One Simple Tool That Reinvented My Mindset After Prison

By: Craig Stanland

Are you living in the truth? Or are you living in the story?

This came up for a client recently, threatening to stop them from doing something that brought them joy and empowerment.

Here’s what I’m talking about and why it matters. There are two ways this shows up in our lives:

1. Something negative happened, and because of that occurrence, you craft a narrative of what that means about you and your character.

2. You attempt something, but it doesn’t work out as planned, so you make up a story around what happened.

In both scenarios, our brains need to “close the loop”; they desperately need to make sense of the situation. Without an explanation, there’s uncertainty, and our brains despise uncertainty.

Because our brains are survival machines, they craft negative stories because negative stories threaten our survival, so that is what we focus on and then ruminate on.

It’s akin to delivering a presentation and receiving 99 incredibly supportive comments and 1 negative comment.

Which do we focus on? The 99 excellent comments or the 1 negative? It’s the exact mechanism at play here, and here’s what happens as a result.

In time, the story transforms into a belief, and the belief transforms into the “truth.” And this “truth” dictates your future thoughts, actions, and how you show up in the world.

I won’t share my client’s example (I’m incredibly protective of our sessions), so I’ll share a powerful example from my life focused on #1 above.

This was immediately after I was released from federal prison and what I used to say about myself:

“I am a federally convicted felon, and because of this, I am a terrible human being.”

I believed this with the same conviction as knowing my eyes are brown.

One day, while journaling, I wrote that sentence, but something jumped out at me, and this is what I did.

I put a “/” in the middle of the sentence, breaking it in two:

“I am a federally convicted felon, / and because of this, I am a terrible human being.”

💡 A lightbulb went off.

Breaking it down, this is what I saw:

1. I am a federally convicted felon (this is true),

2. and because of this, I am a terrible human being (this is the story).

I was living in the story and diminishing myself because of it.

I found myself crushed under the weight of shame, and it spiraled (the story tends to do that) into,

“Because I’m a terrible human, I will never again experience love, joy, or happiness.”

The story destroyed my life until I realized I was living in a make-believe world I had fabricated. If you surgically opened me up, you wouldn’t find a tag that says,

X % Oxygen
X % Hydrogen
X % Carbon
X % Terrible human being

When I started to live in the truth, “I am a federally convicted felon,” and not the story, I gave myself something tangible to work with.

Yes, it’s true; yes, it stings, but it opens the door to acceptance.

Identifying the truth and the story is a simple yet wickedly empowering exercise that gets you out of the diminishing story and into the truth and acceptance.

The truth and practicing acceptance are where you seize personal agency in your life. Personal agency was the foundation of reinventing my life after prison.

Personal agency was the foundation of reinventing my life after prison.

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of “Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison.” He specializes in working with high-achievers who’ve chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives. He helps them unleash their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life’s Calling so they can live extraordinary lives with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Craig is also a member of the Ministry’s White Collar Support Group that meets every Monday evening on Zoom.


We highly recommend Brent Cassity’s podcast, Nightmare Success, in which he interviews justice-impacted people from all walks of life. He is a White Collar Support Group member with a mission to be of service to our community. Please check it out on Spotify or on your favorite podcast platform.