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ARE YOUR STORIES SERVING OR SABOTAGING YOU?Posted Tuesday, August 17, 2010, at 9:11 AM
By: Lisa Earle McLeod
What's your story?
We all have stories. They're the inner thought tracks of our lives. The challenge is they're not always true, and sometimes even if they are true, repeating them doesn't always bring out the best in us.
For instance, you probably know a divorced person who is still eager to tell you the story about how awful their ex-spouse was.
The divorce may have happened a decade ago, but once they start telling you the story, they're transported right back to all that pain and hurt.
One minute they're a nice, normal person talking to you about the upcoming staff meeting. The next minute their face is contorting in anger and frustration as they recount the long list of ills perpetrated by the awful one.
That's the problem and the beauty of stories. The reason we remember them so well is because they're deeply connected to our emotions. Yet that emotional connection is also why we have trouble letting go of them.
This isn't problem unique to divorce situations.
Case in point: within two seconds of finding an open jar of mayo on the kitchen counter, I find myself deeply engaged in the story of how I have raised the most selfish children on the planet, children whose equally selfish father is completely oblivious to this HUGE problem.
A half-eaten jar of Hellmann's is all it takes to turn me into a crazy person.
But I'm not alone. We all tell ourselves stories, stories about our boss, our in-laws, our kids, our spouse, our church, our neighbors, and even stories about ourselves.
Whether it's the story of how your supervisor doesn't understand what really goes on inside your organization or how nobody in your church appreciates you, once you have a certain perspective on something, your brain looks for ways to retell the tale.
For example, a coworker you don't like leaves an unwashed coffee mug in the sink. Instead of putting it aside with an "oh, well," your brain begins the narrative, "That's just sooo typical of her. She doesn't care about anybody except herself. This is just like when she hung us out to dry on that big project. She waltzed out of here with her nose in the air, assuming the peons would clean up after her."
For all you know, she rushed out for an emergency appendectomy or to save a child from a burning building. But once your brain launches into the story, your internal interpretation of her actions feels like the truth.
The left-up (or down) toilet seat, the forgotten turn signal, the ill-considered budget cut, the non-invitation, the curt hello, all become fodder for our stories.
The human mind is pretty impressive. However, one of the major design flaws is that we can't tell the difference between what's actually happening and our perception of it.
Your thoughts are like the tires on a bicycle; they keep drifting back to that well-worn groove in the road. Once they find the familiar track, they want to stay there, because the pedaling is easy and it doesn't require much work.
The question you have to ask yourself is: Are the stories I tell myself making my life better, or are they making it worse?
Stories are the internal narrative by which we live our lives. Make sure you're telling yourself good ones.
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.
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