How many stories do you tell yourself everyday? My answer is more than you are aware of.
There are some that are relatively easy to spot: “If I go to that meeting and I show them this picture and explain the importance of the project then maybe they will approve funding” is a story you can clearly hear yourself telling. You can hear your inner voice as a narrator in your head as you run through a possible future scenario.
Alternatively you may be narrating a story like: “When she said X, I should not have replied immediately with Y, no I should have waited a little bit and then said Z, that would have been much better.” This story also has a clear narrator as it runs over a scene from the past.
These clearly narrated stories will be the first ones you’ll notice telling to yourself. This will already be very useful, as we’ll see later in this book. However there is more.
There are also stories without a clear narrator.
Stories that you usually don’t notice because you are in the middle of them, living in the world that the story creates, swimming in its water. Like the story I was telling myself last week as I was waiting to go to the party. These invisible stories are similar to watching most movies in that there is no narrator and the screenwriter isn’t visible.
In the movies you also don’t see the cameras, the lights and the microphone. Everyone works hard for you to forget you are looking at something that was made up. They want you to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and go along with the story. In real life, however, it is the other way around: you have to work hard to spot that a story is being told. Also because you are not just watching the story, you are playing in it. And usually you have the lead role.
Spotting invisble stories
Invisble stories are like wind. They are hard to see directly, you normally notice them through the effect they have. You can’t see wind, only the trees it bends or the water it ripples. The effect of these invisible stories can be noticed in your mood, your feelings, your thoughts and your actions.
The irritation I felt whilst waiting at my front door, my tapping foot and the blaming thoughts running through my mind were like rustling leaves indicating that someone somewhere was telling a story that I was in the grips of.
We don’t want or need to be aware of these stories all the time, however when the effects these stories have in our lives are unwanted, then it can be good to go look for the screenwriter and drag him or her away from their desks and put the spotlight on them for a while. When the wind that is blowing prevents us from doing what we really want or even creates damage, then we do want to be able to see the story we are telling ourselves and examine it a little.
So the first crucial step is to spot the story. If you have thoughts, feelings or behavior that are unwanted, then go looking for the story by asking yourself, what kind of story am I telling myself in the background?