The story you’re telling yourself

Making sh*t up?

Do you know that facts don’t hurt?

The circumstances of our lives have no effect on us until they encounter our mind and we attach meaning to them. We aren’t sad about someone dying until our minds register the fact. The person’s death, which may have happened days ago, has no effect on us at all. It could be that at the same moment they died, we were laughing at a joke because our minds weren’t aware of what just happened.

In this situation, we can separate out the facts from the thoughts. It’s less accurate to say, “I was devastated when they died.” It’s more accurate to say, “I was devastated by what I thought about their death.” Yes, these semantics matter. 

When we realize that our minds cause our feelings, we can be much more in control of our emotional lives. It doesn’t mean that we won’t choose to be sad when someone dies; we most likely will. But it does mean we can decide not to be mad when something much less significant happens in our lives.

We manage our emotional lives with our thinking.

If we say, “Work stresses me out,” it’s our thoughts about work that stress us out. Although we might not be able to change our job at this very moment, we most certainly can change the way we think about your job. That will change everything.

​​We create our lives mostly with our minds. We often believe our stories so deeply that we think they’re facts when they’re not. This is fine—so long as the story isn’t painful or causing problems in our lives. But many of our stories are painful, even debilitating.

Here’s an example from someone who is furious with her sister-in-law:

My sister-in-law doesn’t respect or love me. She wants me to be fat because she makes certain foods for dinner when she knows I’m working to lose weight. It’s like I don’t even want to be around her because of the awful things she does. Just this weekend, we went to her home for a visit, and she was so backhanded, so conniving by making spaghetti for dinner. I know my husband (this is his sister) doesn’t even care. He doesn’t back me up when I feel this way, and he refuses when I suggest we should confront her and stop visiting her. I think I’m going to have to give him an ultimatum. It’s either her or me. He’s a grown man, and he needs to make this decision.

In the end, these are the facts:

• She has a sister-in-law.

• She went to her home last weekend.

• The sister-in-law made spaghetti.

• Everything else was a story. A painful, stressful story.

This person’s sister-in-law had made spaghetti, which she interpreted as conniving and an attempt to sabotage her weight loss. Could the spaghetti perhaps have meant something else to her sister-in-law? Were there any other ways to interpret the facts that might feel better?

She could acknowledge that maybe her sister-in-law made spaghetti because her brother loves spaghetti, she’s Italian, and it’s one of her specialties. So either her original story or the latter one could be true. Which story served her better? Which story served the relationship better? 

Even more, she can consider how it felt to leave the facts alone and not insert a meaning or a story about those facts. “My sister-in-law made spaghetti.” Without a story, this fact doesn’t hurt.

Facts never do hurt. Whenever we realize we’re creating a painful story, separate out the facts. Then we get to create our pain or our peace (or happiness) by how we choose to interpret the facts.

Your Turn: What stories have you been making up about situations, people, things, events? How do these stories leave you feeling? What are the facts? How do the facts leave you feeling?

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