I have a confession to make: I am a recovering storyteller. You might think this a strange admission considering my chosen profession, however, I’m not referring to the same kind of storytelling that I do on a daily basis—the creation of fiction tales for entertainment’s sake—but the fictional stories that I make up in my head.
Let me give you an example.
Have you ever sent a text to a close friend (or family member) who then does not acknowledge your message? Perhaps the silence lasts several hours or even several days, but regardless of the elapsed time, the more that passes, the more obsessed you become with the lack of a response. You constantly check your phone for new messages and repeatedly read over your note trying to determine if anything you said could have been construed as offensive. You start reviewing every single recent encounter and conversation you’ve had with this person, gathering evidence to corroborate the story that your mind has started spinning in order to explain the silence.
Eventually, you convince yourself that this person is angry with you for spacing on the dinner plans you had the week before, despite your immediate apology and her insistence to the contrary. And now that you’re sure you’ve figured out the problem, your mind continues spiraling down this path of assumptions so that by the time she finally calls you, you’re actually angry with her for her passive-aggressive, retrospective punishment. You listen with an icy removal as she regales you with the reality of the situation. That she wasn’t able to promptly reply to your text because she dropped her phone in the toilet and getting it replaced immediately was impossible because her entire six-person family was at once socked with a vicious flu bug. As she continues in this vain, detailing every horrid detail of her personal nightmare, you begin to feel both relieved that your conjecture was unfounded and ashamed that you believed it even for a second.
Maybe that’s never happened to you, but maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Like a misread meeting with your boss or a misinterpreted interaction with an acquaintance that left you harshly judging both yourself and the other person until you find out the truth: that his reaction was caused by a stressful situation happening in his own life and had absolutely nothing to do with you.
My point is that we are all simultaneously self-centered and prone to making these kinds of assumptions. And aside from the unnecessary worry and anxiety this causes, it is incredibly distracting. We use up our precious resources—our brain power, our energy, our time—trying to interpret clues that often turn out to be false and solve problems that are completely imaginary 99.9 percent of the time. Our attention becomes divided, our focus, fractured, and any progress we might make working on projects or goals or growth in our own life is slowed. And if this happens often enough, that progress can come to a complete standstill.
So my advice to you (and to myself) is simply to Stop Spinning Stories. Stop jumping to conclusions about people and situations when you don’t know the whole truth. Stop buying into the lies about yourself that float through your mind when something doesn’t go as expected.
The easiest way to do this is to literally stop. If your thoughts start to spiral down this road of make believe, Just. Say. No. Say it out loud if you have to. Just stop your mind from getting caught up in those spun stories, because like spider webs, once you’re stuck in them, it’s much more difficult to break free.
Have you ever experienced a time when you were held hostage by your imagination? Or maybe you’ve got a method that you use to keep this from happening. If so, let’s talk about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.