The Stories We Tell Ourselves
By Marc & Angel Chernoff
The stories we tell ourselves change everything we see. When we enter an experience with a story about how life is, that story tends to be what we see, even when there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.
There's an old parable in which a group of blind men touch an elephant for the very first time to learn what it’s like. Each one of them feels a different part of the elephant, but only that one part, such as the leg, trunk, side or tusk. Then the men eagerly compare notes and quickly learn that they are in complete disagreement about what an elephant looks like—and lots of tension and drama ensued.
Something similar happens through our wide-ranging, different past experiences. Some of us have been deeply heartbroken. Some of us have lost our parents, siblings or children to accidents and illnesses. Some of us have dealt with infidelity. Some of us have been fired from jobs we relied on. Some of us have been discriminated against because of our gender or race. And, when we enter a new experience that arouses prominent memories of our own painful story from the past, it shifts our perspective in the present—it narrows it.
When a negative past experience narrows our present perspective, it’s mostly just a defense mechanism. Every day of our lives we are presented with some level of uncertainty, and our innate human defense mechanisms don’t like it one bit. So our mind tries to compensate by filling in the gaps of information by clinging to the stories we already feel comfortable with.
We end up subconsciously trying to make better sense of everything in the present by using old stories and experiences as filler. And while this approach works sometimes, at other times our old stories and experiences are completely irrelevant to the present moment, so they end up distorting our view, and hurting us and those we love.
Thus, whenever you feel tension and drama building up inside you, ask yourself...
- What is the story I'm telling myself right now?
- Is there any proof that this story is true?
- Is there any proof to the contrary?
- What else would I see without this story occupying my mind?
Do your best to consciously detach yourself from the story you’re telling yourself for a few moments. Give yourself a quick reality check.
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