What's the Story You're Telling Yourself?

Let me create a scenario: You are texting with someone you might not know that well, and after sending a text you see the three pulsating dots, then hear nothing back. Do you: a. Assume they got busy and go on with your day or b. Create a narrative in your head where they are mad at you, disappointed with you, don’t like you? Yeah, me neither. Fine, i’ll let’s be real. I do the latter all the damn time.

It was while I listened to an interview with Dr. Brene Brown that I learned a new technique for confronting this nasty habit. When you find yourself plummeting down that rabbit hole, ask yourself, “What is the story I’m telling myself?” I tell myself the reason I haven’t heard back that that person reading my most recent play is because they hate it and don’t know how to tell me. Of course I do! I can create worst case scenarios at the speed of light. And let me say, the stories are never good. It’s not, “Oh, this person hasn’t gotten back to me because they’re busy with other things, had to go out of town, have a child home with a cold...no, it’s always, always, always something negative about me. Not super helpful, or at all steeped in any kind of reality. About 95% of the time I am completely wrong, and have caused myself hours, days, sometimes weeks of angst solely because of the story I told myself.

The energy around this is especially strong when you are taking a risk. When you send that manuscript out, audition for a role, inquire about a new job. Or on a personal level, ask someone out, join a group or take to step to make a new friend. Risk is scary. Putting yourself out there is scary. So we create a worst-case-scenario in our heads, partly as protection, and put ourselves through hell for something that isn’t true. It seems when it comes to risk, most us are still in the fifth grade waiting to be picked for the team. It’s scary. Sticking your neck out is hard.

What I have learned is, by using the phrase, “the story I’m telling myself” in my head, or maybe even to a trusted friend, or my partner, is that very quickly I disempower the gremlin stomping through my head and get snapped back to reality.

Here’s a recent example - on Mother’s Day I was talking to my oldest son on the phone. I was making the bed when my partner came in and asked if I minded if he went out to rehearse with his band that evening. I sighed and said I guessed not. Because I had earbuds with a mic on, at the exact same moment my adult son and partner said, “Why did  you say it like that?” I was busted by two people at once. Because the story in my head was, “I know I’m not the mother of YOUR children, but none of mine are here and you are going to go out, not go anywhere with me, and my Mother’s Day sucks! You’re telling me you just don’t care.” And the thing was, it was all a story in my head. I love hearing from my kids, but Mother’s Day is not a huge deal to me, but somehow I created a story where it was all a big deal. Now it’s something we openly say when one of us is making assumptions. “Hey, the story I’m telling myself when you say I don’t need to go with you to that show is that you are sick of me and don’t want me to go.” It's not easy to be vulnerable, but it sure saves us a lot of time that making assumptions eats up.

Brene Brown says, the stories we make up are, “around our greatest shame triggers and fears about ourselves in order in insure maximum protection.”

So my action step for anyone interested in changing this pattern is to be mindful of this reaction. The next time you find yourself creating a story in your head take a breath, stop, and realize that’s exactly what you’re doing. It isn’t reality. It’s a story. Don’t shame yourself around it, know it’s there to protect you. The voice that says, “I didn’t want that job anyway,” is protecting your heart and your spirit, don’t punish yourself even more.

For me it’s become a bit of a game, and it makes me laugh. When I don’t hear back from that theater director, or potential new client, and I start down that road, I remind myself that it’s just a story, and not a very good one at that. My hope is that the more I do this the less I will need to because I won’t need the story anymore. At least that’s the goal.

So what’s the story you’re telling yourself?