the story you tell yourself affects your life

The story you tell yourself about what happened becomes your reality.

What you remember is the story you told yourself about an event, not what actually happened or your feelings during the event. We define our past, describe our present and predict the outcome based on this story.

This is brilliantly illustrated in Daniel Kahneman’s video about the experiencing versus the remembering mind.  Daniel Kahneman describes an experiment on patients undergoing a colonoscopy. Each patient pushed a button every 60 seconds to show how much pain they were in. The graphs of the pain felt by two patients were very similar. The only difference was that patient B had twice as long a procedure (double the pain from looking at the graph). Yet, after the procedure, Patient A ‘s story was more negative than Patient B.

When they examined the data, they found that Patient A’s procedure ended at a high point of pain, while Patient B’s ended at a low point of pain. So immediately after the procedure, Patient A’s “experiencing mind” told his “remembering mind” that it was a painful procedure. B’s told himself at the end of the procedure, “oh that wasn’t so bad”. Simply by prolonging the procedure and making sure the last bit was minimally painful, all patient scores for the procedures showed reduced pain.

Stories in conflict

When we disagree, we tell ourselves a story about what happened and whose fault it was. We remember the last five-minute argument and not the five-year friendship. We remember all the bad things that person has done and minimise the good. We see ourselves as angels. We stop listening to the truth and keep embellishing our case. Yet this doesn’t make us any happier or secure. It even makes us feel more and more miserable.

“It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.”
Terry Pratchett, Jingo

Other research (Fredrickson, Wiseman, Seligman) give more instances of how the stories people tell about themselves about past influences their future. The more you tell yourself that life is miserable and that people are evil, the more evidence you will find to support it. If the story you tell yourself is about the good things that happened and how much better it was than it could have been, the more good things you will find.

Obviously, bad things happen to good people, but look around–you will see people who are happy in terrible circumstances and others who are miserable in what seems a perfect life.

Solutions

You can change your luck, by changing your viewpoint.   I help people tell themselves more useful and constructive stories about themselves and others, making life easier. You will find the stories behind the feelings, study them and change them to help you get what you want.

Find the story, Granny Weatherwax always said. She believed that the world was full of story shapes. If you let them, they controlled you. But if you studied them, if you found out about them… you could use them, you could change them.”
Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Life is unpredictable but you can make it less unpleasant by changing the story you tell yourself. Regular tips on communication and conflict management.