What Part Do You Play
We all tell stories.
We tell them to ourselves, to make sense of our world. We tell them to justify our actions and to support our point of view. We tell them to others in an attempt to communicate our perspective.
We live inside our very own version of a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book. They are popular children’s books that are written in the second person point of view.
The reader assumes the point of view of the protagonist and makes decisions during the adventure that determine the outcome. It’s a fun series and has been responsible for hooking lots of children into reading.
In order to communicate well, a simple story is best. In his summary of the book: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, Steve Glaveski discusses the importance of a simple story for effective communication.
Many of our stories come from others.
They come from our past. As children, we are sponges, absorbing points of view. Every family has a narrative that we inherit. They are tales about events and people in our immediate family and they reflect specific things that the family values.
Sometimes a family story has a moral and is told to reinforce the fact that as a member, you are expected to see things in a certain way. You are also expected to behave a certain way, a way that reflects those roots.
Our stories are always changing.
Everyone has a story. We actually live inside of them. Life brings us new experiences all of the time. New experiences teach us something and that can shift our viewpoint. As our perspective changes, so does our story.
We are the characters that live inside our stories.
Most people see themselves as two characters; an identity character and a lead character. Some of us have more.
Our identity character is specific to each individual. This character is how we show up in the world. For example, my identity character is a 60 something short woman with greying hair. I usually wear black, and am devoted to my two cats Millie and Minnie and I laugh easily. I can make changes to some parts of my identity character, such as what I wear, but my age is more difficult to change.
As you settle into an identity character, it becomes even harder. Your friends and family are comfortable with ‘who you are’ and will resist if you try to change.
Our identity character may be different depending on the situation. You may dress or act very conservatively at work while you leave the flamboyant ‘you’ for those nights you spend with close friends.
The second character is the lead character or protagonist of the story. It’s how you cast yourself in the story. You could see yourself as the Hero, or the Villain, or a member of the supporting cast. You could be the Victim, suffering from your circumstances, always declaring ‘woe is me’.
Whatever you decide, this second character can be consistent or can change, depending on the circumstances. You might decide you are the Hero and you will always run toward trouble. Or you could pick and choose who you will save and in what circumstances. This character is the most fluid.
We also use this character to delude ourselves. We pretend we are the Hero, saving the world, while we behave like the Villain of the story. If we are caught, we can shift into Victim mode, and decide that the whole world is against us and it’s impossible to do anything right.
We tell ourselves stories instead of making changes in our lives.
Humans fear change. It’s part of how we survived as a species. The fear is deeply ingrained in the limbic system, which is the major primordial brain network. This network works together to process and make sense of the world.
Your limbic brain literally responds to change by telling you:“You Could Die”.
“Comfort and the fear of change are the greatest enemies of success.”
― Jeanette Coron
Everything you want or strive for is going to require change. Your dreams involve change. We create stories about how much we want to change and how our lives will be better. When change happens (it might even be a change that we’ve been working towards), we aren’t able to stick to our new story.
Change can be difficult. When we are faced with it, fear rises and our inner voice says “You Could Die”. Faced with that voice, it’s no wonder that we hesitate.
When we try to make a change and come up against that fear, we reassure ourselves with stories. We tell ourselves: “It’s ok not to make that change. That change isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That change isn’t for us. We aren’t ‘that person’. It’s ok that we aren’t trying to be someone that we’re not.” We justify our choices.
Stories help us cope.
The way we interpret our actions in difficult situations gives the actions meaning and that is part of our coping mechanism. They help us adjust to trauma or stress. If you’re in a stressful situation or relationship, you can use stories to decide what to do. You might imagine possible ways to deal with it and develop a plan.
As you implement the plan, it becomes your new story as you work through the problem. In the end, you see yourself as more confident and more successful.
For example: Faced with a situation where you have to speak in front of a group, you tell yourself that you are confident and capable. You create a positive story or outcome to the event.
We pick up narratives and attach stories to events.
When we reach a juncture in our lives, like a big promotion, or when we reach a certain age, we can sometimes be disappointed. The event isn’t as important as we thought it would be. We might feel let down.
We’ve been idealizing these future events, attaching stories to them. We’ve built up an identity that seems out of place.
We are surprised by what it’s like when we arrive at the top of that mountain. If we’re able to reset, to change our story, we can move out of the disappointment into a new way of looking at things.
We can get locked into a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is when we tell ourselves — ‘this is, so therefore it will always be this way.’ That mindset is a projection that locks us into a viewpoint. When things change, we’re unable to change our story and that’s a problem blocking us from going forward.
Having a fixed mindset is a form of giving up your power..
Changing our story helps us continue.
Life can be discouraging. When things aren’t going our way, it’s difficult to keep going. If we can change our story, that can sometimes help us find our way forward.
I like to focus on evolving philosophies. I like to remain flexible in my perspective, allowing myself to accept the possibilities of different outcomes. I like to be nimble in my thoughts, able to imagine new stories for my life.
If the story I tell myself is part of my philosophy of life and if I am able to evolve that story, I like to think I’m taking the power back.
The ability to pivot and look at things another way changes our story about the world and how our character is acting within it.
And sometimes I wonder: if our story never changes, have we reached the ending?
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