Choosing our stories

Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Humans are meaning-making creatures, which means that we are story-making creatures. Every moment of every day, we are telling ourselves stories in an attempt to make meaning of the things that happen to us and around us. This is an unavoidable part of who we are.

What we do have a choice about are the actual stories we choose to tell about these things in our lives. We are not free to change the facts, of course, but we are free to change our story about those facts. In fact, if our current story is keeping us from bringing our best selves to share with the world around us, we may even have an obligation to change our story to one that does bring forth more of our best selves.

For example, if someone does not reply to a message I send them in a timely fashion, I could tell myself a number of stories about that fact. I could tell myself a story about how that person is upset with me and doesn’t want to talk to me, OR I could tell myself a story about how that person is probably busy or didn’t get my message. My response to the situation will differ greatly depending on which of those two stories I choose tell myself.

We make these kinds of decisions about the stories we choose to tell ourselves all the timeā€”from what we think other people think of us, to whether some event is meant to teach us something, to whether God is making something happen to us to punish us. We choose these stories (often without even being aware that we are doing so), and those stories then impact our reactions, decisions, and moods.

The problem is that we often don’t recognize our stories as stories; we see them as the truth of the situation. It takes time and practice to learn to disengage from our stories enough to question them and separate fact from the surrounding story. (I highly recommend The Work of Byron Katie as a means for learning to work through this process.)

The most damaging stories I tell myself are those that are about my worth (or lack thereof) and what other people think of me. These stories are almost invariably negative and leave me feeling like I have nothing of value to give … so I don’t give of my gifts, I hide away my talents, and I miss out on chances to be a blessing to others.

What if I were to take the same situations and tell myself different stories about them? What if I told stories that were positive about my worth, my contributions, and my impacts on others? I would be much more likely to give of myself in ways that could be a blessing to those around me.

I’m not advocating changing or ignoring facts about a situation in order to spin a story that makes me feel better. Lying to myself doesn’t do anyone any good. But the facts of any situation only take us so far. Making meaning of those facts always involves telling a story of some kind given our limited knowledge and perspective.

By paying attention the stories I choose and how those stories affect the way I show up in the world, I can decide to re-write those stories that diminish me into ones that empower me to do greater good.

Are there any stories that you are carrying that are not serving you well? Is there one that you would be willing to re-write to serve you better?

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