• Eve Arnold

You Are the Author of Your Own Story

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

We all tell ourselves a story.

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Robert Evans

In school, when someone got pushed over on the playground, the teacher would come running over and send the 2 students involved to her office. There, she would grill them, prying for the truth. What would end up unfolding were two completely different versions of the event, with no real way of knowing what actually happened. The truth is left unseen.

The space between the raw facts of your life and everything else that makes up your life is the story you craft and then tell yourself.

There are inescapable facts of your life. Age, job title, salary. From those raw facts we weave a story. It’s the story about you that you narrate to yourself. It’s that voice in the car on the way to work, it’s that nagging noise after a hard meeting.

It’s your response when someone asks:

“So, how’s life?”

We Tell Ourselves Stories

We tell ourselves stories everyday. We tell ourselves stories in order to comprehend this vast and complex thing called life.

We dictate to ourselves how we are getting on in life, whether we are doing well or we’re falling behind. Whether we should be pleased with progress and what we’ve managed to achieve so far or whether we need to beat ourselves up. We even tell ourselves a story about the day we’re having. Whether it’s a good or bad one and why that is so.

You could be on the fast-track to a promotion with lots of cash in the bank and tell yourself that you are destined for a life of unfulfillment because you are in a job you hate. Added to that it’s even worse because it pays you so much that you could never conceive leaving because all you’d think about is the money you were missing out on.

Conversely, you could be working shift work in a call centre in a big corporate and tell yourself that this is the first rung on the ladder to where we want to go. It’s possible and quite frankly evidential that you can construct a bad story about a ‘good job’ and build a good story about a ‘bad job’.

The facts of your day can be very different or completely the same and still the stories remain personal and unique. The story you tell yourself is totally personal to you. Your unique narrative.

Are You Telling Yourself a Bad Story?

With that in mind, it’s worth assessing whether you are telling yourself a constructive story or not. The facts of your life might remain the same but you can choose to tell yourself a different story.

A common story I hear a lot and it’s perhaps because I’m so interested in it, is that some people hate their jobs. They absolutely hate what they do on a day-to-day basis and feel trapped, they want to move jobs but they feel stuck in a rut. They feel so stuck that they play the story out on repeat in their heads, staying in the exact same place for years, telling themselves the same story.

I think the interesting thing is that the person having a bad day and the person narrating the story of a bad day is the same. You are telling yourself you are having a bad day or that you’re in a rubbish job that you are stuck in. And now, whilst I don’t think simply thinking differently can solve all the world’s problems, I think it can help with this one.

Things to pay attention to if you are wondering about the story you are telling yourself:

  1. What is the first thing you notice about yourself in a meeting?

  2. Do you get into the car as you drive to work and have a preconceived idea of what’s going to happen?

  3. If you’ve just come out of a difficult conversation, what’s the first thing you’ll tell yourself?

What is the story are you telling yourself about your life? Are you telling yourself that you are stuck and there is no way out because 9/10 there is a way out, the first step being changing your story.

Know You Have the Power to Redraft and Rewrite You Story

The moment I realised that I was both in control of my story and narrating it was a pretty big day for me. For a while I was driving to work in a bad mood. I wasn’t necessarily thinking any deeper than “When is it Friday?” which ended up in me averaging about 4 bad days a week.

Once I started to notice my habits and realise the story I was telling myself I was able to understand what I needed to change.

As James Allen wrote “as a man thinketh he is”

At the end of the day when you sit down to retell the tails of your day to your loved one or friends, who is telling the story? Who is deciding if it was a good or bad experience, who is evidencing why that is so? It’s you. You, quite literally are telling the story of your life to everyone you meet and most importantly, yourself.

To an extent, perhaps a large extent, we are whatever we think.

If you decide you’re having a horrendous day and you just can’t cope with life — that’s you deciding that. Now granted, of course there are circumstances that this is harder than normal. In events of true tragedy, it’s incredibly hard to say to yourself ‘this is the best day of my life’ and it won’t be. However, this isn’t about looking for happiness in the darkest days, it’s about looking for positives in the average days.

On the days when the rain is clinging to your window and you are on the precipice of deciding this day is going to be a bad one. It’s about the days where you are tittering between deciding if it’s a good or a bad day.

What Happens When You Do

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” Henry Ford

Deciding whether you are in discovery mode which means you see life as one big lesson or if you are on the defence ready to pick a battle with whomever dare question your thought process sometimes happens subconsciously. We find ourselves thinking:

“Why are they asking that, they obviously think I’m stupid.” however, that can be flipped into “Oh, I bet they’re asking that because they’re interested in my thought process and want to know more.”

Perceiving your day as a negative will have a knock on effect. You’ll begrudge doing the work, you’ll get irritated when you can’t find the right programme on the TV, your beer will taste flat and your takeaway will be a waste of money. It’s all perspective. But the flip of this is pretty good.

The Benefits of Looking on the Bright side

Caroline Webb talks about a concept called realistic optimism and I love that. I don’t subscribe to this idea that you can think everything is sunny and rosy when it’s not. Life can hit you in the face sometimes there is little point saying it doesn’t hurt. We all know it does.

However, there is a difference between life hitting you in the face once in a blue moon and telling yourself it constantly is.

Piling a load of pressure on yourself to not being where you want to be and getting annoyed because you thought you’d be further along by now is again, the quickest way to not get to where you want to. I think it’s good to hold yourself to account but life is about having fun and enjoying it, if you’re not doing that then you are failing yourself.

Enjoying life should be the one metric that you are meticulous about.

Enjoy It

And I’m not saying that you should get drunk twenty-four seven, eat horrendous food and stay up till 4am every night in the name of having fun. But you should definitely remember that life is about having fun, enjoying yourself and learning along the way.

The failing and getting it wrong, the lessons of self-development and figuring out what you like and what you don’t like. Is all part of this thing we call life, it doesn’t make it a bad life if you have a few bad days and you can certainly have less bad days by changing the story.

We are all the same, we have needs, desires, wishes and dreams. Some of us will explore those things and get what we want. Others won’t. Often the difference is mindset.

This whole thing, being a success or not, being where you want to be or not is all down to what you think. It’s pretty mind boggling that you are in total control of whatever you want to be and whatever you want to believe — tell yourself it. The actual act of telling yourself you had a good day means you decide. It’s like doing a test except you are marking it and on top of that you came up with the marking scheme. After marking it — you give it back to yourself. You should ace the test.

And that’s a little bit about your life, instead there is no version of the truth, there is no teacher grilling you for what actually happened. You are both the kid experiencing life that got pushed over in the playground and the teacher asking for what happened.

So go on, what’s your story?

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