The Stories We Tell, Part 1.

The Stories We Tell, Part 1.

This is The Stories We Tell, Part 1.

There’s an old quote by Mark Twain that goes

I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened

This quote is probably misattributed to Twain as there is much speculation about who actually said it first ranging from Thomas Jefferson to English author Martin Farquhar Tupper, Seneca, Winston Churchill, James A. Garfield, and more.

The source of the quote doesn’t matter.  Its truth resonates as it was probably thought, written and spoken by many men throughout history in slightly different forms.

The point of the quote is we do not live in reality.  We live our lives in the stories we tell.

Humans are meaning-making machines.  It is what we do.  We seek to and create meaning out of, all of the things that happen in our lives.  

Here’s an easy example to ground this for you.

Think about the last time you texted someone and didn’t get a response right away.  Or worse, saw the 3 little dots indicating they were typing something out and then nothing.

What was the story you created about that?  What did you make that mean?

The facts of the situation were that you texted someone and they didn’t text you back immediately.  That is it.  That is ALL that happened.  You texted them.  They didn’t text you back right away.  Period.  The end.  Those are the facts of what happened.

But what did you make it mean?

What story did you make up about that person?  What story did you make up about how they feel about you or how you feel about them?  What story did you make up about yourself in that moment?

Well, they must not like me very much if they don’t care enough to text me back.  You know they always do this.  They really are not a very good friend.  In fact they are kind of a bitch.  They’ve always treated me like a second class friend.  They didn’t invite me to that Halloween party that one time. In fact, you know what, I’m always being treated like this by all my friends.  Why don’t people like me?  What is wrong with me?

Snapback to reality

Again, what happened?  They didn’t text you back.  That is ALL that happened.  Nothing else.

But what did we create out of that?  What story, that led to another story that built upon another story that triggered an emotion that led us down the road of piling more and more stories on top of it?

And sadly, this is the world we create for ourselves and where we live our lives.  We go through the rest of the day living in those stories until we hear from our friend who finally gets back to us and tells us that her dog jumped up and knocked her phone off the counter into the toilet and she had to go out and get a brand new phone.

Oh…   Well, maybe she’s not such a bad friend.  

Maybe all the other things aren’t true either.  

But it doesn’t matter.  It’s how we spent our entire day.  It’s how we live our lives.

This is just what we do.  It’s neither good or bad.  Those labels create more stories.

Our brains are always looking keep us safe and it does that by connecting patterns and seeking and create meaning of the things happening to us in our lives.

That is just one small example of this.  When you start to become aware that this is happening and start to recognize when you do this you’ll soon realize we do this EVERYWHERE, and ALL DAY LONG.

Separating what happened, the facts of the situation, vs the story we create around those circumstances not only gives us an insight into how much and how often we do this everywhere, but it can also give us power and control in how we live our lives that we have lost to these stories.

Let’s go back to the quote.

I Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened

Most of the “bad” things that have happened to us are only “bad” because we’ve labeled them as such and made up the stories around them as being bad and what that meant for who we are.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We all go through some shit.  Life is not perfect, and it is certainly not always easy.  But separating the story from the facts of what actually happened can free us of those troubles that we create.  It can free our mind of all of that pain, misery, and trouble that actually never happened at all.  It can also free us from the real pain that DID occur from when some bad things did happen to us.

How you feel about something in the past lies in the story you tell about it. If something terrible and tragic happened to you in the past you can remember those events as something terrible and tragic that permanently scarred you and your view of the world going forward.  Or you can see how those events shaped and made you stronger, or able to help those in facing a similar tragedy in their life.  The same event could have ruined your life or helped shape you into the remarkable person you are today. Its meaning resides in the story we create.  Its power over us in this moment is from that story that we tell and retell as we remember and recall those events from our past.  If you struggle with your past, you may be struggling with the story.  So change it.  Create a better story that gives you power and control instead of robbing you of those things in your life.

And to go back and reiterate.  There’s enough real pain in this world that we all go through that we do not need to make any more for ourselves.

That’s it for Part 1.

In Part 2 I’m going to talk about why we get stuck in the same patterns and stories and why we keep making the same mistakes or telling ourselves the same stories and how to get out of it.  

Come back for that one.

Ben Cote
Director of Branding and Community

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