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Choose YOUR Story.

Feb 01, 2022

If you’ve noticed, the media is given to hyperbole. Words like “horrific, disaster, destroy, tragic” are applied to situations that are not, in fact, life or death events. Politicians of late tend toward the same dramatic language to describe the outcome of an election or even a particular piece of legislation. This is not to say that current events or legislative decisions don’t have harmful effects on citizens—of course they do. But to describe every event in the same hyperbolic adjectives changes our thinking. It leads us to believe that every event will have extreme negative consequences and should be viewed equally fearfully.

One of the greatest gifts we have as human beings is the gift of discernment. We can distinguish even minute shifts in body language, facial expression, and emotional tone. It’s what allows us to simultaneously stay safe and stay connected to one another, because we can read when someone’s state changes. And, we can choose our responses based on those changes that we detect. But, when all of the information we receive is at the extreme negative end of the emotional spectrum, it’s what we begin to expect to receive. Furthermore, it’s what we take to be our singular reality.


But how true is this? How true is it that every media event is the absolute worst tragedy to ever befall the human population? Since yesterday?


Well, of course it’s not true at all. It’s a psychological ploy to keep us tuned in for the next incredibly dramatic event that is surely about to occur.


The question to ask ourselves is how much of this hyperbole has infected our own thought processes and the stories we tell about our own lives. When something happens, what importance do we give it? We actually get to decide that, even though we often don’t realize it in the moment.

Here are some of the stories humans love to tell themselves about “negative” events or circumstances:

--I must have done something to deserve it.

--I always have the worst luck.

--Here we go again…my life just goes from one crisis to the next.

--I can’t stop worrying because there’s always something to worry about.

--Life’s a bitch and then you die.


It’s natural to wonder “why” or even “why me” when something we perceive as bad happens to us. But when we get stuck in the why, that becomes all we can think about. There must be a reason, right?


Actually, no. The human condition is this…events will occur. Some we perceive as wonderful, exciting, and joyful. Others we perceive as tragic, painful, and traumatic. Is it all in our perception? Well, no. Typically, “positive” events enhance our self-esteem, our abilities, our knowledge, and our potential for action. “Negative” events, by and large, inhibit those same qualities. Making it successfully down a difficult ski run feels a lot better than twisting our knee and hobbling down that same run. But we can never underestimate the power of our thinking around ANY event that occurs.


Michael J. Fox, in his book “Lucky Man,” says this:

“It is one of the great ironies of my life that only when it became virtually impossible for me to keep my body from moving would I find the peace, security, and spiritual strength to stand in one place. I couldn't be still until I could—literally—no longer keep still.”

He has “suffered” with Parkinson’s disease for many years, yet also sees it as one of the greatest gifts of his life. Is it a choice? Absolutely. Does he have to keep that in his consciousness? Definitely.


There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this:

A farmer and his son had a beloved horse who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbours exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild horses back to the farm as well. The neighbours shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the horses and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The neighbours cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg. The neighbours shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

The farmer’s perspective here is one of neutrality. “Let’s not be too hasty” is his motto. There is great wisdom in responding to a circumstance versus reacting when we don’t yet have all of the information. However, this sometimes leads people toward the assumption that practicing mindfulness means staying calm no matter what—that we become almost devoid of emotion.


That is also not true. We are humans, after all, and we are built to respond to both danger and safety. And we should—the rattlesnake on the hiking trail or the approaching tornado are not stimuli to which we should say, well, let’s wait and see what happens here. Retreat should be all we are thinking about. Once we reach a place of safety, though, then we can choose.


Was the rattlesnake on the trail the scariest thing that’s ever happened to us? Or was it a moment in which we realized how quick our reaction time actually is? Was our house being damaged by a natural disaster something from which we can never recover, or does it give us an opportunity to rebuild our home in the way we always wanted it to be? We don’t have to wait to learn the whole story…we get to choose what that story will be.


These choices are simple, but not easy. However, there is a process that we can actively engage in that will help us more quickly and powerfully make that choice. It goes like this:


1.     First, bring awareness to what you are feeling.

Is it fear, anger, sadness, grief, confusion…or something else? Let your body feel the awareness of the emotion and name it.

2.     Next, bring acceptance to that emotion.

You might say, “I’m feeling very ______ right now because ______.” Then allow yourself to accept that emotion. Now, you might say, “It’s ok that I feel this way right now. It won’t last forever and I don’t need to do anything about it right this minute.”

3.     Once you’ve allowed yourself to express and accept what you are feeling, you can allow other thoughts and feelings to enter the picture.

What else is true for you right now? What might you feel gratitude for right now?

4.     Last, begin to choose the story you want to want to tell yourself about this experience. Allow the full reality to be part of that story.

For example, you might be grieving the loss of a job or a loved one. Allow yourself to feel that grief, and also allow other parts of the reality of your experience to enter the story. Perhaps you weren’t ready to leave the job, for example, but it has given you some time to spend with your family.

  • It’s up to you which part of that story you repeat most often in your thoughts.

  • It’s up to you which part of that story you want to be grateful for.

  • It’s up to you which part of that story you act on and how.

We don’t get to choose our circumstances, but we do get to choose the story we tell around them, and we get to choose the role they play in the larger story of our lives. And yes, this is true even in 2022.