As human beings, the stories we subconsciously tell ourselves about our circumstances, about others, and about life in general drastically changes how we feel. If the stories are positive, we tend to feel good. If the stories are negative, we tend to lose hope.
Of course, there’s more to feeling good than just being positive. The details of your present reality matter and make a difference, but generally speaking, you’re not going to have a good day today if you’re hell-bent on telling yourself otherwise.
To a degree you know this already, right? But there’s more…
The stories we tell ourselves don’t just change how we feel – they actually change what we see, what we experience, and what we know to be true. This is one of the primary reasons multiple people can go through the same experience, but interpret it differently. Each of us may enter a shared experience with a different story echoing through our mind, and our unique story – our inner dialog – alters the way we feel every step of the way, and so each of us exits this shared experience with a slightly different feeling about what just happened. And sometimes that slight difference makes all the difference in the world.
If we want to get on the same page with one another, and garner a better understanding of reality, we have to do a little work.
Perspective is Everything
In a way, the stories we tell ourselves narrow our perspective. When we enter an experience with a story about how life is, that tends to be all we see. This phenomenon reminds me of an old parable in which a group of blind men touch an elephant for the very first time to learn what it’s like. Each one of them feels a different part of the elephant, but only that one part, such as the leg, trunk, side, or tusk. Then the men eagerly compare notes and quickly learn that they are in complete disagreement about what an elephant looks like.
Something similar happens through our wide-ranging, different past experiences. Some of us have been deeply heartbroken. Some of us have lost our parents, siblings or children to accidents and illnesses. Some of us have dealt with infidelity. Some of us have been fired from jobs we relied on. Some of us have been discriminated against because of our gender or race. And when we enter a new experience that arouses prominent memories of our own painful story from the past, it shifts our perspective in the present – it narrows it.
When a negative past experience narrows our present perspective, it’s mostly just a defense mechanism. Every day of our lives we are presented with some level of uncertainty, and our innate human defense mechanisms don’t like this one bit. So our minds try to compensate by filling in the gaps of information by clinging to the stories we already feel comfortable with. We end up subconsciously trying to make better sense of everything in the present by using old stories and past experiences as filler. And while this approach works sometimes, other times our old stories and past experiences are completely irrelevant to the present moment, so they end up hurting us far more than they help.
This is where a little reframing works wonders.
Over the past decade Angel and I have successfully guided hundreds of course students through various reframing tools that have been proven to change our thoughts, broaden our perspectives, and shift our story lines in a positive direction. Doing so has helped these students feel better, think better, and gradually get their lives and relationships back on track. Today, I want to take a brief look at one of these reframing tools with you…
“The story I’m telling myself…” – A Reframing Tool
Many of the biggest misunderstandings in life could be avoided if we would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?”
And while that question alone can help us reframe our thoughts and broaden our perspectives, using the simple phrase “The story I’m telling myself…” as a prefix to troubling thoughts has undoubtedly created more “aha moments” for our students in recent times. Here’s how it works…
“The story I’m telling myself…” can be applied to any difficult life situation, or any circumstance in which a troubling thought is getting the best of you.
For example, perhaps someone you love (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) didn’t call you on their lunch break when they said they would, and now an hour has passed and you’re feeling upset because you’re obviously not a high enough priority to them. When you catch yourself feeling this way, use the phrase:
“The story I’m telling myself is that they didn’t call me simply because I’m not a high enough priority to them.”
Then ask yourself:
- Can I be absolutely certain this story is true?
- How do I feel and behave when I tell myself this story?
- What’s one other possibility that might also make the ending to this story true?
Give yourself the space to think it all through, carefully. Mull it over, mindfully.
On the average day, I bet your answer to question #1 is “no,” and your answer to #2 is “not very good.” And I hope question #3 gets you doing more of…
“I don’t know why they haven’t called yet, but maybe…”
- “…they’re extremely busy at work today and barely had a lunch break.”
- “…they forgot to charge their phone last night and their battery is dead.”
- “…there was a misunderstanding and they were waiting for me to call them.”
Challenge Yourself to Think Differently
“The story I’m telling myself…” and the three related questions gives you a tool for revisiting and reframing the troubling or confusing situations that arise in your daily life. From there you can challenge the stories you’re subconsciously telling yourself and reality-check them with a more objective mindset, which ultimately allows you to make better decisions about everything.
So challenge yourself to use this tool… to think differently.
Detach yourself from the stories you’re telling yourself. Go deeper into reality. Don’t just look at the surface. Investigate. Observe without presupposing.
Who knows what you’ll see when you stop looking through a lens drastically narrowed by half-truths, and you start seeing things with a clearer mind. Maybe you’ll start seeing things you never saw before. Maybe you’ll start experiencing things you never experienced before. Maybe you’ll learn lots of new lessons you needed to learn. And maybe you’ll gradually become the person you always knew you could be. (Angel and I also dive deeper into reframing at our annual conference – get the full recording of Think Better, Live Better 2016 for free today when you join our course. Note: you can watch short clips here and here.)
At the very least, I hope this post reminds you that positive thinking isn’t about expecting the best to happen every time – it’s about accepting what happens every time, being mindful, and making the very best of it.
The way you think about things makes all the difference!
So, I’ll leave you with this…
A puppy thinks: “Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a warm, dry home, pet me and take good care of me…
… THEY MUST BE GODS!”
A kitten thinks: “Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a warm, dry home, pet me and take good care of me…
… I MUST BE A GOD!”
Same situation, different thinking.
To a great extent, we make our own life stories by our thoughts. The reality we ultimately create is a process of our daily thinking. And when our daily thinking is right, our daily actions can’t be wrong in the long run. (Angel and I build actionable, mindset-shifting daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
We would love to hear from YOU.
What’s a story (or recurring thought) you sometimes tell yourself that hurts you more than it helps?
Any other thoughts or stories to share?
Please leave a reply below.
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