When you were a kid, when your mom or dad read you a story before bed, would you dream about the fantasy you just heard? When you were little, your imagination was wondrous. But as you grew up your parents stopped telling you stories.
But did you stop telling yourself stories?
All day every day we tell ourselves stories. We make assumptions about a million different things and we believe the stories we tell to be factual and then we act accordingly.
But guess what? That can cause some trouble.
Let me give you an example: Have you and someone you love ever gotten into an argument? (Of course you have, let’s be real.) At any point during that argument did you make an assumption about their intentions or their thoughts? In your head it might sound something like, “Why did he leave the towel on the floor, he knows it bugs me and he knows I’m going to pick it up, ugh he’s so annoying”, etcetera.
We tell ourselves stories around any situation and then let our mind spin in circles making the story feel more and more like reality. Then, before you know it, you and your loved one are in an argument and you’re way more heated than you should be because of the story you told yourself.
Why do we do this?
In order to explain this I need to delve into our psychology as people a little. Every part of our personality exists for a reason, including our power to tell stories to ourselves. This storytelling originally started as problem solving back in the caveman days when we had to develop sophisticated problem-solving techniques to stay alive and protect ourselves.
(That is when we used to be chased by lions or bears on a regular basis. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to experience a lion or bear out in the wild.)
Since we are magnificent, evolving creatures, we continued to develop. So this original part of us that was developed to keep us safe is still trying to keep us safe; the key difference is who the enemy is. In the caveman days it was a lion or bear or something else that wanted to eat us. These days, we have evolved to the top of the food chain, but our psyche still feels the need to protect us...but now it’s from anyone who disagrees with us. When we feel the need to protect our point of view and our beliefs, it almost feels like we are being attacked and we get defensive. Sound familiar?
It makes sense - our brain is trying to keep us safe. We can understand the consequences of coming face to face with a lion or a bear and not doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves, but what are the consequences of disagreeing with someone you love, or even someone you just met? Maybe it feels uncomfortable to have a difference of opinion, but you won’t die because someone else believes something different, right?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE ARE ATTACKED
Let’s dig deeper. When you encounter someone who has a different set of beliefs, what happens?
Your inner storyteller makes an appearance. The storyteller arrives and gets right to work justifying why the other person's beliefs are wrong and why your beliefs are right. The story continues to build until you feel the need to explain to the other party why their beliefs are wrong. But guess what…..the other party has their own storyteller living within, doing the exact same thing!
Let’s look at a simple example we probably have all encountered - road rage. You’re driving along minding your own business, and then someone cuts in front of you and isn’t going as fast as you previously were. The storyteller arrives and you start hearing, “What a jerk, he’s not even going as fast as I was going, I’m in a hurry, why won’t he get out of my way!” and so on.
Think about your experience with this, as the thoughts start rolling in one after the next, what happens to your anger? You get more and more angry, right? Your storyteller is justifying everything you are feeling and with each line of the story your feelings get stronger and you believe the story more and more, that “This person is out to get you, they have no respect for your schedule! They should be in jail for going so slow!”
But before we honk at them or flick them off or worse - cause a crash - let’s take a step back and look at the facts of the situation.
Fact 1 = You and the other car are on the same road going the same direction.
Fact 2 = The other car cut in front of you and isn’t going as fast as you would like.
Fact 3 = You are getting angry about the other car.
That’s it! The other driver has no idea you are feeling what you’re feeling or even that they are going slower than you would like (or honestly, that you even exist). So really what's happening is, you’re getting angrier and angrier for no reason.
YOU are the only person who has to deal with the consequences of your story.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS?
We have so much control over the experiences we have every day, but we tend to fall into the bad habit of turning on autopilot. We stop thinking and let autopilot and our habits lead the way by telling yourself stories that aren’t based in fact. That just causes yourself stress, and depending on how good of a storyteller you are, might even be causing stress to your loved ones as well.
Let’s face it, we are all human, meaning we all make mistakes. We all have different opinions, and we all make assumptions and create conflict without realizing we do it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Unlike the caveman days, when your very survival was top priority, today your physical safety isn’t being threatened because someone else has a different opinion.
So here’s how to fix the problem and silence the storyteller: When you notice yourself loading up on negative emotion, you have a choice - Let the storyteller go crazy and come up with an elaborate story so believable it ruins your day, OR pause and ask yourself, What are the facts? More likely than not, the facts are that the other party doesn’t know how you feel, they aren’t doing whatever they’re doing intentionally. That is just the story you are telling yourself.
There’s a quote from author Michael A. Singer that reads,
“We define the entire scope of our outer experience based upon our inner problems.”
Don’t let your storyteller make up problems. Recognize the facts, open your mind to different possibilities and learn to live peacefully!
It’s your CHOICE!