Stories we share
We have all found reason to share our personal stories at one time or another.
At 65, My life could be recounted in a narrative that could take days to tell from beginning to end. And so, I’m guessing, could many of yours. Few situations in life will call for this outpouring of facts and events. The typical, more condensed “share” will generally suffice for most purposes—it only needs to include what is helpful and pertinent to the person or people you’re talking with.
This winnowing of personal information is what we do all the time. We parse and cobble together the bits and pieces of our lives according to expectation, need, and convention. I might tell one story of myself to a client, for example, and a very different story to a close friend. A third very condensed story of me would help me to introduce myself at a conference.
While some of this narrative cobbling is more methodical and rehearsed than others, we are generally fairly conscious of what we share.
Stories We Keep Private
What about the stories we don’t share—the ones that roll around in our heads all day long? The ones that are made up of a tangle of disjointed thoughts?
The subject matter of the stories we tell ourselves privately is not so different from that of the the stories we share: life events, our “people,” and who we are and what we do.
Differing purposes of the “shared” vs “not shared” stories.
Public stories are often shared as a way to establish who we are to others so they know what to expect from us. Internal stories seem to be without any discernible purpose. There isn’t the need to have these stories make sense, at least to another person.
Self-reflective narratives are seldom deliberated over, if they are thought about or even noticed at all. Despite this lack of deliberation, consistent themes come forward in the form of repeating, insistent, thoughts. These automatic ways of thinking, or auto-thoughts, are the cornerstone of our stories. Auto-Thoughts reliably hint at how we see ourselves: who we are, what we’re like, our struggles and triumphs. They directly influence our emotions. And in my experience Auto-Thoughts also predict, and then go on to create, life events.
Are we missing something important?
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve overlooked the importance of these internal stories. Because these AutoThoughts are so important to our well-being, awareness of what we think, and when, is worth pursuing. What if we edited our internal stories in the same way we edit written narratives, or those personal stories that we intend to share? Future emails will be dedicated to this–editing with carefully selected thoughts and themes.
Here are some examples of Auto-thoughts I’ve come across in just the last week or so.
- I look terrible!
- I’m a dolt (I had to look this one up–it’s a stupid person)
- This is only going to get worse
- I don’t care
- I’ll probably end up homeless
What is it that distinguishes these as Auto-Thoughts? It’s their automatic, repetitive quality—the fact that they have (or I can assume they have) been thought more than once within a few day’s time, or even as much as several times in a 5-minute period. Their characteristics fit the traditional meaning of automatic in that they seem to spring up spontaneously, with little or no control over their emergence or frequency.
This short list of Auto-Thoughts leans toward the negative, especially if I consider the context in which I heard them. If they were uttered by a single individual (they weren’t), we could begin to build a story in our minds about the person for whom these appear to be true. And they probably would be part of his or her story, because internal stories are built primarily from bits of narrative like these.
Here is a list of a few positive Auto-Thoughts that I did not hear over the past week, and so I made up the list. (And since I had to invent a list to share here, you might notice that I created a list that is almost the direct the opposite of the first list.)
- I look good!
- I’m smart
- This is only going to get better
- I care
- I’ll always have a warm, comfortable place to call home
The fact that these and other Auto-Thoughts did not come up in conversation is probably proof enough that we, as humans, tend to have a bias towards the negative. But then, that is a pretty well-known fact.
In my experience, most every thought that comes to us over and over again will be self-fulfilling. When Auto-Thoughts are positive, it’s usually a good thing. Positive Auto-Thoughts help us to do and say, and connect with, what we love; things we can be proud of. If they’re not so positive, they keep us tethered to the parts of our lives that we’re already struggling with. They prevent us from living our fullest, most enjoyable lives.
How or why these thoughts “create” the events of our lives is pretty much a mystery. But if we pay close attention, we begin to notice that negative thoughts attract other negative thoughts, which evoke negative emotions, and pretty soon a story emerges that is so predominant and solid that a major edit feels nearly impossible.
On the flip side, I can trace most of the most enjoyable events and successes of my life back to a few positive thoughts about strengths I knew I possessed, or the exciting things I might encounter, or what I loved, and I’m guessing that you can say the same.
A niggling Auto-Thought
I’ll share a little secret. As I write this, there is a very loud and repeating thought telling me I will fail. Not just fail with my email series, but fail at writing this very first introductory letter. “Shut up,” it’s telling me! I’m aware that this particular Auto-Thought has been with me for some time, and despite my awareness, it still comes around fairly often. It was much more frequent and bothersome when I first began working with it.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get rid of an Auto-Thought that has worn a groove inside your brain. The more you try, the more fiercely it hangs on.
In a way, “Shut up!” (as an Auto-Thought) is trying to protect me. Long ago, I developed a belief that it’s safer to be silent than to share what I love to talk about. We’ll get into that Belief (and your Beliefs, too) in our next Episode.
How does this apply to me? (you might wonder)
I’d like to help you to identify your own Auto-Thoughts. Once you aware of them, they can be adjusted to better fit your life objectives. I developed a step by step system that has helped clients to do this.
Are you aware of Your Auto-Thoughts? Do they scream at you when you are there on the cusp of something really good in life? You know the drill: You want to finally express yourself and they silence you. You want do that thing you are just meant to do, and they erect a barricade. You want to fly a little beyond those invisible limits but your Auto-Thoughts have so masterfully camouflaged said limits that they can’t be made out.
Despite their intensity, we’re often not aware of how influential Auto-Thoughts are–especially when they’ve been with us for a very long time. I wasn’t aware of my “Shut up!” Auto-Thought until about a decade ago. That’s a powerful influence over a very long period.
As I share information about each Element of this Regeneratively Rooted system, I’ll be working right alongside you, with my own Auto-Thoughts, Beliefs, and all of the other RegRoot Elements, but especially that one mentioned here—that little pesky bit of narrative that is trying to keep me from launching this project.
If I were reading this, I’d be wondering about cost. The good news: this email series is free (and I’m hoping to offer all future series at no charge, as well.) But if you’re looking for some way to give back, please read on.
My favorite thing to talk about is what’s in your heart. I help clients look inside themselves to see whether the stories that they are living, and the stories they want to live, are a match. Not a match? I’ve got some tools to help with that.
A philosophy central to The Expert Within is that as individuals, we can practice strengthening our own autonomy and sense of authority. We can connect with inner wisdom. This might mean moving away from a worldview in which the expert is always outside of ourselves. You’re the expert on you, as I see it.
At the same time, we’re hardwired for connection, so while we become more aware or our inner selves through this email series we can begin to form a tribe of individuals who are on a similar path.
To that end, would you be willing to share your most aggravating, persistent Auto-Thoughts with me? Or conversely, share the ones that make your life sublime? The button just below will allow you to do that, and your feedback will help me to be more consistently effective with the help I offer. I promise that I won’t share any feedback I receive from you unless you ask me to.
Click on the link just below to watch a video I know you’ll find inspiring!