We’ll lie to ourselves. We’ll make excuses, and then eventually quit.
So here are 15 of the most common lies we often tell ourselves.
1. “I’ve failed before, I’m probably just going to fail again.”
One of the most common frustrations I hear from clients when I work 1 on 1 with them is this:
“You know Alex, I’m not sure I CAN even succeed. I’ve tried SO many times before. We’re not talking once or twice – we’re talking I’ve been yoyo-ing for a few decades up until this point. Every time the result is the same: I fail. I’m back at square one. I hate myself, I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated. At this point, it’s better to just avoid all the guilt that comes from failing – I always fail, so why bother even trying again?”
Can you imagine the damage that this causes?
Let’s just forget about the facts for a second – let’s assume this really is true – that we failed a few times before.
Okay, so we’re still not feeling and looking how we want. Even if we have failed a few times before, what’s the other option? Quit? Obviously that won’t work because the next morning we’ll wake up and still feel the same dissatisfaction.
And even if we did fail dozens of times, does that really mean we always fail? Couldn’t this next try be the time you strike gold?
2. “I’m just so lazy and unmotivated when it comes time to do this stuff.”
I recently got an email from a reader talking about how he wanted to lose weight and fix his back pain. I then sent him an email back saying, “okay, why do you think you haven’t achieved this yet?”
Here was his response:
“I don’t know… it just seems like every time it’s time to exercise, eat healthy or go to the gym I just feel so lazy. I guess I’m just lazy and unmotivated. Is there hope?”
Let’s ask the same question here: is it really true?
Are you really lazy, or are you just doing some kind of exercise you hate (like running)?
Are you actually unmotivated, or do you not sleep enough during the night, so your energy is extremely depleted?
Are you actually a couch potato or do you just not have a very good reason to get up in the morning?
Question this statement.
3. “I just don’t have much discipline and willpower.”
One of the BIGGEST myths I constantly hear from these silly “eat less, move more” trainers is the idea that “if you’re failing, you just need more discipline.”
Yet people still try to smash us over the head with the “it’s just about willpower and discipline” thing. C’mon people.
I once talked with a woman who mentioned:
“It seems like no matter what I do, no matter what plan I’m on, I always end up at the same spot every single time – ground zero. Starting over. Frustrated yet again. How can people like me without any willpower or discipline ACTUALLY be successful?”
Here’s the problem with this statement: we assume that the only way to be successful is to have discipline and willpower, but is it really?
My entire site philosophy tries to urge you in the opposite direction – it’s really about doing less, and doing it more consistently. Taking tiny habits, doing them daily, and being patient. Even the world’s LEAST disciplined person can go for a 1 minute walk, right?
Habits – not grinding out willpower and discipline – are the way for most of us. This is the same reason why all diets fail.
4. “I deserve this treat at the end of a long day.”
This one is dangerous. It’s framed as something good, but it can really lead us into a toxic relationship with food.
We often say this around emotional eating and cravings.
I once asked a client what’s stopping her from regaining control over her cravings (And her life), and she said:
“Honestly? I just feel like I DESERVE this treat at the end of a long day. I deal with so much BS at work with my boss, then I come home to another job – my family – which can sometimes be stressful too. And then it’s like going back to back work to more work, sometimes stress to more stress, and it’s like there’s nothing left over for me. Sitting down with a nice bowl of ice cream and some wine is like having a friend there for me at the end of the day.”
This narrative is incredibly powerful – “it’s like there’s a friend there for me at the end of the day.”
There’s no doubt that if we work hard, we DESERVE play, we deserve rest, we deserve relaxation – but does it have to be with food?
5. “My mom/dad was this way.”
We often say, where there’s a will there’s a way… but sometimes if we don’t think we’ll succeed, it’s just as easy to find a million and ones reasons why we won’t.
Sometimes, when we run out of alibis and things we think are holding us back, we can rely on that ‘ol genetics argument:
“I’m screwed because my mom was always like this: and she said I’d always be overweight too.”
Do genetics play a role? Totally! Are they going to be the be-all end-all when it comes to being successful? Of course not.
Jack Lalanne famously talks about how his father died young from heart disease related to a horrible diet, yet Jack went on to live to 96 years old – in an era where this was unheard of.
What’s more, he died of natural causes – the old man’s best friends – pneumonia, and passed away in his sleep.
Sounds crazy, but when was the last time you heard of someone that died in their sleep? Isn’t that nuts?
We can’t control what we’re both with, nature, but we can control what we do, nurture, and it just so happens that what we eat and what we drink dramatically affects our genetics.
There’s an entire field dedicated to this now called epigenetics.
6. “I don’t have time for this.”
Time seems like a legitimate reason. I mean, if you’re a busy parent with a full time job, you’re essentially going from one job to the next right? There’s no possible way to cram in time, is there?
It seems legitimate however, until you hear about someone like Lauryn who lost over 100+ pounds… as a single mother… working and going back to school… with a long commute.
There’s a story really relevant here though, and it’s the story called sharpening the saw.
“Once upon a time there was a very strong wood-cutter. He asked for a job from a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was very good and so were the work conditions and for that reason the wood-cutter was determined to do his very best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area in the forest where he was to work.
The first day the wood-cutter cut down 18 trees. His boss was extremely impressed and said, “Well done. Keep it up. You are our best wood-cutter yet.” Motivated by his boss’s words, the wood-cutter tried even harder the next day, but he only cut down 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder but only cut down 10 trees.
Day after day the woodcutter cut down fewer and fewer trees. His boss came to him and told him that if he did not chop down more trees each day he would lose his job. The wood-cutter needed the job, so he tried harder and harder. He worked during his lunch breaks and tea breaks, but still he could not cut down enough trees. “I must be losing my strength” the wood-cutter thought to himself. He worked over-time, but still it was not enough.
Eventually his boss came to him and told him he was fired. The wood-cutter was really upset, but he knew that he had worked as hard as he could and just did not have enough time to chop more trees. He sadly handed his axe back.
The boss took one look at the axe and asked, “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?”
“Sharpen my axe?” the wood-cutter replied. “I have never sharpened my axe. I have been too busy trying to cut down enough trees.”
What a dummy, you might be thinking.
But the same truth applies to us – how often do we say “I don’t have time for that…” neglecting the fact that maybe taking 30 minutes out of the 12 hour work day will actually help us get MORE done, not less?
7. “I don’t deserve this – I’m too busy taking care of my family.”
I once had a very candid conversation with a friend (who is also a parent) and here’s what she shared:
“To be honest? I don’t really deserve this. I have other people relying on me, people I have to take care of, a family I have to support, taking care of myself would be a luxury I can’t afford… they deserve it more than I do.”
Sometimes this results from a lifelong pattern where we find ourselves taking care of others, our siblings, our parents, our friends, but never ourselves. Maybe we’re always in that “saving” position – no matter who we’re with, we’re the one saving others.
And listen, it’s TOTALLY understandable, it’s noble. The obligation to take care of others first is a beautiful thing… but is it beautiful if you run yourself to death doing it?
If you’re on the hospital bed because you just had a stroke, how can you take care of your friends and family?
How can you inspire others and encourage them to take care of yourself if you don’t take care of yourself?
And ultimately, you DO deserve to have the incredible health and body you want – after all it’s your life. No one else will create it for you.
8. “I have more important things to do.”
Seeing as I hang out with lots of entrepreneurs and other young people that work crazy long hours… I once had this insane conversation with a friend running a startup:
“I just don’t have time to get healthy, I’m too busy building this business 14 hours a day.”
First of all… the comment was so dumb that I nearly slapped him.
But second of all, some people really believe this. Some people really think that you can be productive working 14 hours a day, despite the fact that research shows workaholics are WAY LESS productive the more they work.
If Richard Branson, the billionaire, says that exercise adds about four hours of productivity per day to his work routine – and it’s a common trait in millionaires – maybe others should pay close attention.
We know that exercise improves productivity, makes you happier, helps you sleep better, improves your mood as good as, or better than, anti-depressants and more.
And yet we still tell ourselves we’ve got better things to do?
9. “I’m not good enough…I don’t deserve this.”
Sometimes the narrative is beaten into us subconsciously through a life of failure, or even in childhood where a parent says:
(Sometimes it’s much worse too).
Whether it’s the parent that directly says it, or whether we’re living in a life where we experience continual failure, sometimes we can internalize the “lesson” – “I’m not good enough…I don’t deserve to be healthy, happy, financially free.”
And that’s a scary place to be in. If I’m going to fail anyway, why bother trying?
Let me ask you this though, which one of these two things makes you feel better, and actually inspires you to take action?
“I’m not good enough and I don’t deserve this.”
“I am awesome, and I totally deserve looking and feeling amazing.”
It’s a very easy decision to choose which mindset is going to help you more. Say it out loud if you don’t believe me.
10. “Until other people say I look great, I won’t feel great.”
It’s totally understandable.
If we really looked good, other people would tell us right?
‘Wow, you look younger.. fitter… less tired. What’s the secret?!”
They’re the words we all dream of hearing at every family gathering. Even if we don’t necessarily want respect, sometimes we still do without realizing it. Who doesn’t want to feel loved and admired?
But there’s a paradox.. first, the bar always increases. If we lost a few pounds, some people comment that we look great. If we lose 30, someone still might think “Oh, you still have more to go!” In fact, it’s a never ending game, and one that we always lose, if we’re waiting for someone else to congratulate us on the hard work we’ve done.
Second, the cruel irony is that people will hate you for being successful.
Sol shared his story of going from 300 pounds to looking incredible, and in it he talked about how people hated him after he began looking really good.
It was ironic, and it left him confused – at first, everyone congratulated him and said, “you’re doing great man!” And then he started looking really good.
Everyone around him began looking bad. And you know what? They started telling him he looked too skinny… despite the fact that he was still over 220 pounds.
People will hate you and they will love you – and they’ll constantly find reasons for both. If people are going to judge you, why not have them judge you for having been successful achieving all your goals?
11. “I’m never going to change… I’ve always done the same old.”
“Well that’s great Alex, it might work for her, but I’m never going to change, I’ve always done the same old thing.”
This is sort of a funny statement. Sometimes we tell ourselves we really want to change out loud – but the internal story is “I’m never going to change.” Which one do you think is going to win? The inner story.
The inner story dictates how the outer story plays out.
But sometimes we forget how simple change is: we just change our fundamental choices.
So maybe that just means continuing to go to your favorite coffee shop every morning, but stopping the habit of getting the muffin with the coffee.
Maybe that just means getting up ten minutes earlier to do some meditation and visualizing of your goals.
Or maybe it just means using the first ten minutes of your lunch break to start taking that walk.
And don’t forget, if we tell ourselves “I’m just going to do the same old” then we probably are. The narrative has to change before our choices and actions will.
12. “It’s too late for me… I’m <XYZ age>.”
“Okay okay, Alex, those other excuses I don’t have, but c’mon, I’m over 50, isn’t it WAY too late for me to begin and get started? Am I going to see any benefits or results from it?”
A Swedish study done in 2009 found that beginning regular activity at 50 can save your life. The study kept track of 2,205 men for more than 20 years beginning at age 50. The men were divided into two groups based on exercise levels.
Initially, 5 years in, death rates were lowest among the guys that exercised. However, some men only started exercising between the age of 50 and 60 — and after 10 years of consistent exercise, their death rates were as low as the guys who exercised the entire time.
The effect was as pronounced as quitting smoking.
13. “It’s always going to have to be a struggle.”
Sometimes, when we’ve been stuck in the yoyo-dieting mess for a significantly long period of time, we encounter this constant, negative association of “health-improving-stuff” with struggle.
Every time I try, I fail.
Every thing I do, doesn’t work for me.
I hate any and all activities related to exercise or eating healthy.
Eating healthy foods sucks, and they’re boring and plain.
And ultimately, the bottom line narrative here is this: “It’s always going to be a struggle, no matter what I do.”
It’s sort of like the narrative that “I’m ugly, how could anyone like me?” I talked about this here on improving your self confidence and how to succeed if you’ve failed before, but consider this:
The real truth is that if we think it’s going to become a struggle: we’ll consciously make choices that reinforce this idea.
But if we tell ourselves that it can be fun, simple, and easy: we’ll consciously make choices that reflect that too.
So if we think it’s going to be a struggle, we’ll draw ourselves to those activities that reinforce the fact that “getting healthy has to suck.”
Sometimes it’s just a matter of telling ourselves the opposite – even if we don’t believe it yet.
14. “I have too many responsibilities to be doing this.”
I have too many responsibilities. I bet most of you parents do too.
One guy I spoke with was from an immigrant family busting his hump 12 hours a day to improve his life – literally, there was no other way. He had to work a lot to improve his life for himself and his family, and he was sending money back home.
He regularly told me things like this:
“I have WAY too much other stuff to worry about, before I worry about removing my breakfast bacon egg and cheese to be healthier.”
So in response, I sent him this comic ==>
15. “I don’t have any idea how to start…”
“It’s just so overwhelming, I have NO CLUE where to begin. Eat carbs? Don’t eat carbs? Eat after 8? Don’t eat after 8? How much protein should I be eating? What brand of Almond milk do I get? How many times should I eat each day? Should I use agave? Is protein powder good for you?
AHHHHHHH. WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN?!”
Hey… I hear you there.
But thankfully, you found this awesome site called “modern health monk” – heard of it?
And thankfully you’ve got about 100+ guides to looking and feeling incredible – by changing key, tiny habits.
You can read this article on what exactly to eat.
Or this article on how to create healthy habits.
Still don’t know where to start?
Today’s tiny habit is simple: Be aware that The Narrative – more than anything else – is the reason we fail to achieve the health and life goals we want. What’s your narrative saying throughout the day?