We all do it. When decide that our morning meeting or drive home or visit to the grocery store is going to go a certain way and we get upset when it does not go as planned. Each of us carries around a lot of stories, some good, some bad. We have stories about what it was like growing up with the family we had, a story about ourselves in our careers – what we’ve accomplished and where we are headed. These stories are the amalgamation of how we remember, believe and feel. They are not facts.
One way our stories show up for us, is when we decide how an experience will go before it even takes place. When we decide we will have a bad day at work, we often do. When we are anticipating that someone will hurt our feelings or let us down, they often do. Is that because we are just so fantastic at predicting? Or because we are looking for justifications or ways to make our stories come true? If we wait long enough, we will find a problem, a complaint or an issue. If you aren’t looking for them, it is just as easy to miss good points in the story as well.
Our brains are built to avoid pain and seek pleasure. As a result, our brains create these stories for us. It’s a way to try and predict and control the outcome so that we can get what we want. But it happens so quickly and subtly, we often don’t even notice we have done it.
Have ever read a text or an email quickly and gotten upset about it, only to re-read it later only to realize you had completely misread or filled in the blanks? We do this all day and often don’t realize it. Most of these stories are not that big of a deal and can occasionally even benefit us because they help us make decisions quickly.
The problems come when we tell ourselves stories that do not serve us. Stories like our partner “always” lets us down or we aren’t capable of achieving certain kinds of goals. Those kinds of stories cause stress and anxiety and often lead us to make choices we wouldn’t make otherwise.
Sticks and stones
This time of year when we spend time with our families and even when we don’t intend to, we end up bringing our stories with us.
The two main ways these stories tend to show up with our families is when we decide an interaction is going to be painful before we get there and by filling in the blanks of what people say to us.
Getting upset about it in advance of an interaction is about your story. That’s all. And there irony is that being upset when you get there often, makes it more difficult to avoid the pain that you are anticipating. So how do you calm down? First, acknowledge to yourself what the story is and what it’s about. Second, do something to calm down (a breathing exercise, meditation, run, whatever). Next, think about what is the worst thing that could happen if you’re right? Often, we know what we would do. Finally, remind yourself that you have no idea what could happen.
The other common family trigger is filling in the blanks of what we think “they really mean.”
“Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and believe we are right about these assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for suffering.”“The Four Agreements” by Ruiz
When possible, stay curious. If you think someone meant or implied something they didn’t actually say, ask them. Best case scenario you’re wrong. Worst case, you get confirmation and you can make a reasonable choice based on all the facts instead of assumptions.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to live your best life, call me and let’s get started!