On the Stories I Tell Myself

Note: If Google Docs is to be believed I Initially Wrote this post in March 2016. I posted it to facebook but it somehow never got posted here. In light of my *last* post, I thought I should post it, again; for the first time. Because it it newly true.

I’ve been thinking recently about the stories I tell myself about the world and my friends and also, most importantly, the stories I tell myself about myself. I’m constantly weaving these narratives. “Well, this happened so he must think I’m incompetent,” or “That didn’t work hence trying this was a terrible idea.” I don’t think it’s possible (ultimately) to wholly avoid telling myself stories; and even if it were possible I’m not sure if it would be *useful.*

As a human being, I connect dots\points of data in order to make predictions & inform my behavior. One of the great problems with this incredible ability however is that every story is ‘sticky;’ they can so readily encourage me to overlook or misinterpret experience that doesn’t fit the narrative. It is of the highest importance to really evaluate the stories I tell myself; to avoid, replace, or otherwise transform the stories which don’t serve me. And I have a choice in all this: for instance, when facing failure or setback I get to choose to see it as indicative of a fundamental flaw in myself or I can choose to see it as part of the price I pay to learn & grow. Either ‘could’ be true (although I suspect the the latter is *more* true, most of the time); so it comes down to which story gets me closer to the life I want.

I’ve changed a lot of the stories I tell about myself and the world; sometimes in a gradual shift in maturation, sometimes in violent, heart-wrenching breaks where I sacrificed a story that was killing me even as I was unsure what would replace it.

In consciously tending to the garden of my narratives, I think I’ve learned some useful rules of thumb.:

  1. The most important of rule is when in doubt, and most especially when encountering something new try to have *less* stories, try to hold off creating a story as long as possible.
  2. Insofar as having stories is unavoidable, I strive to have stories that are more suggestive of growth and change, that don’t trap me (or anything else) in where I am or where I’ve been; stories that honor what was and what is as part of a continuum that isn’t ending yet.
  3. If possible, I try to avoid telling stories about myself being a particular attribute. Obviously, stories about how I suck (all the negative attributes) I should probably avoid, but I’ve found issue even with the stories about the positive attributes I wish to claim. For instance, I used to be particularly wedded to the self narrative that ‘John is a good/nice guy’ which -inevitably- had the corollary that I was due something because of how good I was. The better way I’ve taught myself to phrase a similar (but distinct) sentiment is ‘Because of my values, I am a man who practices love and compassion and gratitude.’ Which is all close to what I would claim previously but shifts focus from an essential ‘quality’ I possessed (that I had a vested interest in being precious\protective of) to ongoing activities that I engage with; with all the setbacks, advances, humility and growth involved in undertaking a practice I’d like to continue for the rest of my life.
  4. One trick I’ve been employing recently for my journalling is to switch from first person ‘I’ to second person ‘you;’ it gives me a step of distance that helps me be a tiny bit kinder to myself. It’s unfortunately very easy for me to write ‘I’m such an idiot’ but substituting ‘you’ helps me write about myself and my experiences with the same compassion it’s always been easier to extend to my friends.

Another issue I’ve noticed is that, for better or worse, the stories I tell about myself, about other people, and about the world at large are all linked. It’s not impossible to have a narrative that you are worthless while believing your friends are amazing but rather the fundamental imbalance increasingly skews your perspective and makes it difficult verging to impossible to see things as they are. Every story I tell is informed by every other story I’m telling myself in the narrative weave that is -most essentially- what I experience as reality.

While it may seem basic, being more mindful of the stories I tell myself has been a practice that has massively improved my overall well-being. And, for what it’s worth, when it comes to the stories you tell yourself I hope that you can find ones that are a little more humane, a little more compassionate, a little more life-affirming. Because it makes a difference.

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