Is The Story You Tell Yourself The Best One For You?
Every day you wake up and continue the story of yourself from where you left off the night before. The information a new day presents plus anything left over from your dreams provides the material. Have you ever wondered if this is the best story for you? The story you have about yourself is one of the most important pieces of context you have. It impacts your enjoyment of life, the decisions you make and the success you have. You believe it, defend it, project it and share it with the world. This is true even if it is not the best story for you. The good news is that if it is not the best story for you then you can change it for a better and more useful one for you.
Reality for you is a combination of facts or interpretations about the world, memories you reconstruct and theories you have built throughout your life. The reality you create and believe in comprises very little fact and is heavily weighted to all the other factors. Stop and think about this for a moment. Notice some features of your current story about yourself and take a deep look at what is truly fact. This can be a difficult exercise at first as your mind defends interpretations, memories and theories as facts. As organisms adapting to our current environment we are constantly seeking coherence and consistency with our current representation of the world. The left side of your brain builds rigid models you use to understand the world around you. The right side uses multiple inputs from all your senses and looks out for changes in the world and differences in the model you have. Only when a certain threshold is crossed is a change to the model considered by the left side of the brain. Anything below the threshold is rejected. If you can take an objective look you will see that little of your current story is based on fact.
The power of noticing this is that every other aspect of your story can be changed. Interpretations of the world, memories and theories you have can all be modified to create many other equally true realities. It is likely that one of them is a much better one for you than the one you currently own.
There is no trickery here other than to notice how little fact makes up your current reality. Other realities or stories for you based on other nterpretations, theories or memories are as ‘true’ as the one you currently hold. The challenge is to find the best story for you. You are so hard wired to believe the story you currently hold you will aggressively resist any different versions you can present to yourself. You will also have noticed that when you argue with yourself you always win. To really explore other possibilities you are going to have to argue with people outside yourself. This is a brave but necessary step if you are going to find the best story for you. It is very hard to change your own interpretations, theories and memories by yourself.
There is some preparation you need to do. First of all notice attributes of your current reality that do not help you achieve what you want for yourself. Categorise them as fact, interpretation, memory or theory. Capture a statement about how each of them gets in your way. Keep these obstacles for yourself. You now need to find someone who can help you explore the realities you have categorized. You want someone to talk to who can give you a perspective outside of yourself. You are not seeking judgment. You are looking for another perspective for you to consider. Their only role is to answer your questions. Your role is to listen to the answers they give and not the arguments you give yourself to explain why they are wrong. You will gain great insight through generous listening to what they say and suspending the natural process of listening to yourself.
The question you should ask for each category of attribute is what might be another view? Even for a fact you can ask if it is a fact but also what might be a more useful fact for you? There are facts such as the market closed at x today. Interpretations such as the market is against you are as true as the market is an opportunity or the market is not an obstacle to what you want to do. There are many other equally true realities to the ones you currently hold. Your boss may be 46 (a fact) but your interpretation that she is an obstacle to what you want can be as true as a reality that places her as the most important contribution to your future success. You made up the first interpretation and I promise you there are ways you can equally construct the second. The same is true for memories which are fragments of the past aided with a semantic tag and reconstructed in the moment with new information from the moment and theories you hold. Equally some of the theories you hold are part of the success you are today but will also be a constraint on your future.
As I learn more about the way we experience the world, think and make decisions I am fascinated by the range of possibilities open to us. There is so much more to experience than we do. Our thoughts are limited by our evolution to date. The decisions we make are driven by our experience and our theories. Explore your story and I know you can find a better one for you and the life you want.
The ideas expressed in this paper are a combination of ideas developed through learning experiences from a degree in Mathematics, a career in industry, working with JMW, studying at the Cleveland Gestalt Institute, taking a Masters in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL. Alternatively an equally true reality is it is my current take on the world as I think it is.