The Stories We Tell Ourselves

How often do you find yourself creating a narrative that reinforces the negativity we have going through our heads? I would imagine, that more often than not, we may be knee deep in the narrative before we even realize what we’ve done, if we even realize it in the first place.

I’m not good enough.

I’m not smart enough.

I don’t have any friends.

I’m not good at my job.

I’m not any good at ___, so why try.

If we are lucky, we realize the path we are on before too much damage has been done. If we weren’t so lucky, we find ourselves physically sick, and our outlook on life to be bleak.

I’m a big fan of inspirational quotes, but the ones that tell me I can choose happiness always bug me. I need steps to being happy. Directions, a map, a guide, whatever. Not some subjective, mushy mush thought.

Oddly enough, for every ounce of annoyance I have for the idea that I can choose to be happy, there is another ounce that knows it is true. Actually, I don’t just know it is true; I feel that it is true. Dang it.

Now, embracing the notion that I can choose to be happy doesn’t mean I am floating around in a sea of white clothing, emitting an aura of hope and pleasantness. If anything, I often find myself floating around in a sea of sarcasm and wit (it’s part of my charm, I promise).

Embracing the choice to be happy is nothing more than an ongoing practice in mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as being aware of a situation as it happens. Simply put, you are in the here and now. You’re not worried about tomorrow, nor are you caught up in yesterday. And as much as this sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy stuff, it isn’t. What it is, is the intention of not allowing yourself to hop on the crazy train when the narrative you’re creating gets too much to bear. It means, when confronted with a situation where you have no control and you’re feeling all sorts of anger, resentment, jealousy, etc., you can take a step back and see the situation for what it is.

I’d love to tell you that all you have to do is read one article about mindfulness, go on two retreats (the silent kind), attend four seminars, and not punch one person in the throat that is making you insane for mindfulness to work, but that’s not how it goes. Unfortunately, it actually takes work.

The silver lining to all this? Being mindful actually starts to act like muscle memory once you’ve been practicing a while. Not to say that you won’t still get upset, and spend the afternoon telling yourself and anyone that listens what a deplorable human being you are. However, you will eventually be able to catch yourself in the act of marinating and make the necessary changes the situation calls for.

And how do you get started with this thing called “mindfulness?” Here are four ways I work at mindfulness each day.

  1. Check in with myself and “see” how I’m feeling, even if I’m in the midst of nothing but a bunch of desk work. This allows me to learn to notice the entire range of emotions I have, so that when something goes awry, and say, my stomach starts to hurt, I know there is something going on.
  2. When I find myself creating a narrative that can’t be substantiated with actual proof, I take a step back and poke a stick at it. I mean, clearly, I don’t poke an actual stick at it, but I do take a step back and see what the trigger was for the thought process. Someone not responding to a text? Instead of taking it as a sign that they are mad at me, I take a step back and ask myself if I did anything worth of someone being mad at me. 99% of the time I haven’t done anything, so having that perspective shift helps.
  3. When I’m in the midst of a heated conversation, I try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Admittedly, this has taken some practice. When you’re in the “heat of battle,” it is hard to stop and see the situation from the other side of the table. Doing so may save you and the other person quite a bit of heartache, and may even allow for an opportunity to find a mutual understanding.
  4. If all else fails, I get it out on paper. I’m a huge fan of mind-mapping. I take a main thought and write it down in the center of a piece of paper. From there, I create legs of all the supporting thoughts, which in turn get their own thoughts, and next thing I know, I have a mind map that looks quite a bit like a complex molecular make-up of some unknown solution. Getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper allows me the much-needed perspective shift. I start looking at it as puzzle to solve instead of emotions to feel and be at the mercy of. After sorting through what I wrote down, I typically find the clarity I need. Or at the very least, I find the issue that needs to be addressed.

Mindfulness is one thing that each person can use in their life, regardless of how stressful it is or isn’t. Being present is something that we could all benefit from. To quote one of my favorite movie characters, Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Mindfulness is the tool that allows us to slow life down enough to enjoy it, instead of life taking us for the ride.

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