Reality Check: Tell Yourself a Story

Are you a storyteller? Do you like to tell a tale to a group? Do you enjoy entertaining your friends with anecdotes or creating stories for your grandkids?

If you don’t, you may not think of yourself as a storyteller. Despite that, you may be a very creative storyteller, indeed. How? Think about the stories you tell yourself.

What stories?

Our internal story-telling is how we interpret events, comments, even our own perceptions of ourselves. Sometimes, we mistake those stories for reality! But are they reality, really?

We can choose among many possible interpretations of events, and some folks excel at choosing the most negative possible interpretation.

For example, someone trips over your foot. What do you tell yourself? “Oh, I’m so thoughtless; I shouldn’t have been sitting like that.”

Or perhaps your friend seems brusque. What’s your interpretation? “She’s mad at me; how did I offend her?”

Or perhaps you’re having trouble understanding some directions. You might think, “Everyone else is smarter than me; I’ll never get this.”

Any of those situations has an alternative story. Someone trips; perhaps their eyesight is not the best. Your brusque friend may be having worries that have nothing to do with you. And you may be having trouble understanding because the directions aren’t very clear.

If you find yourself often feeling hurt or puzzled, ask, “What story am I telling myself? Is it helpful?”

But wait…How does telling yourself a story have anything to do with reality? After all, reality is still reality, right?

Consider this: does how you tell your story change your reality?

Estelle met Gillian at a community meeting and they hit it off right away. Their values, family situations, even their outlook on life were so compatible. They planned to keep in touch and parted with the promise, “If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just ask.”

A few months later, Estelle noticed a job opening at the company where Gillian works. Hoping to get an inside scoop on the job before she applied, Estelle sent Gillian an email. She used a casual, joking tone that reflected the comfort level that she believed she shared with Gillian.

Gillian did not reply.

How did Estelle react? Well, let the story-telling begin! Estelle’s internal stories read like this: “How could I be so stupid to have sent that email? Now she hates me; she thinks I’m unprofessional, and I’ll never have a chance in that company. Why do I always do things like that?”

Now, let’s try a different story for Estelle. “I see now that using a different tone in my email would have been more professional. Perhaps that’s why Gillian hasn’t replied. Or, perhaps it’s just that she is busy and didn’t get a chance to respond yet.”

The potential change in reality comes with the action that follows the storytelling.

If Estelle clings to her first story (“I’m stupid”), will she also choose to be too embarrassed to follow up with Gillian?

If Estelle instead chooses the second interpretation, will she be more likely to make another attempt—perhaps by way of a courteous, professional phone call—to get the information she wants?

Which follow-up action is more likely to result in a positive reality for Estelle?

So why not sit right down and tell yourself a story? Does your reality change as a result?

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