Made Him Happy
I know a man who loves to knit. Blankets, quilts, sweaters… he knits them all. Knitting is his hobby, his love. He could choose another hobby—something a bit more masculine, like restoring vintage cars or hunting. But this man continues to stick with what makes him happy—knitting. Because he discovered knitting when he was only a little boy who didn’t know any better. And now, it’s a huge part of who he is.
As he grew into his teenage years he was made aware of the fact that knitting wasn’t a common hobby for a boy. “Knitting is a hobby for girls or for boys who like to wear high heels,” his older brother used to say. Over time, after being frequently ridiculed by his own family and others, he eventually asked himself a question: “Are the opinions others have about knitting at all relevant to my experience of knitting as a hobby?” And he immediately realized the answer was “No!” So, he kept enjoying the hobby—the love—that made him happy.
Stories, Fears & Expectations
It’s fascinating how we make certain decisions in life. Sometimes we follow our heart and intuition and we choose the thing that makes the most sense to us—that which makes us happy. Other times we follow our fears and expectations, especially those spawned by the culture and society we live in, and we choose whatever we believe will most appease those fears and expectations—that which makes everyone else (or no one at all) happy.
The man who loves to knit remained open-minded and stuck to knitting even when he learned about the cultural and societal expectations that suggested he should give it up. But he didn’t always carry forth with this same open-minded attitude. For instance, he believed for as long as he could remember that he would someday find the perfect mate. And he knew exactly what she would be like.
The story about her that he inscribed in his head when he was in his adolescence hasn’t changed much since. Nor has it drastically changed since he told me a story about her just a few short months ago over a cup of coffee. The beginning of the story goes something like this:
“I’ve always dreamed that someday I would meet the perfect mate. She would be smart and classy, yet sexy and athletic. And she would be a geek like me. I wouldn’t care what her religious background was, so long as she had an open mind and an honest heart. But she would have to be neat and tidy, because I’m not and I need someone who can balance me out.
And she would love to snuggle, like me. Because I would want to hold her at night, and because we would need to be close so we could fool around and giggle and talk softly to each other. We would talk about people, places, our lives and our future together for hours into the night.
And money wouldn’t matter to either of us because we’d be in love. She’d know it and I’d know it, and we’d be happy with what we had…”
The stories we tell ourselves and each other sound remarkable, don’t they? They romanticize us. They sweep us off our feet. They persuade us to believe that if we dive head first into a new relationship, a big financial purchase, greasy foods, imported beers, or whatever it is that temporarily pacifies our worried mind from reality, then we will somehow find what we are truly looking for.
Our obvious dilemma is that reality is not temporary. Reality keeps on coming. That new relationship will have our heart blissfully skipping beats until it doesn’t any longer. That big financial purchase will be fun and exciting until it isn’t any longer. Greasy foods and beer will comfort us… until they don’t any longer.
Free of Them
Although he still has a long way to go, the man who loves to knit is gradually becoming aware of the temporary, restrictive nature of the stories we tell ourselves. Because the ending to his story about his perfect mate—the part that comes after the introduction I shared with you above—is about a real woman who was absolutely amazing, but who didn’t perfectly fit the mold of the woman from the story he inscribed in his head. And he was unable to give up the perfect woman from his story for the amazing woman standing in front of him. When she eventually realized this on a Saturday morning three weeks ago, she firmly moved on without him.
Although still a bit shaken up and heartbroken, the man is also starting to move on. Day by day, he’s rediscovering his true self—the self he knew when he was younger, before he started telling himself stories, or buying into the stories, fears and expectations of those who lurk around him. This self was a blank canvas, free to experience and appreciate everything just the way it is, without the burden of a storyline.
And as he slowly rediscovers himself, he struggles with the notion of life without a storyline. Because he can barely remember what life was like when there was no story, no fears, no expectations. But he knows deep down that he once lived in a world free of them. And when he did, he discovered knitting and fell in love with it. It became one of his greatest sources of happiness. And he knows that if he wants to fall in love like that again, he must get back to that story-free world within himself where happiness is found.
A Wondrous Place
When I shared the story above with a small group of VIP attendees at our most recent Think Better, Live Better conference, a woman named Annie raised her hand and said (I’m sharing this with permission):
“The ‘story-free world.’ I love that! I can honestly relate in the most profound way.
My husband suffered a head injury in 2014 that wiped away his long-term, lifetime memories. He doesn’t remember anything before Summer of that year—including our past. He did, however, know he loved me. It was like an innate knowing. The same as his passions, which have remained as they were before his injury, even though he couldn’t tell you anything about how he pursued them before 2014.
At 50-years-old, my husband has only four years of ‘stories,’ and I have seen this turn him into a very happy man. He invents himself a day at a time. He has a child-like quality (as in eagerness and appreciation) that is inspiring to be around. I think he embodies the ‘story-free world,’ and I can attest to what a wondrous place it is.”
Then, as a group, we discussed Annie’s experience, and openly practiced questioning our own stories, and letting them go. Here’s the basic gist of what we practiced together:
Letting Go of Your Story
(Note: This section is an excerpt from our NYT bestselling book.)
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that many of the biggest misunderstandings in life could be avoided if we simply took the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” A wonderful and practical way to do this is by using a reframing tool we initially picked up from research professor Brené Brown, which we then tailored through our coaching work with students and conference attendees. We call the tool The story I’m telling myself. Although asking the question itself—“What else could this mean?”—can help reframe our thoughts and broaden our perspectives, using the simple phrase “The story I’m telling myself is” as a prefix to troubling thoughts has undoubtedly created many “aha moments” for our students and conference attendees in recent times.
Here’s how it works: The story I’m telling myself can be applied to any difficult life situation or 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 because I’m not a high enough priority to them.
Then ask yourself these questions:
- 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. Challenge yourself to think differently! The story I’m telling myself and the three related questions give you tools for revisiting and reframing the troubling or confusing situations that arise in your daily life. From there, you can challenge the stories you subconsciously tell yourself and do a reality check with a more objective mindset.
This will ultimately allow you to let go of the stories that aren’t serving you and the people you love.
Now, it’s your turn to practice…
And, if you’re up to it, I’d love know:
What did you think of this blog post?
How does it relate to your story, and your life?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
I greatly appreciate these stories, Marc & Angel.
What’s important is that we keep realism in mind with our expectations and that we remain flexible. The man in the story who let that amazing woman get away might have had better luck simply being flexible in his expectations for the “perfect mate.” Because, while expectations are natural, we don’t know everything before we start, and we need to be willing to adapt our expectations as we progress in life and learn a little more about what we truly want and need.
And I’m looking forward to hearing more about your next conference too. Will you be back in San Diego for the next event?
Jason Henry says
Thank you for sending me an email this morning with a link to this essay. It’s so spot on! People forget… what is perfect for you today may not be perfect for you tomorrow. People and circumstance are not stagnant but always evolving. And I really thought it was interesting to hear how the woman’s husband is bringing more joy into the world without the baggage of a story. Lots to think about here.
Wow, this was a touching post. I was truly inspired by it. I have this quote that Angel shared in one of her previous emails in this little book I carry around with me:
“We need to forget what we think we are, so that we can really become what we are.”
This relates here, because we sometimes have to let go of the expectation of what we “think” life should be, so that we can really experience the awe and amazement of how it truly can be.
I’m reading your book How to Get Back to Happy!
Your blog has helped me for years and this book has so much to offer I know as soon as I finish it I will start reading it again. Thank you both for the blessing you have been in my life!
Joyce Pope says
What we think should happen in any given situation, seems to play into unrealistic expectations. My stories seem to be annoying to me but the three questions will help me to see my story more realistically. When one of my sons doesn’t call me I say, “Doesn’t he care about me?” When asking the three questions it really helps. Is he busy at work? Is he busy with his kids? Is he busy with the house chores. I settle back down and appreciate who he is. A good father, husband, brother and son.
As always, your posts are enlightening and heartening at the same time. And I love that you quote Brené Brown. Her books inspired and moved me much as yours did. Thank you for doing what you do. It’s mzking a difference in my life ??
Before we married, my ex-husband looked at me and said, “We’ll always feel just like this!” I said, “No, we won’t. We’ll feel like this sometimes, and sometimes we’ll feel love in other ways as our love matures.” He didn’t understand that. Long before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I fell into a deep depression. He didn’t know to ask, “What else could this mean?” He just told himself I didn’t love him anymore and he had an affair. It wrecked our marriage and he became a major alcoholic. If only he had asked that one question and taken me to a doctor! But he didn’t, and now here I am discovering life on life’s terms and learning to love myself just as I am; not needing constant validation from others. I love getting your emails and I share them all the time! Thank you!
I was married for 11 years to someone who while not a bad person, was not the best for me. Needless to say, I fell into some ways of thinking that are not true to who I am. Now I am out of that relationship and have been seeing someone for the past few months. He is the reason I found y’all. I was worried about the future and he kept telling me to focus on the here and now. I need to get me straight and so on. I looked up how to get back to me on Google and found y’all. Thank you so much for your emails because they always come right when I need them. Your words and stories help so much.
Ann C says
I was interested in the stories we tell ourselves because I was thinking “I don’t tell myself stories” HA! In the example of the loved one not calling at lunch time, my thought was immediately “they’ve gotten hurt!” And then I started processing that thought and I came to the conclusion that I feel so blessed and that I could potentially expect serious grief at any time. But then I did the questions and realized that perhaps life is just hectic today and if they were truly hurt someone would let me know. And grieving over something that hasn’t happened does no one any good. You keep opening my eyes!
Susan Embry says
Wow, I needed this today. Thank you! I have have worked for years to change my own story and this is what I needed to hear to keep me on track.
Katherine Swarts says
My cousin’s father-in-law loved to crochet. To the end of his life, the family’s Houston home was filled with proudly displayed samples of his work. It was his “love.”
Bob Saccamano says
Great stuff as always. Reframing our story in our own minds is definitely a way to get outside of our own head. I know I get lost in mine all the time then realize that maybe this isn’t actually what is happening and is just my perception.
Thank you !
Thank you !
All your emails, stories, thoughts and guidance shared are truly uplifting and inspirational.
It was meant to be that our paths crossed via this world’s modern electronic connection.
Reading your emails, my soul drinking and slurping up all your positive insights like a neglected dried old sponge.
Words fail to express my gratitude.
“Story-free mind” is an interesting concept. While that is one way to grow, it’s non-directional. Your article from couple of weeks ago recommended having a new story line. Here is the sentence as is “Rewrite the script (edit the storyline of your mental movie). ”
Obviously you have an explanation to support both views.
I read your articles only because I like them. However, I always find this dilemma in my thoughts and equally in your articles. Sometimes you take a philosophic approach and suggest “letting go”. At times you take this practical world and goal oriented approach and recommend “creating a story line” and believing in it. I am not able to reconcile this dual approach. In fact I do both based on the mood of the day.
What do you suggest and how do you explain this duality.
Thank you. Yes . I know those stories and I struggle to overcome them. But I also find I have to struggle to overcome the stories that others tell themselves and me about”me”.. my husband had a stroke a year and a half ago and I take care of him . My life has been greatly altered in that I can’t go out a lot or do so many things that I use to do. However I’m strangely happy. But my friends feel sorry for me. I feel they should have no sorrow for me. I feel lucky my husband didn’t die and I have more time with him. He’ll be 90 in December. And I will say your emails kept me going this past year and a half when I sometimes hit a low point . It’s hard to summarize it all in a brief comment but I’m grateful
To you two for the tools to lead a happy normal while being a caregiver to my invalid husband.
Thank you so much – your blogs continue to help me rescue myself from my thoughts. I was married to a controlling and manipulative man for twenty years who continues to harass me and litigate against me. Thank you for helping me realize that at some level I taught him how to treat me. I allowed the disrespect. Only I can allow him to affect my thoughts. Without his abuse, I may never have learned that I am a worthy person and that my self love is not a selfish thing, it is an essential thing. How can I expect someone to treat me better than I treat myself.
With your the help of your blogs, I am getting motivated again, inspired again, loving myself again.
Good column, which I am bookmarking and sending on to a friend. I need to think about this more, but I do like the “What else could this mean?” approach over “What is the story I’m telling myself” because it forces me to get out of my head/thought track and actively think from the other person’s viewpoint or perspective. But this may be splitting hairs. The three questions are very helpful. I might add “How might I act positively/what might I learn/do differently if the story isn’t true; i.e., I’m wrong?”
I must admit I’m curious about the man who suffered a head injury and lost his long term memory. What a great way to start fresh with a clean canvas! I would no longer be haunted by all the years of physical abuse I suffered as a teenager, or the mental abuse I experienced throughout my 20s. I could forget all about the psychological damage that was done to me from my religious upbringing. I’m not suggesting that a head injury is the way to go, but this has truly been an eye-opening read for me.
Cindy Stulberg says
Two years ago, a very close friend I had for 40 years stopped talking to me. When I asked why she said I’m just not interested anymore. I have told myself many stories to help explain this and deal with my feelings of hurt and sadness. There is no true story. It has become a process of accepting what I cannot control. But your description of the stories we tell ourselves seems to resonate with me and has given me pause and something to think about. Thanks
Cindy, Just now saw your post on October 3, 2018 about your long time friend ending the friendship with you. It must be difficult after so many yrs. of friendship and asking “ why?” So many yrs. invested and then no longer there. Many of us never have relationships of any where near that duration. You have been blessed and count your blessings still, because when one friendship ends ,another friendship begins. Make room for it with an open heart. Take courage and move on.
I’m not sure how you do it, but there is a clarity and sincerity to your blogs that I don’t find anywhere else. Another wonderful, insightful post. Thank you.
SHERIF Shola says
Your simplistic use of words to convey information entrenched me and uplifts my soul. Thank you.
This article is very inspiring- close to my work and my heart. Thank you!