The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Rusty Thompson on February 7th, 2020

"Events don't equal our Explanations."

When an event happens, we tell ourselves stories to explain the event. Whatever the event is - a fight with your spouse, a disagreement with a team member, or even an underperforming direct report, we attach stories to the event and this creates our perception.

It could be we decided that our spouse was being rude, the team member thinks you're incompetent, or the direct report is lazy and unfixable.

A quick example: a High school student fails an algebra test (the event), and then makes the statement that "I'm just not smart enough to understand algebra." (the explanation).

You probably, as a mature adult, have come up with a couple completely differing explanations from the same event that have little to do with him not being smart. Maybe they sound like:

  • The student didn't study hard enough
  • He focused more on something else (girlfriend, sports, video games) than Algebra
  • He didn't use a calendar to remind him of the test and forgot.
  • or a number of other explanations.

The point is simply that just because you know the facts surrounding the situation, doesn't mean you are completely correct on your personal explanation, or story you're telling yourself, about the facts.

Consider the scenario of being placed on a (PIP) Performance Improvement Plan, or 'written up' as the old terminology goes at work. Here are two very different stories about the situation:

"My boss is trying to fire me.or  "This is a wake-up call for me to evaluate my performance and action on KPIs."

Granted even the second, “positive” self-talk is still an explanation or story. But, what a difference it makes in your response to the event!

Simply noticing that your thoughts are writing these stories in your head puts you significantly beyond the masses—most people are not even remotely aware they are constantly telling themselves stories about every event they come into contact with, and how those stories affect their lives.

Be aware of the explanations you tell yourself, and how you frame events in your mind. Events don't create much emotion, but our stories do...and that is where the train can get off the tracks in a hurry.


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