According to Brené Brown, in her book Rising Strong, our brains are wired for story. Stories help us make sense of situations. We rely on past stories about hurt, anger, or fear to figure out what is going on in the present. The problem is that we will never know the entirety of a situation, so we’re left to fill in the blanks.
“In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. Our brains are wired to do this.” – Brené Brown
Absence of data equals uncertainty, and uncertainty generally leaves us feeling fearful and anxious. I don’t know about you, but the idea of “not knowing” is quite uncomfortable to me. So, we take information we believe to be true based on past incidences and we try to complete that story. Our brain knows that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it rewards us with a “dose of dopamine” (the feel-good chemical) when we resolve the uncertainty.
Here’s the kicker: we don’t have to have the correct story to get this reward; we just have to be certain it’s the truth.
And, herein lies the problem. We have told ourselves so many – likely negative – stories based on how we feel about ourselves and we hold them as truths. These stories usually derive from a place of self-blame or shame.
For instance, one of my go-to stories I’ve told myself multiple times a day for 30 years is “I’m not good enough.” My brain is pretty familiar with this story, and I’ve used it to clear up uncertainty in many situations. A guy didn’t text me back right away? I’m not good enough. I didn’t get picked for the volleyball team? I’m not good enough. I didn’t get the raise I wanted? You guessed it, I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter that it may not be the real reason (let’s face it, it likely isn’t), but I am so certain it is, that I don’t have to sit in uncertainty. I know the answer, and my mind is at ease for knowing.
There are obviously many problems with this pattern. For starters, it’s not healthy or true to believe I don’t get the things I want because I’m not good enough. That’s self-esteem 101. More than that, though, because “I’m not good enough” isn’t the real reason for any of these outcomes, I’m not curious about alternative reasons that may not be about me at all.
We have to come up with alternative endings to our stories. Maybe that guy didn’t text me back because he had back-to-back meetings and didn’t have his phone on him.
Maybe I didn’t get picked for the volleyball team because I didn’t practice enough over the summer.
Maybe I didn’t get a raise because it wasn’t in the budget.
Sure, I don’t know if any of these are true either, but these stories are just as – if not more – possible than my self-deprecating stories. And, they are not as damaging to my self-worth.
We have to be willing to risk not knowing and being curious about what could be happening, rather than defaulting to stories of self-blame and negativity. Again, not knowing is uncomfortable, but constant self-criticism is no picnic either.
“Curiosity is a shit-starter. But that’s okay. Sometimes we have to rumble with a story to find the truth.” – Brené Brown
What’s your story? This January, I’m facilitating a 2.5 day workshop to explore just how we re-write the ending to our stories. Join me January 11-13th to learn how to “Reckon, Rumble, and Revolutionize” your story of heartbreak, failure, setback, or disappointment to turn it into your story of comeback and resilience. If you’re interested in signing up, you can email me directly at email@example.com.