Remember those wonderful bedtime stories your parents would tell you to lull you to sleep, letting your fertile imagination run wild? The world was full of magical possibilities as we gently dosed off into dreamland with warm and fuzzy feelings in the safe comfort of our home.
The storytelling continues as we become adults and they can be equally riveting. Our wild imagination may still be there, but now rather than happily drifting off to a happy place, the stories can often be destructive and can keep us awake at night. And we cannot even blame our parents for these as they are the stories we tell ourselves.
Every day, we make up our own remarkable stories: a friend doesn’t email you back, your boss asks to meet with you tomorrow, your spouse is out too late, and we immediately fill in the blanks, creating fascinating scripts. We instantly think the worst, connecting the dots in our distorted reality and jumping to conclusions. We then build momentum in our minds by feeding on this negative energy. We fabricate a new reality: my friend doesn’t care about me, I’m in big trouble at work, my partner has met someone else far more interesting than me. These stories aren’t simply inaccurate, they are destructive. They make us incredibly anxious and can isolate us, causing irreparable damage to our relationships.
The most frightening aspect may be we are not even aware of our great fictional storytelling abilities. Our internal dialogue is often based on speculation and assumption about the people in our lives and circumstances we encounter daily and we grow these experiences into outrageous plots that Dan Brown would be envious of. The web we weave can make us anxious, resentful and even be detrimental to our health as we become consumed in our stories. Thankfully, many are small and petty and often get quickly resolved with no harm, no foul despite disconnecting from the facts.
But many weigh heavily as we escalate our story to greater heights as they manifest into a warped sense of reality. It is only upon the scenario ultimately playing out (Ex: you meet with your boss the next day and she assigns you to an exciting new project when all along you had fully convinced yourself you were being fired) do you realize the magnitude of the impact your storytelling created inwardly as it snowballed and grew exponentially. You exhale, neck and shoulders soften as you decompress and feel so buoyant you could fly. The fictional tale put us in a world of pain but the truth dissolved it instantly. Creation, then disintegration, all within the confines of your mind!
The danger is these stories are very compelling and easily resonate with us; after all, we are quite comfortable with the voice inside our head. It is our best friend whispering in our ear. But we need to understand the connection between these incorrect assumptions and our internal anxiety levels – easier said than done as these are habitual patterns we’ve created over a lifetime.
So where to start? It begins with awareness, the sense of understanding that we automatically bridge gaps and connect the dots sometimes without all the necessary information. We really don’t know why our friend has not emailed us back, but working within this absence of information and assuming she is mad or does not care is often erroneous and even reckless. Once you’ve worked yourself up into a frenzy and crossed your friend off your list, only to discover she had a death in the family and was cross country attending a funeral, how ridiculous do you feel?
So, take a deep breath (several, purposeful deep breaths would be ideal) and recognize your mind hijacked reality and took you on a crazy detour. Look inward and feel your body and emotions reacting. Remind yourself you are playing loose with the facts and really don’t have all the details to make an informed decision so how could you possibly come to steadfast conclusions? Focus on managing only those things that you can control by being in the present moment and not some fantasy your imagination concocted in the future. And if you still crave fiction, pick up a Dan Brown best seller and leave the storytelling to the pros.