(The) Faraway Nearby: #A-Z Challenge

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love, or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.”

The Faraway NearbyΒ by Rebecca Solnit

I’ve always vowed that I don’t have the imagination necessary to write fiction. Maybe I need to rethink that because I’m sure able to tell myself some pretty wild stories.

Do you do that? Do you tell yourself the story of why that guy cut you off in traffic (because he’s a jerk)? Or why your friend didn’t get in touch about the day you were supposed to spend together (because you’re easily forgettable)?

The stories we tell ourselves are not necessarily fiction (the guy might have been a jerk), but they often are (there is no way you are easily forgettable).

We need to be able to step clear of our stories. This is especially important on those occasions when we get stuck inside them and repeat the same negative messages over and over.

4 Ways to Work with the Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. Notice: Without awareness, no change is possible. So notice what you are paying attention to, what story is running in your mind.
  2. Feel it: Don’t act on whatever your story is telling you.Just sit and find the location in your body where you are feeling a physical sensation. Describe the sensation to yourself and then breathe until that sensation loosens.
  3. Narrate: Distract yourself from a story that is obsessing you. Describe out loud whatever you see in the environment around you. Whenever the story comes up in your mind, acknowledge it, and return to your narration.

    Don’t believe everything you think.

    Byron Katie
  4. Inquire: Byron Katie has a four question process she calls The Work. The questions are: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without the thought?

To do a proper job of aging, I think we have to work with the stories we tell ourselves. But it’s difficult. I’m in the very earliest stages, just trying to notice and feel.

How about you? Are you aware of the stories you tell yourself? What helps you to be aware?

 

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44 comments

  1. You’re so right – my husband says that people do it all the time, that our brains have a need to fit the things we see into a story so it makes sense and explains their actions or choices. It may not be true but it makes our brains feel like they’ve worked it all out. The problem arises when what we tell ourselves is not true or is self-destructive. I’m working on trying to tell myself more postive stories and giving others the benefit of the doubt.

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    F for Family and Friends

    1. Amazing, isn’t it, how hard our brains will try to make things make sense? That’s undoubtedly a good thing overall, but when the sense-making is at the expense of our sense of self it’s definitely a problem.
      Thanks for being here and commenting, Leanne. I appreciate having the opportunity to forge new connections through the A-Z challenge.

  2. Yes, this! Working on the stories we tell ourselves as we age. Which are often false, and to our detriment. The result of being misunderstood and kicked around by the world. As paraphrase Leanne’s husband, we tell ourselves a story to make us “fit” in the world, when maybe…just maybe…we are OK and it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t fit right? Ummm….asking for a friend.
    πŸ˜‰

    Deb

  3. Or else you do what I do and actually write it into fiction (and it lets you get revenge in a non-vengeful way – especially when you write cozies *wink*). I literally have a notebook where I jot down all those things and, yes, they get written in. Very therapeutic =)

    1. I’ve always written nonfiction, AJ, and haven’t thought myself up to the task of writing fiction. But I’ve been thinking it might be worth a try and now, with the advantage you’ve given, I’m convinced πŸ™‚

    2. AJ Blythe, love this. I have a few of these ‘story starters’ myself as I am in the middle of my first novel. The temptation is to shove all the stories into one novel….

      1. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, Janet. It doesn’t mean that your first draft of our novel has to see the light of day. It seems like great, cheap therapy to just get it all out there.

        1. Karen,
          I have two quick questions about engaging on your blog. Is there a method to ‘like’ a comment? And is there a way to add my photo so that I don’t just look ‘grey’. I enjoy seeing other folks photos.
          Thanks!
          Janet

  4. I’m a big fan of Byron Katie, and am working with a specific issue right now that is challenging, and I’m trying to use that method, plus abundance beliefs, to reframe things…

    Good advice and reminder here, perfect timing (as expected, TY Universe)

    1. That’s terrific, Beth. Not that you are dealing with a big issue right now – I’m sorry to hear that – but that you’re working with Byron Katie’s methods. I’m very new to her work, but my understanding is that once you get the hang of how to do it, it can be life-changing.

    1. It absolutely is, Marie, if the stories are about other people. If the stories are about us, we sure want to stop telling ourselves the negative and false ones.

  5. I too often visualize what another person is doing when I see a person going somewhere. I think about the date and think of what sport or practice they might be taking their children to. I think about my friends and what they are doing at that moment, especially if I have been at a meeting with them recently. I tend to carry forth from when I have last seen them. It is a good way to keep them in your mind until you meet again.

  6. I have been doing this for a while now. After ten years of psychotherapy, where I learned all about the inner dialogue and all the steps outlined above, I, now, am critical of the negative self-talk I have a habit of defaulting to. Self-talk can be so damaging when it is negative; the stories you tell yourself about any particular situation or problem are based on what you have been through in your life and the belief system you have built.

    That lines up with #4 above. Is it true? Can you absolutely know it is true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without the thought? This is where you really do need to do “the work” and challenge your inner dialogue. If you sit with it and think about when you felt this way last and what was happening at the time you can sometimes see the correlation between the times and make sense of what the belief system is behind it. If you can reframe it and acknowledge and then change the belief you are able to react in a better way and honour who you really are.

  7. I love this. I once heard a pastor tell us that when we are speeding down the road at 75 in a 55 MPH zone, it’s because we are in a hurry and getting to where we are going, on time, is the most important thing. When someone else does it, they ought to be thrown in jail for reckless driving. I got a good chuckle out of that and always try to remind myself that there is a human being in front of me whenever I perceive a stranger as being rude. I often wonder if that person just got fired or was mistreated by a coworker (or anything else that might be causing them to have a bad day. That helps me to not take their actions personally. It’s amazing how much easier that makes it to let things go. Have a great day!

    1. I’m with you Heather.

      I imagine reckless/rude drivers as racing to get to a bathroom because of an attack of diarrhea, or being late for their anger management class. πŸ™‚

      That makes me sympathetic towards them instead of angry. Which helps me to let go and get on with my day!

    2. Great example, Heather. I can be reactive when a stranger seems to be rude. I’m going to try to follow your lead.
      It’s getting later so now I’ll just hope that you had a great day πŸ™‚

  8. Karen,
    What a great, simple process for not only being mindful, but working to go a level deeper. As others have mentioned, writing fiction involves let these stories take on a life of their own. In one writing exercise, the author suggested that when something is happening to a character always ask ‘ what is the worst thing that could happen right now’ to the character. This is a way to develop the plot with the necessary twists and turns. Alas, I’ve found that this technique is creeping into my own life and I start imagining ‘what is the worst thing’ in my own and my husband and children’s lives. I have to STOP myself! Then the popular TV show “This Is Us” used a similar technique when two characters start to freak out — to voice the most horrific possible outcomes — so reality rarely is that bad.
    I think the important thing is getting to that deeper issue of why we these stories are surfacing — maybe like dream analysis.
    Anyway, just some thoughts. Sorry for rambling.

    1. Never apologize for sharing your voice, Janet. I’m learning that through your A-Z posts about voice πŸ™‚
      I think you make a good point that sometimes it isn’t enough to just shut down the negative talk. Sometimes we have to get to the roots and rip them out.

  9. I tell myself stories all the time, stories about everyone around me; and they have this habit, the stories, of popping into my head announced. Looking out the window, I see various neighbors I assigned names even though I know their real names. Mr. Perfect, for example, because he’s always working on his lawn. Red-Truck guy is another, then I envision stories about their lives, the obsession with the lawn (did he grow up in an apartment, had always wanted a lawn, or something he did with his father as a youth, a continued tradition?) And, so, my mind wonders, taking away by stories. Far and near, then near and far.
    At a school meeting once, my son’s teacher said there are two groups of readers, those who envision what they read — who see the characters, the setting in their mind’s eye — and those who don’t. Well, I thought everyone ‘saw,’ but apparently not, although it’s hard to tell how the teacher would be so certain. I know that I ‘see,’ whether reading or looking out the window at Mr. Perfect.
    Great post, Karen. Stimulating, for sure. Sorry about going on and on. πŸ™‚

    1. Please, no apologies, Silvia. Your contribution is appreciated and your thoughts are valuable. I especially enjoy this little peek into the everyday mind of a novelist. You create stories of people and events all of the time, just as I imagined that you would. I’m envious, Silvia. I’m intellectually very curious, but my mind doesn’t work as yours does. I’d love to have a greater imaginative capacity. I would think that it’s lots of fun.

  10. I tell myself stories all the time… sometimes to make sense of a situation, sometimes to make myself feel better, and sometimes – unfortunately – the story I tell myself just makes me feel worse. I remember something my mother told me when I was pretty young and feeling insecure about what “everyone must be saying/thinking about me.” She said that in reality, most people are focused on themselves – they are probably spending very little time thinking about me at all. Since then I’ve tried to not take things too personally and to understand that the person who gives me a weird look, or seems a bit cranky, or whatever, is probably acting in a way that has nothing to do with me. I say that “I try” because I’m not always successful.

    1. Such good advice comes from moms. I often think I should write mom’s words of wisdom down because, like you, I often forget πŸ™‚
      Thanks for commenting, Janis. Have a great weekend.

  11. I have a whole collection of these fictional stories I tell myself, too. I’d forgotten how much I liked Byron Katie until I read this today. This is really worth some thought! Thank you, Karen!

    1. I like that image of a collection of stories, Cindy, as if there were volumes lined up on shelves in our brains. With Byron Katie’s help we can rewrite some of those stories, or we can weed the collection allowing space for new stories to take their rightful place.

  12. Another great post that generated very insightful comments. I like your point that Jacqui highlighted, β€˜feel it”. I believe that this small change can make a huge difference in so many different areas.

    1. Me too, Donna, although I’m struck by how much trouble I’ve had ‘feeling it,’ at least until very recently. It’s disconcerting to find that I’ve been very disconnected from my body for most of my life, treating it as just something that carries my head around.

  13. aahh this is close to my heart – how refreshing to read your insight on it. excellent points noticing and feeling come present and inquire. does this story serve me I ask – if not why do I want to go on with it. It is my story so I can change it – this is great to remember to empower our selves by taking ownership of the stories we are telling ourselves and each other.

    1. Yes, taking ownership, yes. I was a teacher-librarian a couple of times in my career and one of my favourite activities was to weed the collection, getting rid of the dated, inaccurate or damaged books. We can do the same with our stories.

  14. This is a great post, Karen. I have one of those brains that loves to make up stories. I’s great for writing fiction, but in real life, it means I’ll often leap to the worst case scenarios. It helps to be reminded that those are stories, too, and I can definitely rewrite the ending!

  15. Recognizable, Karen. Both the idea that I could probably never write fiction (despite having vivid dreams and imaginations, plus, I have enough non-fiction material to write books and stories forever, adding to them every day), and the story telling that happens in the situations you describe. Depending on my mood, those stories I come up with for people around me and reasons why things happen, are positive or negative. Luckily, I do realize when I’m heading in a downwards spiral. A good night sleep, with more dreams, does wonders!

    1. So true, Liesbet. I think that as a society we vastly underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep and some vivid dreams to set our world right again.

  16. All those negative stories we create in our heads!! It’s sad but so true. It might sound hokey but I’ve recently started singing that stupid song from Frozen to myself when I catch myself in a negative spiral …. “Let it go, let it go …” 🎢🎡🎢. Seriously – it works, if only because it makes me laugh.

  17. The brain is a story-making device. Everything that we think we know is both cognitively and socially constructed β€” stories or explanations we have made up to make sense of what we have experienced or observed, and shared stories agreed upon by our culture or social group. Some of our stories are foundational and resistant to change, whereas others are quite fluid or hypothetical. The constructedness of our personal stories (lack of objective realism) makes it hard to define β€œtruth,” something we were talking about in your earlier thread on writing memoir.

    Jude

    1. When it comes to defining truth, I think of one of the Justices of the US Supreme Court defining pornography. He said, “I know it when I see it.”
      That, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite for our brain and truth. Because the brain is indeed a story-making device, we tell ourselves stories incessantly. When those stories are negative and wounding messages about our selves, we need to start calling them lies.

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