Strengths and Storytelling


November 4, 2015

What stories have we been telling ourselves about our lives? And what role do they play in the pursuit of the best version of ourselves? Do they support our greatness, limit it—some of each, perhaps?

But first, let’s examine what could be meant by “stories”.

Police officers, lawyers, and writers know all too well the phenomenon in which people remember and recount the exact same event very differently. They each tell a different story about what “really” happened.

That’s because we each create a unique (and ongoing) version of reality based on what we perceive and interpret from past experiences. Those inputs, in turn, create feelings, which influence what is remembered and why it is memorable. Memories are then cross-referenced against other memories to assemble a picture of “what is” moving forward. This intelligence determines how we react and respond to life, as well as how we anticipate and prepare for future events.

For example, imagine two sets of parents at a soccer game, each with a child on the field playing for a different team. While they are, indeed, watching the same game, they are, undoubtedly, perceiving two very different scenes. Each parent noticing, focusing on, and honing in on specific elements affecting their child’s team. They might not even notice glaring aspects of the other side, things which the other parents cannot stop remarking on.

Or, consider the ways that we view ourselves in the mirror. It may be easy to become overly critical of what we see because we have been there—in our bodies—for every moment of our “story”. What others couldn’t possibly notice about our appearance, we may find ourselves focusing on entirely. That is to say, what is real and observable to us, is not real and observable to others.

So, is it possible to see things exactly as they are? That is, is anything truly objective?

Our past experiences weigh in on every present moment, to be sure. All of it—joys, traumas, successes, challenges—it all bears on how we interpret what is happening here and now. Anais Nin puts it succinctly as, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” (Incidentally, Pablo Picasso also said, “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”)

We view the world through lenses that we create, revise, and re-revise in real time. In this way, we create and co-create our belief systems, our worldviews, our feelings, and even our self-image.

And, if it is true that what we focus on expands, then it matters what stories we are telling because they too will expand. It matters in terms of our strengths as well. When we focus on working from a place of strength, we are devoting mental and emotional energy to our greatness. We are carving pathways in our brains that look for greatness and success, as opposed to fear, anxiety, and lack.

The stories we tell ourselves determine the realities that we see, seek, and find. If we look for a reason not to do something, we will find it; if we look for a reason to do something, we will find it. In each case, a story is being made to justify what we are looking for. Seek and find, basically.

So, again, what stories have we been telling ourselves about our lives? And, do these stories align with who we want to be and to become?

Do we need to revise any of our stories?

Can we develop a practice of checking-in with others to learn about their stories and to get perspective on our own?

What actions can we take to become productive, pro-active storytellers about who we are and the lives we are living?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

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