Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all born storytellers.
From the moment we’re born, life is a never-ending stream of experience. As we move through life, the way we make sense of reality is to convert these experiences into a narrative. This narrative is series of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, other people and life.
Human beings are, as Jonathan Gottschall puts it, “storytelling animals”. We understand life in terms of stories.
Our Life is Made Up of Stories
Our stories determine our entire experience of reality. They shape our personality, our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and worldview.
This, in turn, determines the way we think, feel, behave, and transact with life.
Psychology professor Jonathan Adler explains:
“Life is incredibly complex. There are lots of things going on in our environment and our lives at all times, and in order to hold onto our experience, we need to make meaning of it. They way we do that is by structuring our lives into stories.”
Objective reality becomes inextricably bound with our mind-created subjective reality. This is an unconscious process, often leaving us unable to distinguish between the two.
In short, our interpretation of reality usually becomes mistaken for reality itself.
A single event may be experienced by a hundred different people. Those hundred people will each have a slightly (or perhaps radically) different experience of that same event. Our stories are, therefore, not so much based on what happens externally, but how we interpret it internally.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
A while back, I caught myself telling someone, “I’m having a bad week.” In actual fact, there was no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about it. Like any week, it was simply a series of events. Events and happenings are in themselves neutral. The only value they have is the value the mind assigns to them. Depending on our personal preferences and predilections, what might be a good experience for one person may be a terrible experience for another. Some people absolutely thrive on challenge and feel alive in high-stress situations, whereas others find the pressure unbearable and prefer the quiet life.
Just Who Do You Think You Are?
Our stories about life are determined by who we are. And to a large extent, who we are is determined by our stories about life.
As a baby or toddler, we had little in the way of ego or sense of ‘self’. We cried when we were hungry, laughed when someone tickled us, played with our toys as and when we wanted, and, let’s be honest, we pooped our pants any time we jolly well felt like it. We were just Life expressing itself freely and without reserve or censor.
This, however, obviously doesn’t last much beyond the first few years of our life.
What happens is the mind begins crafting a sense of ‘self’.
This sense of ‘me’ and ‘who I am’ is generated by many factors, the primary ones being our environment, what happens to us, and how we interpret those experiences.
A large part of our ‘story of self’ is based upon what others have told us about ourselves and the world. According to society’s ‘Rulebook of Life’, we’re told what ‘good’ and ‘bad is’, the difference between ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, and what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be.
Here’s where we need to do a bit of self-reflection. Answer honestly!
Were you brought up to believe that you are strong, capable, and in control of your life? Or did you internalise the notion that you were somehow lacking, deficient and at the mercy of a cruel and hostile world?
Are you sufficient to deal with all that life brings, or do you believe you’re somehow not good enough and don’t have what it takes?
The Story of Me
“The way you tell your story to yourself matters.”
Make no mistake, the story you tell yourself about yourself is what will ultimately make or break you.
So, is it a positive or a negative story?
Either way, it’s just a story. And stories can be changed.
Many of us have a tendency to focus on our perceived lacks and failings. These are determined by the mind alone. Excessive focus on lack and failure results in a distorted internal narrative and an unhealthy view of self. Instead of being the hero of our own story, we might be a victim, or even worse, a villain!
If we view ourselves as helpless and downtrodden and at the mercy of an unjust and cruel world, we’re defeated from the very start. We’ll feel powerless and lost. This hopelessness will lead to all kinds of mental and emotional problems and a crippling sense of paralysis. It’s clearly not a healthy state from which to live. But the thing is, it can be changed in a moment.
Whatever your life has been, and whatever role you’ve inadvertently cast yourself, it’s essential to recognise that you are the King or Queen of your own story.
We’ve all suffered in life. We’ve fought, loved, dreamt and yearned, had our heart broken to pieces, and won at some things, while losing at others. We’ve had traumas, lost people we loved and struggled to find our place in life and deal with hardship and challenges of many kinds.
This doesn’t make us a victim in life.
It makes us a FIGHTER.
Whether we care to admit it or not, life is something we don’t often have that much power to control. But we absolutely can control the way we interpret it, the meaning we assign to it, and the way we respond to it. That’s where our true power lies.
So, take a moment to explore and if necessary re-evaluate the story you tell yourself about yourself.
If you don’t see yourself as an absolute King or Queen, and a courageous kick-ass fighter dealing with what will always be a difficult and challenging world, then you need to start seeing yourself in that light.
You’ve been through so much and you’re still here, and still fighting on. Why focus on what you might perceive as failure or lack instead of recognising how far you’ve come through so many adversities and challenges?
The greatest stories ever told reflect what Joseph Campbell called ‘the Hero’s Journey’; the path every human being must take through life. It’s a journey of trial, challenge, loss, adventure and ultimately redemption. We are each the hero of our own journey; our own life.
It’s time to recognise that and see yourself as the hero that you are.