Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post #78: What's Your Story?

Last week we began looking at the stories we tell ourselves to explain what's going on around us and inside of us. These stories range from blissfully happy and life-affirming, to devastatingly tragic, angry, and depressing. We don't mean to make ourselves miserable, but so often we do just that.

Have you ever noticed how differently two people can perceive the same situation. Let's look at a common example: commuter traffic. Given the identical situation, person A perceives the delay, accepts that this is to be expected, and uses the time to enjoy her audio book or make a few phone calls.

Person B, on the other hand, perceives the delay and immediately reacts. His blood pressure spikes and he begins shouting and pounding on the steering wheel. His mind cycles through every possible negative consequence of the delay:  arriving late to work, getting fired, being upset for the rest of the day. He feels trapped and victimized. The underlying thought is: "This shouldn't be happening!"

If you think about it, perception is the greatest factor in how we handle any situation we encounter. One person's "nightmare" is another person's regular work day, and one person's heaven is another person's hell. Sure, some situations are unspeakable, and I never mean to invalidate people's suffering, but our perception of any situation can mean the difference between becoming suicidal and finding joy in one's life.

An example of this is a little girl I once saw on TV who had been born with multiple birth defects and serious health challenges. After the surgery to repair her cleft palate, she was so delighted with the results that she exclaimed, "Look at me---I'm sooooo pretty now!" I cried when I heard her words, because this precious child was still severely disfigured, yet she didn't see herself that way at all. How blessed is she?

In her book, Loving What Is, Byron Katie writes, "Every story is a variation on a single theme: This shouldn't be happening. I shouldn't have to experience this. God is unjust. Life isn't fair." Clearly, this is the victim stance, which we all fall into from time to time. But what about its opposite:  "I shouldn't have done that. I'm always screwing up. Eating that cupcake just proves I have no self-control. No wonder nobody loves me." ? This storyline is every bit as toxic.

So, what stories do you tell yourself over and over again? This week, I ask you to listen to your thoughts. Let's pretend that all situations are basically neutral. What spin do you add to them? Notice the themes that present themselves, positive and negative. Know that you can change your life by being willing to confront the stories that do not serve you.

Have a beautiful week.