Wellness Wednesday – Minding Our Stories
Image by Freepik
Have you ever watched a show with really bad narration and thought you could have enjoyed it if the director had cut the voice-over?
Our brains are nearly always running voice-overs. Sometimes we recognize what lousy executives are shouting the dialogue: childhood ghosts, advertising and pop culture, some “ism” we’ve internalized. Mostly we don’t question it at all.
Today, try being the director of your narrative. Notice the running commentary that is the voice-over of your actual experience. First, just try to catch it. See how often you find yourself narrating your experience with a judgment or explanatory thought. For most, the answer will be “constantly”.
Next, investigate. Give the thoughts a name. If it’s a worry about something in the past– a regret– name it “past thought”. If it’s a worry about something that hasn’t yet happened, call it “future thought”. If it’s an evaluation of a current situation, decide whether it is a fact or a judgment; call it one of those. That’s harder. We tend to believe our judgments and see them as reality.
“That checker gave me the wrong change.” Assuming that happened, it’s a fact.
“That checker is a jerk.”= present thought, judgment.
“I shouldn’t have come to this store”. That’s a judgment/regret. Past thought.
“This is going to be a horrible day”. Judgment, prediction, a worry. Future thought.
There are several points to this exercise. 1) Becoming aware of our internal dialogue allows us to exercise choice. Being an observer rather than a consumer of our thoughts gives us breathing room. 2) Figuring out the difference between judgments and facts allows the opportunity to look for alternate explanations. We don’t know other people’s stories and can’t be sure why they act in certain ways. When the stakes are low, assume benign intent. At least don’t personalize it. 3) By being in the present (when there is nothing to be done in this moment about worries or regrets), we avoid suffering in advance or suffering twice.
Try it for a few minutes today, and notice what happens for you.
Jana Svoboda, LCSW/Advising Center Mental Health faculty