Our Storytelling Brain…
Hubby and I are house-hunting at the moment and we’re having a lot of fun making up stories about the houses we visit, and their owners.
After viewing a beautiful three-storey Regency house last week, we both came out, looked at each other and (I can’t remember who said, but we were both thinking.) “hmm, divorce scenario.”
Hubby then went on to riff on louche Louis and his mis-behaviour…
He’s probably had an affair and she’s made him sleep in the upstairs room while she moves her stuff out.
(evidence being two beds occupied in a two-person house and far fewer signs of ‘her’ than of ‘him’.)
He’s holding the dog to ransom while they sort out who gets what.
(evidence being that he and the dog were in the house and showed signs of having a good relationship — a ‘man’s dog’ not a ‘woman’s dog’, clearly. And, before we knew it, we were speculating over which of them would be having custody of said dog…)
Or maybe it was nothing to do with the divorce, Maybe there was something as simple as,
He’s worried the house-hunters won’t get along with the dog; should he lock him away or let him run loose.
(evidence for this story being he talked a lot about locking the dog away!)
What we were doing, laughingly and with no misunderstanding that the fiction we were creating bore any resemblance to truth, is what we all do, innocently, day after day, with much more serious consequences.
The way the mind works…
Every time we look at the outside world, our brain picks up on something — a signal, filtered through our state of mind in the moment — and we instantly create a story around it and, also instantly, we see evidence for the story we see.
It looks as if the evidence is observed first, and the conclusion drawn second, but the reverse is actually true.
We sense something that we recognise, or that is out of place, and then we spin (literally!) a fabrication of pure fiction.
It looks as if:
- that look our partner / boss / colleague / person in the street just gave us means something about who we are;
- the wobble we’re experiencing about that project or partner we’ve committed to is something meaningful, rather than a momentary glitch in our mood, best ignored;
- life would be better if our team member / colleague / friend / child did exactly what we wanted them to do.
And it’s those fabrications of thought that lead to what some people call ‘self-sabotage’.
There’s no ‘self’ to sabotage; there’s simply the story you’re (innocently) allowing to play and play.
Pick a story, any story…
In the case of our house-hunting, for sure, hubby and I picked up on a little discomfort from Louis.
Maybe that means that he and his wife are getting divorced.
Maybe he’s a little uncomfortable about showing people round his house; he doesn’t know whether to be a tour guide, or let people wander.
Maybe he’s worried whether his de-cluttering has worked (evidence for this story being the amount of stuff piled in the downstairs loo!)
Maybe he’s facing bankruptcy and is being forced to sell his house.
Or maybe he’s simply a little anxious about how a prospective seller should act around people viewing his house.
Your subjective reality…
Any of these stories, or more, could be true. Or maybe we misread some fleeting thought passing through his mind and interpreted it as meaningful!
The only thing that’s relevant is that our mind innocently ‘picks’ as the story to run with, the eyes and ears will collect evidence for — we zone in on what we see that aligns with the story, and we ignore the rest; we don’t see what’s objectively true. (if there is any such thing as objective truth!)
We find evidence for the story we’re running; we don’t analyse the evidence to the point of conclusion.
In real life this is what you do multiple times a day.
Just as hubby and I could find ‘evidence’ for the divorce scenario, so too are you finding ‘evidence’ of you not being good enough, or your boss picking on you, of your lover not being thoughtful enough, of your children or pets being badly behaved.
Well, unless you’re a cat owner in which case the last is most likely true.
And then we live into this misunderstanding as if it’s the truth.
Hubby and I can laugh about the Louis story; we both of us know it’s a fiction. But, imagine if we were Louis, or mrs Louis, and we came home to something ‘suspicious’. If we believe what we experience as ‘truth’ then we could easily create a downward spiral to the inevitable outcome of divorce.
It’s only when we see, and understand, that our experience is always a creation of our mind that we can listen to what matters, and hear the truth beneath the stories.
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in transformative leadership. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind so they can make more of a difference with the work they do. Find out how to work with Cathy to become the best you possible, or sign up to read more of her inspiring content at https://cathypresland.com