I recently had an experience at work where someone shared with me that he was upset with me about how I had handled a particular issue, and rightfully so. However, I magnified his dissatisfaction with one particular incident into him being unhappy with me for my entire performance, and that’s when the stress began.
I started conjuring up this entire scenario in my head where the next time I saw him, I was going to explain the entire circumstance to prove myself and win back his favor. I had already painted this dire picture in my head where he was going to terminate our relationship due to this one business transaction. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the end of the line and we would never work together ever again.
Fast forward a short while later, and this man comes in for our first meeting since the event. I was all ready with my let-me-tell-you-why-I-did-what-I-did-so-you-continue-to-work-with-me speech, but he never even mentioned what had transpired. In fact, he ended the meeting by saying that it was great working with me and then he just left.
Here I was, ready to spill my heart out and offer every reason I had for what had transpired and he couldn’t seem to care less. What was done was done.
In fact, had I brought that up the prior incident, he probably would’ve looked at me funny, wondering why I was making an issue out of something that, in his mind was resolved. Yes, something happened and he got upset about it, but then he moved on. I was the only one stuck in the past, fretting over what effect it was going to have on my—on our—future.
Have you ever done this? Made up a story in your mind only to realize later that you were the only one making it a big deal?
So often, not only do we make up stories, but the stories we tell ourselves are wrong. They’re based on past experiences or expectations with no regard to the fact that every situation is different, and that every person in every situation is different. There’s no way we can know for sure what someone else is thinking, how they’re feeling, or how they’ll react.
Brené Brown writes about this quite in-depth in her book, Rising Strong. She discusses the importance of recognizing when you’re telling yourself stories so you’re more aware of the possibility that what you’re telling yourself could be wrong.
Brown also shares that you can avoid conflict with the people in your life if you share your stories with them as conflicts arise. When you start by saying, “This is the story I’m telling myself about… [insert issue here],” it takes all of the accusations and judgments away and simply lets the person you’re talking with know what you’re thinking. This gives them a chance to tell you what story they’re telling themselves without having to do it from a defensive position.
So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where your mind is going 100 miles per hour, telling you how something is just awful, or that things are going really badly, stop and ask what story you’re telling yourself. Then see if there are other possible explanations for what really may be going on.
You’ll likely realize that your mind has a way of making some stories larger and more powerful than they really are. And maybe it’s time to tell yourself a new story, one that, this time, is for real.