Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Your story is fiction

Yes, your story is fiction.  Your story about yourself, about your significant other, your boss, your job, your life...it's all fiction.   I'm not trying to insult you and tell you that you're a liar.  The fictional nature of your stories is the good news.  You have written them the way they are for certain reasons, and if your reasons change, you can choose to rewrite them.

Circumstances and personal qualities that you think you observe are all filtered through a process of interpretation.  The stories you tell about them are affected by the degree to which you have been paying attention.  They are blown up or shrunken down, exaggerated or downplayed when you have described them based upon whether or not they reinforce (or seem to prove) the patterns that you have seen in your life.

Here's an example for you:  A wife is waiting for her husband to arrive for their lunch date.  She has a busy schedule at work today, but the two of them have found that the lunchtime get-away is a good time to talk without kids interrupting every five seconds.

She has been sitting there in the booth for ten minutes, and she's getting pretty steamed that he has not yet arrived.  "He is ALWAYS late," she mutters under her breath.  "It's like my time isn't as important as his time.  He is probably all caught up in something stupid on the Internet - tweeting to Siberia or something.  He probably didn't even see what time it was.  If he doesn't get here in thirty seconds I'm going to text him.  This is the third time in a week that he's kept me cooling my heels...."  And on and on she goes, building the story in her mind and with every sentence becoming more and more irate.

When her husband enters the restaurant two minutes later she greets him with, "It's about time!  I've been waiting here for almost 15 minutes!"  He responds, "Sorry.  There was a really bad traffic accident right in front of me on the way in and I had to speak with the responding police officer.  It was pretty ugly."

In this scenario the husband WAS late.  The clock proves the fact - although depending on whether their respective clocks were in sync there could be a discrepancy even among the "facts".  But beyond the actual time of day the interpretation of the situation was a construct in the woman's mind.  She ascribed motives to his lateness, she presumed the reason for his lateness, and both of those anger-building stories were completely incorrect - they were works of fiction that reinforced her pre-existing ideas about her spouse and his time management habits.

Have you heard someone say, "I'm so blessed!"  That brief sentence is a story that they tell themselves and others.  Those three short words convey volumes about the individual's spiritual life - they tell you that the person believes in God and that God has directly affected his or her life.  The person is also choosing to notice the aspects in his or her life that look like gifts, like blessings.  This person is sorting the facts for the optimistic interpretation.

You are creating stories every day about how you look, the talents you possess, your status in life, etc.  If you make a point of listening to yourself you will start to notice the recurring stories that you use to reinforce your self-image and your beliefs, and to influence other people.  You might start to hear how you have developed habits of tearing down certain other people who might have hurt you in the past.  Or you might realize that you are already affirming others and assuming the best about them.

You can become more intentional about your stories - the ones you tell other people and the ones you tell yourself.  You can choose consciously (instead of by habit) what pieces of your life and what elements of a situation you want to reinforce.  You can look for the silver lining rather than embrace the gray cloud.  You are the author of your life, and you write the story. 

2 comments:

Lynn Marie Caissie said...

I remember once when a candidate was very late for an interview how I worried about what might have happened to her. I thought there could have been an accident or a tragic or urgent event in her personal life that kept her from attending the interview. My boss thought I was nuts. She said, 'Face it, you've been stood up!' In the end, I had indeed been stood up. Still, I liked myself for ensuring I eliminated a negative bias wrt this candidate before she had a chance to explain herself. It made me feel generous and generally good about myself.

Being careful of how we interpret events, how we build our stories, is also a great way to diminish the level of stress we face every day.

This is a good reminder that we need to be open and aware.

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

My husband and a client of his were joking about this post, and why I chose to write about him! Hmm - that says something about his stories about my stories. Or that he has internalized some of the same story such that he assumes that I'm talking about him. Nothing like jumping to conclusions. Although of course he MIGHT have been correct in this one.