Friday, November 22, 2013

What's Your "Story?"

The other day I was in a conversation with someone I'd just met who was explaining to me in great detail why he dressed the way he did. Apparently he'd spent a lot of time considering how his image affected others, and he claimed to know exactly how different types of people perceived him. Men saw him this way, young women saw him another way, and older women, yet another. I had no idea how this subject had come up or how he'd arrived at his conclusions.

After the conversation, I found myself thinking, "What was that all about?" I thought about how he'd created an elaborate story, probably for the purpose of helping him understand and make sense of his role in life. As I thought about it more, I realized that we all do that, although some of us are less out there with it than others.

I thought about myself and the people I know, and how we each have a basic storyline we seem to live by. We have certain themes that play out over and over again. Some of these are of a healthy and positive nature, and some appear to be negative or even destructive.

Sometimes people recognize the mental or emotional ruts they're in, and apply self help or other techniques to change the patterns, while others are so enmeshed with the habitual belief that they don't see that it's coming from them (or their family, or their cultural group). Or they make up stories that broadly generalize large groups of people, like: "Women are petty," "Men are jerks," or, "Nobody has money."

Whenever I hear statements like this, I'm confused because when I look around, that's not what I see at all. Granted, I probably make all kinds of statements that leave people utterly perplexed too, because their experience and perspective may be very different than my own.

We all have stories we tell ourselves and perhaps tell others, but we don't all realize that we're making up stories. If your life is wonderful, it doesn't matter what you're telling yourself. (The proof is in the pudding, so to speak). If, on the other hand, you struggle in any area of your life, it would behoove you to understand what you're telling yourself about this situation. Whether it's about money, love, work, religion, your health, or anything else, if there's an issue there, there's bound to be a story that's fueling it.

This week, I invite you to do two things. First, look at your friends and family members and try to identify their primary stories. Some examples include:

"I'm stuck and there's no way out..."
"Nobody appreciates me"
"There's never enough time, money, etc."
"It's all their fault"
"It's all my fault"
"I deserve whatever I want"
"Everybody dumps on me"
"I'm bored. Everything's boring"

And then, once you're clear about what a story looks like and feels like, see if you can identify your own story (or stories). This is more difficult to do because our own stories feel like objective reality (but they're not!) I think you'll find this exercise to be illuminating, and maybe even help you out of a rut or two.

Have a great week.