Each of us has a story about who we are, the work we do, the people we love, or even why we arrive late to the office. We live each day according to these stories, seeing and believing the information that reinforces them and ignoring the rest. Our stories are created to offer comfort, reassurance, and protection. They are, however, often based on narrow, limiting beliefs that exclude us from opportunities and keep us from exercising our full capabilities.
My participation in the reality TV show, “Who Lives Here?,” precipitated this a-ha moment for me. Five contestants, who were all strangers, came together under the eye of the camera, toured one another’s homes, and then guessed who lived in each one. The goal was to throw the others off so they didn’t identify you with your home, and telling stories was a very helpful strategy. Meanwhile, I had to shrewdly see through my fellow contestants’ stories and place them in their correct environment.
Always quick to make a decision, I determined who I believed lived in each house even before we toured the final home. Then I only looked for information to reinforce my thesis. While there were many clues that would have led me to a different (and correct) conclusion, I ignored all evidence that didn’t align with my story of who lived where. Unsurprisingly, this was my downfall, and I didn’t win the cash prize.
Emerging from The Tunnel
Each day, our brains sort through billions of pieces of data, and our stories determine which information they present to us. As a result of this selective process, we miss a wide array of material. It’s like eating only the food from the salad bar and missing the rest of the buffet. By simply being open to a different story, you’ll see the rest of the dishes available and enjoy many wonderful new flavours!
In her book, E Squared, Pam Grout says that we truly experience only things that coincide with what we are looking for. Our reality, drawn from our five senses, comes after the decision to see it, hear it, or feel it. ”We humans decide how we are going to experience life, choosing beforehand what we want to see” she says. In fact, “any piece of information that doesn’t quite fit with our beliefs we alter without even noticing until it fits into our limited belief system”. In other words, she emphasizes: “We’ll see it, once we believe it”.
After establishing a story, we hunker down and close ourselves off from other possibilities. This tunnel vision prevents us from opening to the wonder of the world. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes how wonder is a key characteristic of survivors. They see the world through new eyes, an intentional experience that widens the field of actions and opportunities available. This is exactly what happens when we discard our limiting stories and expand our consciousness. We no longer travel the same old highway but instead see the new avenues available.
New Words, New Vision
Although I didn’t win the TV show prize, my time provided something far more valuable. I learned how restricting limiting stories can be, how valuable it is to let them go, and how expansive the world can be without them. Each day, I now consciously replace all my crummy stories with positive versions. This frees my senses to send evidence so I will see it, believe it, and create it. As a result, I feel better, worry less, and accomplishments come more readily.
For example, there is a woman in my life that I really admire, but our relationship is strained. I have created a new story that says even though things are currently in flux between us, our relationship is built on a firm foundation, and there are many good times ahead. Thus, my brain is presented with a kind of updated street map, a vital process in seeing old stories anew, which makes me confident our relationship will once again be fortified going forward.
Our internal narrative shapes our lives, so we better make it good. Changing our world is as simple as changing our story, changing the way we make sense of our relationships and ourselves. Being open to what’s in front of us and to all possible stories, not only in reality TV but also in life, will place us firmly in the winner’s circle.