How to test your stories

At the time of this writing, the US election of November 3rd is undecided, showing signs that an eventual result will be contested. Those of us watching (most of the world) will experience feelings about this, along with an attempted explanation for ourselves. Yet most of us will never be privy to the sort of information required to generate a story approximating the truth. Hyperbole will abound.

The anticipated experience many of will have does not help our personal well-being. After all, we don’t like experiencing uncertainty, especially surrounding an emotionally charged event. Fortunately, a brief narrative accountability exercise can help us test our story about the election, or any other experience that pains us.

The exercise works best when someone else asks you the questions, and does not interject during your response, except to ask additional clarifying questions. Start by saying out loud the story in your head. Then, answer the following questions in order:

  1. Can you be sure that your story is true?
  2. Is there more to the story?
  3. Are you missing any information that would help you determine the truth?
  4. After your first three answers, do you still feel the same way?
  5. What is the challenge to be overcome?

We all conveniently leave out details in our stories, the bits that we know are contradictory or have non real basis in fact. That’s why this is an accountability exercise. By holding ourselves accountable, we recognize that we often allow ourselves to propagate negative feelings for no justifiable reason. Hence the fourth question about whether how you feel has changed.

The final question is about challenges. Life is about selecting and working on challenges, giving us purpose and direction. In all things, look for what the challenge really is, despite what you’ve been telling yourself. Then we can focus on what matters, and what we can influence for the better.

Be well.

Feelings and the limits of language

How are you feeling? A simple enough question, sometimes hard to answer. If you pay close attention, you know how you feel, but describing it to someone else seems impossible. The limits of language do not allow it.

Human beings love having words, or labels, for things. If we know what something is called, we think we understand it, but we don’t. Anger, anxiety, resentment, jealousy, and fear are all negative emotions. We intuitively think of them as different, but it is tough to make a case that they feel different physically; tight throat, racing heart, nausea, shakiness, sweating.

The differences we think we perceive are a matter of context, and our minds trying to explain the situation, usually on an interpersonal basis. The same is true for positive emotions. Language doesn’t exist to perfectly capture how we feel in every moment. And this is fine.

We need to separate feelings from words that, when strung together, form our stories about ourselves. Instead, pay attention to your feeling tone; pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. That’s it. Once you know the feeling tone, your subsequent story is cast in a revealing light, helping you examine it; positive, negative, or undecided.

The simple and quick task of separating feelings from stories, and identifying the feeling tone, sets the stage for continued curious introspection, necessary to optimize well-being.

Be well.