The Stories We Tell Ourselves

July 2010 028 (3) The stories we tell ourselves are very important. I heard someone say once that the thing that separates humans from animals is that we as humans attach meaning to our experiences. Think about it: an animal encounters stress in the form of a predator and acts on instinct to get away or fight and probably does not give it much thought after that. But think about what we tell ourselves when we encounter lesser threats: “I’m never going to catch up on things,” “life is not turning out the way I planned,” “I’m a failure,” “God is punishing me,” “I can’t handle this,” “life is not worth living.” The list is endless. What we call stress is not the physiological responses we have to threat or difficulty; it is the stories we tell ourselves and the meaning we abstract in difficult circumstances. These are what weigh us down and erode our well-being. If we avoid telling ourselves these negative stories, we can use our body’s stress reaction to help ratchet up our performance. The anxiety is there to help you pay attention and be able to perform at a high level. If you allow it to do so, you can meet the challenge and then allow yourself to “come back down” when you need to. Consider some different meanings we can assign to our difficulty: “God trusts me to handle this,” “I must be important enough to encounter this hard thing,” “my life must be worth something,” “this is just another challenge that will soon pass,” “there must be something important to take from this,” “my body is wired to help me meet this challenge,” “pain is the way I grow.” These are not just positive reframes to help us feel better. I think they are actually true.