PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hi, Pam.
PAM: So, this month in the Living Joyfully Network, our theme is Stories, which I’m loving, because there are so many stories to explore. There are the stories that we tell ourselves. There are the stories we tell others about our kids. There are the stories that we assign to other people, what we think they’re thinking. And we’re going to talk about them all today. So, I’m excited to dive in with you.
To start off, I love this quote that I wanted to share. It’s from The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.
“Story is for a human as water is for a fish, all-encompassing and not quite palpable.”
Truly, humans are storytelling animals. It’s how we make sense of our world. And realizing that everything is a story can be a life-changing paradigm shift. I really think so. Everybody, take a moment to think about the truth of that. Everything is a story. And that’s not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. It’s how we make sense of our world.
So, with that fundamental understanding, it’s about being intentional about the stories that we’re telling ourselves and we’re telling others and the language that we’re using. Asking ourselves why we’re telling the stories that we are and why we’re making the word choices that we are. That really brings so much nuance to our story. And it’s just such a valuable realization.
ANNA: Oh yeah.
I mean, for me, truly understanding the role of story has just been so pivotal. That awareness allowed me to step back and observe. So, where’s the story coming from? Does it feel real to me and who I am in this moment? That’s an important one for me. Is it serving me? And if I’ve held onto it for a long time, why? Why have I held on to that story? Who would I be without that story? That’s another one that I really love thinking about.
And those questions really can only come about once you take that veil off and realize that everything is a story. Then you get to dive in and have these questions. And through the questioning, I could hone in on what was really working for me. And I could start to change my story to be more reflective of me as the person I am now, the person I want to be moving forward. And I could see the role of story more clearly and use it as a tool, instead of being held hostage by it, which is kind of how I felt before.
And, for me, like you said, language is such a big piece of that. I try to be so intentional about the language I use and that’s whether it’s about a big defining event or a very simple task in front of me, of daily living, because in those language choices, I’m developing the story that informs my day and tells others who I am. And so, that piece is so critical. Just the seeing it, seeing it for what it is, and then, how do I want to create my narrative? What language do I want to use?
PAM: I know. And once you see the scope of it, it’s incredible, because it’s not only the stories that we’re telling ourselves, but it’s understanding that the stories we’re telling others about ourselves or about our lives, that is the picture that they’re going to draw from.
All right. So, first off, I want to look at the stories that we’re telling ourselves and the realization that they become our self-talk, our inner voice. And sometimes we don’t think we have control over our self-talk. We think it just happens in our head, but we truly can change that over time as we make changes intentionally to the language that we use and the stories that we tell ourselves, because it’s worth taking a moment, taking that time to listen to our self-talk more objectively. And now, with this understanding, listening to our self-talk through the lens of, “This is the story I’m telling myself. Is it helpful?” It’s so useful to question that for ourselves. We can.
ANNA: Yeah. And, like you said, so often, we know we have this self-talk, but we really don’t think we can change it. And we’re not even really sure a lot about it. So, I love the idea of really diving into that, because self-talk is just an aspect of our story. It’s no different, it’s no more powerful. It’s not this boogeyman.
And sometimes, our self-talk is the stories that have been handed to us, perhaps by our parents. And what’s so important there to realize is that the story they told, even if the story is about us, is their story. It’s not ours and we don’t have to take it in and own it. It’s about them, where they were at the time, and the stories, perhaps, that they were handed.
And so, that’s the thing. We can just keep continuing to hand down these same stories, or we can take control of our narrative. We can look at who we really are and what’s actually in front of us and then write a story that lifts us up, because that helps us be the person that we want to be. And it will inform our next steps in a given situation. And I think that’s what’s so important.
That’s how insidious the stories are, when we carry these stories from someone else, because they change our energy and then they inform our next steps and it keeps us on that same narrow path. And this is something that comes up in the way we live with our children, too, obviously. I didn’t want to hand them a story. I wanted them to tap into who they were inside, so they could craft their own story about their authentic self without me adding weight to that.
So, in doing that, you leave space for different approaches, different views. We’re all individuals. And our stories weave together as a family, of course, but we each have our own personal narrative and that narrative serves us by helping us define what’s important to us, where our focus is and how that will flow, who we want to be.
And so, I believe if it’s coming from inside of us, that it will lead us to our best path, like our path for our best life. And if instead, it’s filled with other people’s ideas about their “shoulds” for us or even their ideas about us, then we can lose our way and start to be defined by others.
But I guess what I want to say, too, is that at any moment we can take back the reins. We can examine the stories that we’re clinging to and we can make choices, because, you know, it’s always about the choices with me, Pam.
PAM: Oh my goodness! So much in there. So much. I loved the point about realizing that the stories other people are telling about us, especially the stories we grew up with, because they have become the self-talk, what we tell ourselves, why we’re behaving this way or why we’re too scared to do this, or why we’re always too sensitive, all of those kinds of stories, to realize that that was just somebody else’s perspective, somebody else’s story about us. It isn’t our story, which leads to what you were talking about.
When we give our kids and ourselves the space to develop our self-awareness, then when we’re understanding ourselves, that’s where we can tell our authentic story, our true story, what feels real and right for us. And that is so valuable. And along the lines of our stories with our kids, it’s really important to me to understand how my stories that I’m telling are being heard by everyone around me.
In the Network this month, you shared a really cool example. So, maybe we’re telling our partner the story of our day, and maybe we’re exhausted by the end of the day. So, we’re telling it as, “It was such a hard day. We were busy. I’m so tired now,” whatever made it feel hard for us.
And if our child overhears that, while they’re thinking they had a really fun super day with us, “We did all the things! And we had so much fun,” we can definitely impact the stories that they’re telling themselves and their inner voice, just like we were talking about, by the stories that we’re sharing about it.
And we are able to choose. It’s our choice. We can choose a more positive story to tell. I was thinking, sometimes I wanted to tell a hard story when Rocco came home, because it kind of justified me being home with them, as a stay-at-home parent. And this was years ago when I had left work and stayed home, but trying to explain to him that I had worked hard, too. So, just that understanding, that realization myself, that I didn’t have to make it look hard. Even when I’m exhausted, I can realize that it’s a good exhausted. It was a “worth it” exhausted, because I had fun too with them.
So, sometimes we just think about the moment and we’re telling you the story of this moment and it grows to justify, “Oh, we did this and this,” but we can tell a true story that feels good and realize the other people that can be hearing it and realize the stories that we’re planting.
Maybe our partner thinks, “Oh, she’s having a hard time all the time at home.” They may think they need to fix something, whereas we’re just happily exhausted, truly. And the day went the way we would wish it to go. But, yeah, it’s just so valuable to pay attention to the stories we tell, isn’t it?
ANNA: Well, I think it’s about peeling back to the “whys” and having that open communication. So, you’re wanting to justify it, and I get it. I was wanting to say, “This is hard work at times, but I’m choosing it and we’re having a lot of fun,” but realizing that that’s what I was looking for, I didn’t need to tell this tale that cast the day in a negative light. We could just talk about, “I’m exhausted. It’s been amazing. It’s so fun.” And now I maybe want to take a walk by myself or I want to do whatever, because sometimes that switchover when a spouse comes back home can be fraught with this energy, because they’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, she’s had a bad day,” or, “I want to help him,” or whatever the case might be, and so, we just need to look at why are we doing that?
And so, there will be some points later on in this discussion too, where that’s part of the story that we’re putting in their head and all of these pieces. And when we have open, clear communication, we don’t have to make up these stories that can have these unintended consequences like you’re talking about with maybe having the kids going, “But, wait a minute. Didn’t we have a good day? Wasn’t it so fun?” So, just that clear understanding of our “why”, clear communication about what our needs are, is really helpful.
So, when you have some stories going, why are the stories going? What can I hone in on to change that?
PAM: Yeah. And I think it’s really just getting to your “why”, and getting to that intentionality, to realize that these stories that I’m telling are living in the world.
So, looking at the stories that we’re telling others, it can get complicated as we get further along in our unschooling journey, because familiar words have a new richness to them. Now, to explain that, I wrote about it in my book, The Unschooling Journey, in stage 14. So, we’re getting on there. And so, I thought I’d just share a quote, just to describe what I’m talking about.
“We are using familiar words to describe our lives, but they have a richness to them that we discovered on our unschooling journey. This richness is invisible when viewed through conventional filters. Where they see anarchy and parents leaving their children to flounder and fail, we see strong and connected relationships and parents actively supporting their children as they explore the world. What they don’t see is our active and engaged presence. They don’t see parents and children living together as trusted and respected individuals. And why would they? That’s not the conventional family environment that they would expect.
We’ve just completed a long and sometimes challenging journey to understand and appreciate the unschooling way of life. And it’s likely they have not. It’s valuable to realize that our words are interpreted by others through the lens of their life experience. And they aren’t wrong. It’s their truth.”The Unschooling Journey: A Field Guide, by Pam Laricchia
So, telling our stories, big and small, to others is about communication. Considering our audience, being intentional with our language, and owning what we’re saying is so important. Is what I’m saying true? Is it how I want to be seen by others? What do I need from the conversation?
It is so valuable to consider that our audience may be taking in our words completely differently than the way we mean it. I mean, just something as basic as, “We don’t follow a curriculum.” Or, “We don’t have a bedtime,” whichever aspect you’re at in your journey. Just saying those things puts a picture in someone else’s head when they don’t understand where we’re coming from. They see the chaos that that can create, or that, “They’ll never learn anything,” because they don’t think kids want to learn.
So, being careful with how we describe things, depending on who our audience is, is so very important.
ANNA: Such an important point. I’m going to repeat it again.
Others will see our story through their lens, what they know. And that’s the thing! That’s okay! Understanding that helps us put their comments or reactions into perspective, though.
And so, the relationships we have, the work we have put into creating them, is often not seen or understood by the people who are in a more conventional paradigm. But because I knew that most wouldn’t understand those nuances of our choices, I kept my language really centered on joy, because there was lots of joy and bringing that energy, the energy of how grateful I was for our life and all that it entailed really set the stage for the interaction.
And they still might not always get it, but it didn’t lead us down a conversation path that wasn’t going to serve either one of us. And that’s the piece you were talking about. Know your audience. I get to have these deep, nuanced unschooling conversations on the Network. That’s the perfect place for it, because we’re all on the journey and doing things and enjoying it.
But, like you said, simple words can be triggers to people who are in a different place and it can be bedtimes and it can be academics and it can be whatever it is. And so, it’s understanding that they’re always going to see it through their lens. They really can’t see it another way until they start to do work to peel back that and open up about it. And not everybody wants to do that, which is fine. But just understanding that helps, because I think sometimes, we can feel attacked or judged by other people’s language about our story or their reaction to our families.
And so, a critical piece for me in letting go of that was understanding this piece, that they’re only able to see it through their lens and their experience. And so, they don’t know my insides. They don’t know the insides of my family. They don’t know the relationships that we have. And so, then that just made it so much easier for that to just wash over me and then connect with the person on another level of something else, and not go into that and not feel judged and not then create a conflict.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That understanding was so valuable. And sometimes we have been with our unschooling crew and hanging out at home, doing our things, and we’d go out and I would share a story that had more unschooly language in it, or familiar words, but for me, I was expressing it in a different way. And then I could tell from their reaction that they didn’t understand or were judging. But yeah, I could let that reaction go. And then I could shift my language, how I was moving forward with the story. Or, depending on the relationship with the person, I might explain a little bit more.
That’s the wonderful thing! We have control over our stories and what pieces we choose to share and how we choose to share it, understanding that other people come to conversations with their lens, and not expecting them, number one, to first understand, not expecting them to even be curious to understand. We can’t control where they are on their journey.
Another point that’s really interesting to think about, as you were saying, sharing our joyful stories. I think that’s really fun, too. It just turns things on its head a little bit from the typical conversation. “What grade are you in? What’s your favorite subject?” All that kind of stuff, to just talk about something fun that we’re doing or something fun that we did or just appreciating our child to other adults when they’re so used to other parents complaining about their children.
But what happens when we are sharing our stories that way, we also attract people who resonate with that kind of language, that see their family that way, too. So, it’s also a very cool way to meet and connect with people who have a similar way of seeing and being in the world.
And because that’s who I want to be, I want to be around people who are doing the same, because that’s where I learn and grow in that. That’s where I see them facing a challenge and finding the light in it and finding the gift in it. And then that helps me do the same. And so, that was important to me to attract those people. And you absolutely do it by what you put out in the world.
If you’re out complaining and miserable and unhappy, then people that are like, “Yes, it is so terrible,” then want to join you. The whole “misery loves company” piece. But we can make choices there and people can see that.
And then again, when you get those closer relationships, you can dig into the nuances of those harder pieces with them, but they know that you’re still wanting to hold light. You’re still wanting to find the joy. You’re still wanting to find the connection. And so, that’s how we find people that can help us grow. And again, that’s what I love about the Network, because I feel like we’re able to do that there, where we can share all these pieces, but with this light of connection at our forefront.
Our relationships are so important. And how do we move through these situations with that understanding and gratitude about that?
PAM: Exactly. I love that. And I think this leads nicely to the next topic I wanted to talk about, because we’re looking at the stories that we assign to other people. And we were talking about getting to the spot where we could let that roll off. Because so often, we tend to assume the worst story. Maybe that’s just me, but when people react badly or maybe we’re feeling disconnected from someone, immediately the story that we tell ourselves is that we did something wrong and we confidently tell ourselves that. But so often, it really isn’t true.
So, it’s so helpful to remember that, when we’re thinking about what someone else is thinking about, that is a story that we’re making up, through and through, completely. And no matter how well we know them, we still don’t know for sure. You can’t make up a story that you can confidently say about someone else and what they’re thinking.
So, as I think about that, part of my process of working through that was, why would I put thoughts about someone else’s story in my head that make me feel bad? Why would I even do that? I get to choose. It’s back to choice again. And it’s not about making it up, because there are lots of stories that we can tell. It’s about taking that moment to not assume that the first story that we jump to is the actual story. Right?
ANNA: Yeah. I mean, there have been so many interesting conversations around this this month in the Network. So often, we find ourselves putting words into people’s heads. And we will actually play out scenarios, to the end, without the other person even involved.
“They’re upset with me. I did something wrong. They don’t like what I’m doing,” whatever those words or that we’re saying. Even, “They’re trying to hurt me. Their action is intentional towards me.” This is often so very wrong and messed up. And so, I have a friend that just honestly will create these whole movies. And the challenge with that is, it doesn’t leave room for anything else.
Once you’ve created a story for someone, you start acting from that place, with that energy. Have you ever had one of those dreams where it’s so real and your partner has done something that has really upset you, and you wake up and you’re still mad? And they’re going, “What’s happening?” But it’s that kind of thing. When we create a story, we can buy into that energy and bring that energy to the person and they have no idea.
But if, like you said, instead, we can first have positive intent. Second, we can ask questions, leave space, remain open. Then the person is free to share what they’re actually feeling. And so often, it doesn’t even come close.
So, one of my friends a while ago shared a story, and she didn’t share it as a story. She shared it as fact with me that her husband didn’t find her attractive. And she said, “He actively avoids even touching me if we walk past in the hall.” And I was like, “Wow, have you talked to him about that?”
And she was like, “Well, no.” And then when she did, she found the complete opposite was true. He was trying to be respectful of her space. And so, he felt by doing that, he was showing respect for her space and honoring her. And so, then they had some communication around it and what would feel good to each of them, and it’s completely different now. But she had been telling that story for years and he had no idea. That’s how insidious these stories are, and I think it’s just really worth examining the stories that we put on others, even if we feel justified.
Like you mentioned, even if we think we know them so well, even if we’ve held onto these stories for years, conversations are so important. It’s why we talk about it so often with our children, too. Being open and curious leaves space.
Pre-writing a detailed story does not. You can feel that closed energy when you come with this pre-populated story and it can be so disconnecting. Even some light inquiry can shed light on what’s really going on and give space for each person to share their perspective. And then we can understand where the communication broke down, why we were seeing it differently.
But that won’t happen if we stay in our head creating stories. That will only happen with that choice of connection and having conversations.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. And I think sometimes if I get stuck in a really negative story about someone else, and I don’t feel confident enough to ask about it yet or bring it up, I found it really helpful just to start recognizing that it’s a story. And then, to play. I love to think about things as playing. To play with, how else could this story go? So, at least opening that up and start playing around with, “Well, what about this? What about this? Does this fit? Could maybe it be this?”
And then, once I think of a few other things, even if they seem outlandish to me, I realize that there isn’t just that one possibility. That lightens things up. And usually, when I’m feeling lighter, now I’m a little bit curious, as you were saying, about which one is it? I wonder.
And then, usually I can get to the space, the energy, where now it doesn’t feel so heavy and I can actually bring up the conversation with someone.
ANNA: As soon as you were saying it, I was thinking that it’s that little bit lighter. It takes a little bit of the charge out of that negative story with the idea of, wait a minute, there could be other explanations.
I don’t know which one is true for this other person, but look, there could be other ones, that little bit of lightness opens up space. And there’s a couple of other things we’ll talk about later about that, but yes.
PAM: Yeah, yeah.
And I think that, on the flip side, what this understanding helped me realize is that I really don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life that has led them to make whatever choice it is that they made, whatever reaction that they had. And maybe we don’t think that we’d make that same choice or have that same reaction if we were in their shoes, but understanding that we just don’t know, that whatever it is is valid for them, helped me find so much more compassion and kindness in that moment for them to be able to just quickly accept that their story is their own. It’s their truth. It really helped.
All right. So, now I’d like to look at the stories we tell ourselves about our family and to say, take care with expectations and roles, because both those things can really complicate our stories.
So, last week on the podcast, I talked about rules versus principles. And expectations that we place on others can definitely be received as rules, which short circuits their developing self-awareness. It feels disconnecting and it weakens trust in our relationship.
So, expectations like, “In this family, we _________.” Maybe it’s something as simple as, “We say, thank you.” That’s a story. And it decreases self-awareness, because it becomes a rote answer rather than the child having the space to take that moment and realize that they feel thankful. It feels disconnecting, because they are expressing to someone something they may not be feeling. And it weakens trust, because they don’t feel seen by the other person.
There are so many aspects to that, aren’t there?
ANNA: Yes. I think it can be so tricky, because it’s fun to envision what we want for our families and thinking of the things we love and how much fun it will be together. But if we aren’t looking to and including the individuals involved, it’s just going to lead to disappointment and disconnection.
And a friend on the Network told a story about how she and her husband referred to these stories as acuarelas. It’s the Spanish word for watercolor paintings. And we can paint beautiful pictures in our mind. But again, if we’re not checking in with the real, actual humans around us and understanding their vision and who they are, it just can cause so much upset. So, I love that they use that word as this quick little reminder to bring them back to the moment, to bring them back to what’s in front of them and the people that are in front of them.
Because, like you said, we can make these definitions for our family. “We’re sporty,” or “outdoorsy”. But if we have a child that prefers to read books or play a game and be inside, then what we’re doing is setting up this idea of good and bad choices, that one is somehow better than the other. And if, instead, we get to make the choices that make us feel good, staying true to who we are, then we have this space and it allows us to dabble in the other person’s interests, because we don’t see it as a “have to” or a judgment about our choice.
So, for me, as you know, I love being outside and all things nature, and that absolutely influenced my girls. I mean, it influences people around me, because it’s just who I am and that bubbles over. But they’re different and have different levels of enjoyment from it and also different needs from it. It serves a different purpose for them. But because I didn’t judge their choices about that, they can freely choose from this myriad of options in front of them at any moment without that weight.
And I’ve known families that have forced the outdoors on their children and some of whom hated it. And as adults, those kids don’t want anything to do with it. And I’ve seen this happen with music, with instruments, with exercise, with food choices. We think we’re pushing something on someone for their own good, that type of messaging. But the message is really just, “You don’t see me.” Or worse, it’s, “Something’s wrong with me.”
And, so often, the minute they’re out from under that type of pressure, they will go so far in the other direction. And that’s the challenge, because right there, it’s become this psychological point. We might actually buck against things that we enjoy or that would help us, because that’s how much we do not want to be defined by another. And I have been there and done that. It is a lot of work to come out of the other side and I did not want to hand that to anyone, because it’s so much work to quiet that noise and figure out my internal voice. What is it that I want in this situation without putting it through those filters?
PAM: Oh, so much, so much, so much. What is the most valuable is that self-awareness, because then we’re telling real stories about ourselves, rather than all the stories about us that we have been told. Because expectations absolutely have judgment in there. How do you normally say it?
ANNA: Expectations are pre-planned resentments.
If there’s an expectation on you and it doesn’t fit with who you are, not only do you feel judged, you can come to resent it. And then that is a story that you will just pull away from so fast, the minute you can. This is all just human nature. And I love thinking of it in that context of the stories, because sometimes that can help us understand what it is that we are inadvertently, and with the best of intentions, putting on other people. To realize that our stories are our own and to own them and to love them.
Like you said, you love nature. All the things that I love, we still do those things. Those are part of who we are, but by not putting those expectations that other people should love them, too, and hopefully love them as much as we do.
ANNA: Exactly. That’s the piece, because yeah. I’m still going to always bubble up about the things I love and enjoy and tell my story about how they feed me or what it does for me or all the different things, but with an equal recognition of, your story is going to be completely different.
And when I can do that, oh my gosh, I see what you’re getting out of this thing. You’re doing this different thing. I want to try a little bit of that. And maybe it’s not going to be my main thing, but I’m interested in it. And it allows the kids the same, because it’s like, “Well, I don’t want to be like you, out in the woods barefoot all the time, but I do kind of like this aspect of it.”
And so, then you’re free to go back and forth and flow and make choices, because you don’t feel the judgment. You don’t feel that, “I’m supposed to,” or, “I have to,” or that this is the right thing to do. And so, all that weight is gone and it’s just about, “Ooh, what do I want to do in the moment? What feels good?”
PAM: And how much harder you have to hold on to your story if it’s different. Like it’s like, “I have to keep telling them how wonderful nature is, even though I’m not making them do it. They have to see that.” And they’re like, “I can’t go out there, because then she’s right. Maybe she’s going to expect me to keep going out there. So, I need to hold onto my being inside.”
Those are the stories we end up telling ourselves when we don’t accept other people’s stories as being their truth.
Their truth. It’s not the one truth. It’s their truth. And both can coexist. And when you leave space for that, beautiful things happen, and you’re not reacting from baggage and you’re not carrying all the weight that I carried into adulthood.
PAM: I have a couple of things that I am just still trying to work through now. And it’s so hard to peel away what’s other people’s stories and what is my reaction? What is my resistance from that story? Trying to get that story out of there so I can excavate what actually feels really good for me.
ANNA: What would actually feel good? And, I wasn’t gonna talk about it, but just briefly, for me it was exercise and health, because that was really pushed on me from my parents, my mom in particular. And so, I would just be like, I’m not going to do it. I hate it. It’s terrible. And I’m going to live my life and my body is whatever.
But then finally, I mean, I’m 52 years old, and like four years ago, I was like, but wait a minute. I like moving my body. I like the way it feels to do these things and be outside and understand my body more and how it reacts to things. But man, like you said, I had to get that story out of there, so I could even have the time and the space inside of me to figure out, how do I want to relate to this particular activity or this particular thing?
So, yeah, if we can just not put our stories on other people, it would really be great.
PAM: Well, in full disclosure, I’m doing that right now, with exercise and with food, because I grew up in a ballet studio, so there was a lot there for 13 years or whatever. And it was quite easy for me with my kids, because I could see I didn’t want them to have all these other stories, but now they’re older and it’s not so much about them. And now it’s like, oh, I need to explore how I feel about this. So, yeah, diving into that.
ANNA: And it’s harder, because I did the same. I left this really open environment for my kids about it and they don’t have near the baggage that I do at all. But, for me, it was then having to figure it out for me. I knew it intellectually, but owning it for myself was this next, deeper step, because, again, that’s how insidious these stories are and recognizing them is that first step, that awareness that it’s story.
And, as we talk about, there are always more layers to peel back on our stories, which leads nicely to our last bit. We get to choose the stories we tell. So, let’s try to choose those that make sense and feel better to us. For any situation, we can come up with a number of ways to tell the story of it. And they all make sense in the context of the activity, the situation, and the people involved, and all could truthfully tell the story.
But now, we get to choose which one resonates most with us, which one feels better to us, which then, as you mentioned a little bit earlier, informs our actions moving forward. That is the power of story.
Especially in more challenging situations, it’s so valuable to take a moment not to just jump to the first story that comes to mind, which is usually fear-based. It’s usually the worst one that is the worst interpretation of things. But if we take a moment to actually think of some other stories that would also do the same thing, we can help ourselves moving forward. Because if we just stick with that one, we get tunnel vision and we start spiraling downward in our fears. We can get really stuck in there if we only see this one worst interpretation of the situation in front of us.
So, just taking that moment to come up with a few more stories, to choose the more positive stories, the ones that feel better to us, it’s not about avoiding the truth, because the different stories all incorporate the facts, because the facts are the facts. And for me, doing this is really a form of self-care. So, instead of telling the versions that make me feel bad, that weigh me down, that pull me into that tunnel vision, I can tell myself the versions of the story that both make sense and feel better.
Because from there, I’m in a more open and curious and receptive mindset, a place where I can now see more opportunities. I can be more creative in choosing my next step. My next moment is truly better. And I find myself spiraling up and moving through it rather than spiraling down and crashing.
ANNA: And getting stuck. My oldest and I have talked about this so many times over the years, because she is a master storyteller. And I mean, it’s a gift. It is a gift that she has that is amazing. But sometimes it gets the better of her, because sometimes she can spin this intricate story about someone else or about a situation and it ends up making her feel terrible. And so, in the end, it’s just a story.
We’re making it up in our heads. And I think once I realized that, I decided, if I’m gonna make up a story, I’m going to make up a story that feels good, that helps me feel connected, that helps me move forward as the person that I want to be, which is exactly what you’re talking about.
So, if my story spirals me to a place of being stuck, I’m not even moving forward at all. But if my story can lift me, I may not understand all the pieces, but I can feel okay about the situation if I look at it this way. And that helps me move forward as the person I want to be.
And, like we’ve talked about before, there are situations sometimes where I can get some clarifying information, so that I have a more accurate picture, because maybe someone else is involved and I can stop putting words in their mouth and actually figure it out. But other times, that’s not possible.
And when it’s not possible, I just will always choose the story that feels better, because it’s just as likely to be true as the one that doesn’t. And so, I’m just wasting this time in this moment, feeling bad about something that I really don’t know the full story about. And so, that’s why I love that you tied it into self-care, because that’s exactly what it is.
I mean, it really is just this intentional choice to look at what’s in front of me and find a story that makes me feel good. And again, it’s not about pushing the other things aside. It’s not even about that these things didn’t happen or changing the story. It’s just intentionally using language that makes me feel good about what’s happening around me.
So, for me, if it’s a particularly challenging or difficult situation, it’s not that that difficult situation didn’t happen, but I look for, how have I moved through it? How did I get amazing support from the people around me? Look at how loved I am, because they helped me through this. How did I learn something deeper about myself? Whatever the thing, I can always find a way to then somehow use even what can be a challenging situation to make myself feel better, to move forward from there.
And that, I think for me, is also an empowerment piece, knowing that I can turn these situations that could be game-stoppers and get me stuck into situations that just boost me forward and allow me to be around the people that I love and to connect with the people that lift me up.
PAM: And another layer that I think would be helpful for people to peel back and I’m still peeling back is, why is our tendency to take on that weight? Why does it feel like the more positive spin or the silver lining is a cheat? Why, why, why? Because it’s not.
And we can do that work to peel back those layers and to realize that these are all stories, they are all versions of the truth. They could all be true.
ANNA: So, I want to say there, as people are thinking about this, because hopefully you guys who are reading this will be mulling this over, too, I think part of that is, as a society, we have these productivity pieces.
We have these “life is suffering” pieces. “Hard work pays off.” “Work is hard.” And so, when you find this cheat of like, wait a minute. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so hard. Maybe I can be enjoying it. You have this feeling like, oh, wait a minute. That’s not this prevailing message, but, oh my goodness. Set that aside, because you’re going to have situations that come in front of you.
We don’t have to make situations more difficult. There’s going to be plenty of things to work through. But when we can find that joy, when we can switch that focus, see the light, find the gifts in the situation, life is just so much happier. But we do have to shed some of those stories from society, some of those stories from even people in our lives in order to create what feels good for us.
PAM: I love that. Yeah. I mean, “Life is hard.” Don’t we hear that story all the time? And then, if we tell a different story, the reaction can often be like, “Well, you’re Pollyanna. You’re not seeing the truth, blah blah.” So yeah, that is just so useful to work through.
I remember when I used to have an online username or whatever. And it was, “Life is good.” And I would get people to comment who would ask about that, because it was just a different perspective.
And we have people who come and say, “You guys are always so positive,” and they think it’s weird at first, which is okay, because it’s part of the process of peeling back these layers and understanding that our stories are ours to tell. And there’s more than one way to tell the story. We don’t always have to take the negative, hard bent on it.
And the reason that I am telling this story is for me. It’s not to put on a show or to make anything look different for somebody else from the outside. It’s because it helps me be the person that I want to be. It helps me in my relationships. And so, that was really interesting when someone on the Network pointed that out. They were like, “I get it now. I get that you’re not Pollyanna-ing the whole unschooling thing. It’s that it helps you have these relationships. It helps you move through these situations.” And that’s absolutely it.
I’m not thinking about anybody else’s reaction to me choosing joy or finding light in a moment, because that’s my internal work. But now I’m understanding it can come across that way, as people are listening to it. But I’m like, oh no, this is just a tool. It’s a tool that helps me connect with people, that helps me move through my days in a way that feels better.
PAM: Exactly. And helps me be more creative, helps me come up with more possibilities. So, things with my kids work out better. That’s the thing, you try it out for a little bit and you see how it goes and you try it out for a little bit and you see how it goes. And it’s like, wow, those things happen that in my other mindset never would have happened. And they were amazing. They were amazing for the kids. I had fun. We all took a giant step forward, because I told a different story to myself back there.
And through experience, the stories you tell yourself and tell about other people matter.
PAM: Well, thank you so much, Anna. It’s been so much fun to chat with you about this.
PAM: Have a wonderful day.
ANNA: Take care.