The “It” is your story. I often use this term to refer to the assumptions, filters, interpretations and habits through which we live and experience our lives. Whatever objective world is out there, it only appears to you as the story crafted by your brain.
I expressed it slightly differently in my article, Stories We Tell, Stories We Are, but we could just say it’s all invented.
Rosamund and Ben Zander put it this way in their delightful book, The Art of Possibility:
When you bring to mind it’s all invented, you remember that it’s all a story you tell—not just some of it, but all of it. And remember, too, that every story you tell is founded on a network of hidden assumptions.
Well, if it’s all invented and it’s not delivering the life you want, why not reinvent it? The Zanders issue just that invitation:
It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.
If you find yourself muttering, “Easier said than done,” you’ve got a point. But it’s not impossible. The problem is two-fold: seeing the old story and living a new one.
Uncovering your old story is tricky because it was laid down long ago and is tucked deep in what we might call a firmware layer rather than more easily accessible software code. The firmware is something we look through, so is impossible to look directly at. But we (and even more so those closest to us) can see its effects.
Examples of when your story is working against you are when you:
- Overreact to a minor (or non-existent) offense committed by your partner;
- Explain yourself for more than 30 seconds in desperate need to be understood;
- Inexplicably fail to follow through on seemingly simple commitments to self-improvement;
- Feel like an imposter despite others’ feedback and a track-record of success.
There are exercises, including some I’ve written of elsewhere, for exploring beneath and behind these signals.
But even having uncovered the “broken” bits of our old story, how do we replace them? Changing behavior is hard enough. How do we change at the firmware level of meaning and belief? It feels almost impossible until you consider the definition of belief as practiced thought grounded in experience. I came across this in Dr. Nicole LePera’s How to Do the Work, and it fits perfectly with my own experience and the work I do with others.
There is a spiralling circularity between our stories and our experience. The story is firmware but not hardware. We can update it without replacing our brains!
For example, we may be unduly sensitive to critical feedback. Our story includes a strong tendency to unhelpful interpretation of what we hear. That interpretation is based in thought. An alternative interpretation is also a thought. We can intentionally practice (by thinking and acting on) the thought that feedback is helpful because it improves our work and maybe our working life. We need persistence, but we can be bolstered by our understanding that “it’s all invented”. If we stick to it for a while, we are likely to see that this interpretation outperforms the old one. Our experience verifies it.
Firmware updated! But we do need to keep an eye out for digital retro-viruses that sneak the old code back in. Responsibility for our stories gives previously unimaginable freedom, but it requires active management.