I love to hear and tell amazing true to life stories. Tell me about your success or your failures in life. Tell me what you learned along the way. Nothing better than a good heartfelt story that brings meaning to you and others lives!
But this is not about those kinds of stories. This is about the kind that you tell yourself. You know the one’s I’m talking about. “They are cheating on me with that new girl at the office.”, or, “My kid is laughing more than usual, I think they are on the marijuana.”
Often, they are ugly, and downright awful. Sometimes they are smug and championing. The stories can be about you, or others in your lives. They are secret stories that we only tell ourselves, and too often, we listen to them, and play them over and over and over in our heads. These stories only help to occupy the space we have inside that grey matter we call a brain, and for the most part, do nothing but hurt our own well being.
Let me tell you a story
Recently a friend reached out to me with an extraordinarily generous offer. This came from true compassion for me, and almost brought me to tears.
I did not provide them with an answer, or even acknowledge the offer right away. I took the rest of the day to think about it. You see, I had made other plans that would conflict with this offer. Neither of the plans were flexible, so I had to weigh my two choices.
Toward the end of the day, I poured out my immense gratitude to this person for the offer, and explained that the importance of my previous commitment had to take precedence at this time. I provided them with personal details of this other promise, and why this was so important. I was vulnerable.
Then, I waited. One hour. Two hours. A day and more passed, and no response. This is the danger zone. Emotions and soul exposed, and waiting for an answer. THIS is when the brain kicks in, and starts telling yourself stories.
“See, they don’t really care.”
“How could they read all that, and just walk away?!”
“I’ve disappointed someone who is important to me. I fucked this up.”
How ugly is that??? What purpose does that serve me? It’s just fear about a total unknown. Such a waste of time and emotional energy. So damaging to my own self.
Of course the real answer came three days later – “Hey man, sorry I was super busy with family. I think you are making the right decision, you do need to focus on that other thing right now. We will for sure connect another time, no worries.”
Well, don’t I feel like total shit right now? All those stories I told myself, totally not true. AND, they completely zapped me of energy I could have used for other things. (I actually cut the stories off at the pass by using technique #2 below)
When the stories become dangerous
While telling yourself the stories in your head can suck the strength out of you, actually ACTING on one of those stories can be darn right perilous!
Something was wrong. Every instinct in my body, every nanojoule of my gut was telling me SOMETHING ain’t right. I asked. Got a change of subject. I asked again. Got placating answer number one. Inquired more times, and still received either no answer, or something that did not fit.
This is when the brain goes, “IT’S STORY TIME!”
This is about someone I care deeply for and about. I KNOW them really well, and the cards did not match up. I was patient at first. “They will tell me when it’s right.” But all those stories! They churn in your brain like ocean waves in a storm. It becomes too much, and I WANT AN ANSWER! Of course, I am thinking the worst.
So, I leverage my knowledge and set out a plan to get answers. Oh this plan is dastardly. It goes against every moral fiber I have. But the stories are hurting me. I HAVE to know. I execute the plan.
Do I get the answers I was looking for? Were the stories I made up in my head and heart true?
Sort of. But the price I have now paid is way greater than any information. When confronted, my moral code returns, and with my tail between my legs, knowing that the next words I offered would shatter this person’s world like 10,000 shards of glass hurling at excessive speed towards exposed skin, I fess up. This one act stops the stories, but causes more damage than one can know. Acting out on one of your “stories” is one of the worst things you can do.
How do you stop?
- Get out of your head – Like a 3 minute old flavorless piece of FruitStripe™ Gum, just spit it out. This requires some mindfulness and the ability to pause. If you feel like you don’t have that ability, start a practice of setting a 10 min alarm on your phone to buzz you. Take a 1 min pause, and see what your brain is doing. Is it real? Or is it a grumpy story about your boss, client, or co-worker?
- SHARE! – Really, tell others what’s in your head. By speaking it out loud, we often see how silly it all is. Also, we might just get some good advice, like – Why don’t you ask them? (Huh, that’s a novel idea)
- Remember that it’s all fiction – This isn’t real people, it’s stuff you are making up. Even if a tiny bit of it is true, it’s not the real story.
- You can't always believe what you think Click To Tweet
- Are you recreating your past? – Have that one event that didn’t go the way you wanted? Something similar going on? Yeah, you are recreating the past hurt and putting it on this situation. How does that dang song go? Oh yeah, Let it goooooo ♫♪
- R-E-L-A-X – If you don’t have down time, the stories will spin. Even if you are packed to the gills with busyness, put some silent time into your day. And get off the screens.
- Find the fear – Most stories start because we are afraid of something. Stop, find the fear, and sink into that. When you get through the fear, you stop the stories.
Even if you have the most skilled meditation and mindfulness practice, there will still be times you will tell yourself stories. I was halfway through writing this, got in the shower, and started a conversation story. You know the kind – you finally confront the person you are having an issue with and imagine how the conversation will play out? Yeah, that total BS. Well, I was fortunate enough to hit the pause button, and stop that nonsense. It still started, but I was aware enough to be able to stop.
The stories in our head can suck the life right out of you, and once you start believing them, you are in danger of acting on them. 90% of the time, those stories, only have a sliver of truth to em, if any. The spinning and spinning can drive you mad. If it’s a conflict you are having with someone, MAKE the time and confront the situation, with love, care, respect and empathy. If both parties are open, it will kill the stories completely. This is the only approved outward action to the stories.
You can’t go back once you act out though. At that point, all you can do is ask for forgiveness, and to forgive yourself. Learn from it, and start a pausing practice. Heck, start that shit now, you can thank me later!