Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all born storytellers.
Human beings understand life in terms of stories. From the moment we’re born, life is a never-ending stream of experience. As we grow, develop and 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”.
Our stories determine our entire experience of reality. The way we make sense of reality–which is to say, the stories we tell ourselves about it–shapes our entire personality and worldview, which in turn determines the way we interact and transact with life.
“Life is incredibly complex,” explains psychology professor Jonathan Adler. “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. Our interpretation of reality becomes mistaken for reality itself.
A single event can be experienced by a hundred different people and those hundred people will each have a slightly (or perhaps radically) different experience and interpretation. Our stories are therefore not so much based on objective experience, but on our subjective interpretation of experience.
As Shakespeare said:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
The other day I caught myself saying to someone, “I’m having a bad week.” In actual fact, in reality there was no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about it. Like any week, it was simply a series of events. Events and happenings only have the value the mind assigns them. Depending on one’s 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 when life is crumbling down around them, whereas others find the stress unbearable and prefer the quiet life.
So, 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.
From early childhood we begin crafting a sense of self generated by the things that happen to us. A large part of our ‘story of self’ is based upon what others have told us to believe about ourselves.
The question is, were we brought up to believe we are strong, capable and in control of our lives, or did we internalise the notion that we are somehow lacking, deficient and at the mercy of a cruel and hostile world? Are we sufficient to deal with all that life brings, or do we believe that we’re somehow not good enough and don’t have what it takes?
“The way you tell your story to yourself matters.”
Our story will ultimately make or break us. 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, and this hopelessness can lead to all kinds of mental and emotional problems and a crippling sense of paralysis. It’s clearly not an empowered, 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 have all suffered in life. We have fought, loved, dreamt and yearned, had our heart broken to pieces, and won at some things, while losing at others. We’ve all 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 the way you’ve come through multiple 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 adversity, challenge, loss, adventure and ultimately redemption. And we are each the hero of our own journey; our own life.
It’s perhaps time to recognise that and see yourself as the hero that you are.