You get to choose the stories you tell...
Humans are wonderful storytellers. We're hardwired to shape experiences into stories, to help us remember events, to entertain and to fill gaps in our knowledge. And on that whole, that works really well.
However, have you ever told yourself this story?
Once upon a time, my friend didn't reply to my text and that means she didn't like my Facebook post and so now she's fallen out with me and she'll tell our other friends and they'll hate me too.
Or this one? A client cancelled on me last minute and that means my work is rubbish and no-one will book me ever again and I might as well give up on my business right now.
Helpful? No, not for me either!
Here's the phrase to watch for... "and that means..."
"My friend didn't reply." It doesn't mean anything on its own. It could mean she's busy, she lost her phone, she forgot, or that she's waiting for a quiet moment to compose a thoughtful reply because she knows you deserve a lovely response. Of course, it could mean she fell out with you.
Until you know what something means you get to choose the story. And so you also get to choose how you feel about it! Take your pick...
My client cancelled because they think my work is rubbish; I feel pretty low now.
My client cancelled because their child is poorly today; I feel sympathetic, and then use the time to catch up on my to-do list.
My client cancelled because they feel too rushed today to make the most of our time together; I feel valued and excited to re-book our appointment.
I'm sharing this because I've just side-stepped a potential story that could have sent me into a full-on tailspin and I wanted to share with you how I handled it.
My default for many years has been to fill in the gaps with the worst story possible, until quite recently. I've noticed a dramatic shift in the last year or so as I began to question the stories I told myself; does it really mean that? What else could it mean? And how would I feel if it meant something else? Often the most useful meaning I attach (while I wait for the real story) is a neutral one.
About two weeks ago I launched a vision board workshop, at my house, in late March. I was super excited and after the successful booking up of my small business workshop, I had no doubt this would be just as popular.
Not a single booking.
My story options included... that means nobody wants to work with me, I'll never work again... that means I didn't explain it well... that means everyone is busy on that date...
I'll be honest, a year ago I'd have chosen the first story and given up, felt dejected and quietly gathered my things. The 2020 version of me, however, chose the second story and went out asking questions, remembering that it's all just information, seeing it as an experiment.
It turns out that eight people want to come but can't make the date. Eight! That's more than I have space for at my kitchen table. It would have over-booked on a different day! I'm elated and energised, excited to simply find a date, or two, when I can host all the lovely folk on my waiting list. What an amazing feeling.
My storytelling checklist...
What really happened? Just the facts...
What are you making it mean?
How does that make you feel?
And how do you want to react?
Does your reaction feel good to you?
Or, does it feel proportionate to the situation? If not, carry on...
What else could it mean?
How does that make you feel?
And how might you react now?
Practice exploring different meanings and see how freeing it can be to experiment with different stories!
I'd love to hear how you get on!