Endless Curiosity

November 20, 2009

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Filed under: Life, Psychology — Alec @ 7:23 am

I’ve recently be learning about the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can throw away the stories that don’t work and create new stories that serve us better. As Srikumar Rao says, “What you don’t realize is that the life you are living is a reality. The mistake you are making is that you think it is the reality.”

Here’s a story:

Andres had been pushing at work for training in an area of importance to the company. Finally the training came through and at home he told Sabrina, who went very quiet. She was leaving on a flight during the training week, and Andres had been intending to drive her and her two heavy bags to the airport. Sabrina’s reaction was that Andres had let her down, that she couldn’t trust him, and she withdrew, becoming very unhappy, and when they went to bed that night there was still tension in the air.

Contrast that with another story Sabrina might have told herself: I’m so happy that Andres has finally got the training he’s been needing and wanting. That’s so exciting. Yes, we’ll have to figure out how I’m going to get to the airport but it’s no big deal. I can catch the shuttle – thousands of people do. Perhaps Andres can take me to the airport early and get back in time for the start of training. Perhaps I can take a car down and leave it with a friend. Not a big deal, and in the meantime I’m so glad that Andres got the training he’s been pushing for. Let’s go out and celebrate tonight.

In the first situation, Sabrina was very much “below the line” as some people say. She saw herself as a victim, not responsible for her feelings; other people were letting her down, doing things to her, causing her unhappiness. She was giving control of her happiness to others. In the second situation, Sabrina was building on Andres’s happiness to increase their mutual excitment and joy and feelings of love.

Sabrina generally believed that “the Universe gives us what we need.” However, this time she ignored her belief and chose a story where she could be a victim. So what was the Universe giving her? Only she can know that, but perhaps it was giving her an opportunity to practice putting herself in the shoes of others, or to enjoy and build on other people’s happiness, or to become more self-reliant, or to practice creative problem solving. Or maybe it is even simpler – perhaps the Universe was simply telling her it was time to change her stories about the world.

The important part of this fable is that we get to choose the stories we tell ourselves, or our “mental models” as Rao calls them. If we have a story that leaves us unhappy, perhaps its time to look for and live by an alternative story that would serve us better. As Rao puts it, we are living in a reality, not the reality – and we can choose a different reality that works better for us.

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