That’s Your Story; Doesn’t Have To Be.


We make a particular sense of our lives and of our world that allows us to process and retain information and to decide what to do….Our drive for sense-making can make us hostile to alternative points of view that might suggest that our world, and even our lives, makes less sense than we thought.*

It’s our story. Our central organizing principle. Everybody has one. Everybody needs one to function at all. Just as the brain regulates body temperature, it regulates and simplifies sensory inputs so our brains don’t explode. Alright, maybe that’s a bit much, but you all know what too much information feels like. It almost hurts, makes you want to take a nap, or a drink, or a bag of cookies, or something. It’s too much. Our little brains can’t work with all that, but we need something to work with so, by nature and by nurture, our brains pick and choose us a manageable view of the world and our place in it.

The best story I know to illustrate the point is The Elephant and The Blind Men. Six blind men are told that there is an elephant in the village. They all go to the elephant to ‘see’ with their hands what an elephant is. Each touches a different part of the elephant. Here’s what they said:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

And then they argued, each convinced that he was right. Because he was – but only partly. And herein lies the rub that makes us so unwelcoming, if not downright hostile, to that which we cannot ourselves ‘see’. Six different stories, all of them true and only partly true, as many different stories as there are people in the world, one of which is yours. And just as an actor/actress has a script and role to play, so do we. That is, our story, which gives meaning and coherence to our lives, also directs our action, unless we actively, mindfully, intervene.

Virtually everyone I have worked with has come to our work initially boxed in by a story: “I will never love again…. I’m just not an entrepreneur…. I’m socially awkward…. I’ll never write that book.” ** On and on it goes. And, many if not most of us don’t even know what that story is! But you can. Here is a mini version of an exercise I use in my Managing Your Mind workshops. When you fall still, turning your attention to your breath, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath, thoughts will come. We do not hold them but rather let them come and go like clouds in the sky. Now for this variation, The Movie Room, we again let the thoughts come but this time, before we let them go, we hold the thought momentarily to notice and name it. In this way, we begin to notice recurrent thoughts and patterns, and in so doing can give a title to this movie we have produced and directed as a creation of the mind.

One woman’s movie is “The Planner,” a future oriented default that, when she is not mindful, can hijack her right out of her all-important here and now. Sure, this role of heroine as planner may have helped her at a time when her here and now was largely painful, but she’s worked hard, and she’s made it. She’s where she wants to be now and it would be good if she could enjoy the fruits of all that. So what is yours? What patterns of thought can you notice in your story that may limit your life. Doesn’t have to be your whole story. If you care to, it is possible to reconsider, to edit, to tweak the beginning, middle, ending and live in this newer better one instead. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Nick Chater et al. The under-appreciated drive for sense-making, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.10.016

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

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