Our brains are the best (and worst) storytellers and are constantly making up stories! Usually, they’re negative… Here's why it's a problem and how you can get a handle on it.
If something happens, our brains automatically get to work trying to establish the meaning behind the occurrence. Often, if there isn't an obvious meaning, our brains generally jump to the worst-case scenario.
Here's a real-life example of what I mean...
I used to work for a company where I could hear the conversations of the customer service team from where I sat. On this occasion, it was just one of them instead of two, and it seemed to be a busy day of calls.
The customer service rep was on the phone, when suddenly she slammed it down and yelled out, "Oh my god people are SO rude! That's the second person who's hung up on me today!"
She was clearly frustrated and upset at the way she was treated and couldn't understand how people could be so rude when all she was trying to do was help.
It was obvious that at that moment she really wasn't enjoying her job and she let that person get to her. But a few minutes later, the phone rang again, and after a short chat she put down the phone and seemed to be in high spirits again.
She was her normal, happy smiling self. As it turned out, the person she thought hung up on her simply lost connection and rang back a few minutes later to explain the situation and carry on with where they left off.
This is a perfect everyday example of how our brains make up stories to explain events that happen, often jumping to the worst-case scenario, and more often than not they're wrong.
Our brains are constantly making up stories
While it's normal and often useful for our brains to try to make sense of things, the problem is that they're not always right, and in many cases the stories our brains make up to try and rationalise things do more harm than good.
Imagine in this example, if the customer service rep thought of a more positive explanation instead of jumping to the worst-case scenario? I'm sure she would have felt a lot less upset if her first thought was 'it's ok, I'm sure they just lost connection', rather than 'that asshole hung up on me!'
So, here are some tips from a life coach for ensuring you don't let your brain tell you made up stories that can upset you for no good reason.
Step #1: Ask yourself: is it true?
The first step when your brain is telling you stories in order to explain a situation is to ask yourself, is that true? And how do you know it's true? If you can't provide an answer that truly supports the story, then you're already set on track to disproving it.
Step #2: Ask yourself: is there another explanation?
Next up is to ask yourself if there's another logical explanation instead of the worst-case scenario. Usually, there will be many. The aim is to get them all out on the table so you're covering all angles. This enables you to put things into perspective, as usually how we interpret a situation isn't how it's actually intended.
Step #3: Ask yourself: what version makes me feel the best? And go with that one...
Until you know for certain, what's wrong with choosing the explanation that makes you feel good rather than like crap?
That, my friends, is the epitome of having a positive mindset.
Some may say that always thinking positive is unrealistic, and I'm not saying that you continue to choose the positive explanation even after a different one's been proven because that's simply trying to hide away from reality. Instead, what I'm suggesting is that you don't need to go through the pain or unnecessary stress of going with an explanation that hasn't been proven yet!
No news is good news, so focus on the result you want and consider that to be the true one until you're proven otherwise. You will be a lot happier by thinking this way and making it a habit. Because guess what, more often than not the bad stuff doesn't actually end up happening so you stressed for no reason anyway!
Break free from your brain’s negative storytelling
So, there you have it—why our brains are the ultimate fiction writing machines and that's a problem, plus how to stop your brain from always jumping to the worst-case scenario!
Can you recall any examples in your own life that your brain has made up worst-case-scenario stories that weren't even true? Let me know in the comments!
About the author, Janelle Kee-Sue
Janelle Kee-Sue is a certified life coach, accredited cognitive behavioural therapy practitioner, writer, storyteller and marketing specialist based in Wellington, New Zealand. She’s been to almost 50 countries, is a former professional bikini bodybuilding champion with a world title under her belt, and is passionate about helping women who are feeling stuck and unfulfilled in their careers and lives to get clarity on their next steps and start living the life they're meant for. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the gym, working on her novel, or hanging with her Samoyed Zeus and her husband Ricky. Learn more.