“Hola!” we smiled as a man walked past us. His face changed. Was that a smirk? One side of his mouth turned up while the other stayed put. How strange. We spent the next five minutes making up stories as to why he pulled this face as we walked along…
Perhaps he was laughing at our accent? Maybe he doesn’t like foreigners! He might have coincidentally remembered a joke that exact moment… and the stories carried on until Tim finally said, “perhaps he had just farted!”
Our banter wasn’t making fun of this man, we were laughing at ourselves. We were making up stories, incredible stories. Many of us do this about others, about situations and about ourselves far more often than we probably realise.
“Rather than people watch and make assumptions, connect with people and discover what they are really about.” Tim Reed
We are all natural storytellers, it is part of our DNA. Our ancestors have been making up stories around the campfire for thousands of years, passing on knowledge down to the next generation. Fairytales, myths, legends… However, the issue is that sometimes we find ourselves making up stories without realising what we’re doing. When you forget that these are made up, you’ll find yourself believing they’re true, and then we can get in all kinds of bother when in reality, those tales are no more real than the tooth fairy!
For example, a couple of weeks ago I was standing in Patagonia enjoying taking a photo of Fitz Roy Mountain using our trusted little camera. Tim came up and suggested that I used both hands rather than what I was doing, holding it with one hand. Immediately I created this fantastic story in my head, of how he was criticising me and judging my photos. I sat back on the bus and fumed internally for a couple of minutes. But was that what Tim meant?
The next day, Tim and I were chatting about feedback, and I asked him about this incident. (I had cooled down by then!) Rather than making up stories of why he was “criticising” me and my photography skills, I wanted to understand where he was coming from.
The answer? He loves learning and improving, so when he saw me holding the camera with one hand, he just wanted to help me take the best photo possible. Nothing less, nothing more. He wasn’t criticising, he was simply suggesting. If I had not listened to my personal thinking and just asked him directly at the time, I would have experienced this situation very differently (and not carried on making up stories in my head!).
As Robert Schank, American artificial intelligence theorist, a cognitive psychologist, learning scientist, educational reformer, entrepreneur and very clever and wise man said:
“Learning starts with curiosity.”
Our thoughts are a fantastic tool. We can create, we can analyse, we can remember, we can solve mathematical equations (well, some of us can!) and we can make up stories – all from the power of thought. Yet so many of us misuse this gift. We think that it can control the weather, it can mind read, it can fix our personal problems… the thing is that it can’t.
Please don’t rely on the tales and stories that go through your head. Most are a load of baloney! What goes through our heads is based on our own interpretation of the world. It’s like making a judgement on a painting when we can only see the frame, which is ridiculous of course.
Sadly by making up stories and believing them to be true, we can ruin friendships, marriages, businesses and our own well being. We can interpret a comment someone says incorrectly, and build these strands up like a giant ball of wool. Our behaviour towards them changes, and the other person, in turn, may add more yarns turning the whole situation into a tangled mess. Perhaps you have experienced this or seen this for yourself? I lost a very good friend many years ago because I unknowingly fabricated stories about our relationship.
We not only do this with others but also to ourselves. What stories do you listen to about yourself and have thought they were true? (Despite what others say to you!) How have these narratives hindered you? Damaging your career, damaging relationships, damaging your mental health perhaps?
What if you have been listening and believing untruths and letting these stop you? Believing made up stories, fables. How silly! But rather than judging yourself and feeling cross, can you see the funny side? It’s like believing that the actors we see on our TV screen are actually real people, living in the TV. Our relationship with our thoughts is just the same. They are not real, we cannot touch them, they change effortlessly, they are transiently flowing from one thing to another (when we let them).
I used to be excellent at making up stories about myself and my favourite one was that I was insecure. Oh, that was a good one. It was more like a horror story and I often added chapters and mighty descriptions to the growing novel until one day I saw it for what it was – a story! When I realised what I was doing, I put the metaphorical book down.
I have no tips or techniques here for you. There is no “change the negative to a positive”, that doesn’t work and is oh so energy zapping. I am not going to tell you to stop making up stories. I just want to highlight this creative side of us that can actually be of detriment if misunderstood – and to allow you to see this for yourself. Plus it’s a great reminder for me! When we deeply understand how something works, warts and all, it usually sorts its self out.
Hi, I am Lindsey Reed. I love connecting with people and helping them to remember who they really are, their true selves, re-igniting their lives with confidence. Currently travelling around the world, I am still coaching, the wonders of technology. If you would like to connect with me, please send an email to email@example.com.
My book Got It: The Answer to a Confident, Productive & Stress-Free Life is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle/ebook format and is now in over 23 countries. It describes how we create our experience of our own reality called life and through this understanding, we can have a more confident and freeing life.