When you look up at the night sky, you see a vast expanse of stars. But the human brain struggles with “vast.” It likes to break things down into more practical bits. So we look at this overwhelming sea of stars and we start to organize them, categorize them. This cluster of stars looks kind of like a hunter. We name it Orion. We give Orion an origin story, a backstory. Then we say people born while Orion is at a certain place in the sky are said to have this and that quality. So on and so forth. The human brain takes something chaotic, unknowable and reduces it to something relatable. We relate to the world by telling stories.
Everyone has an ego story. This is the way you make sense of life events. You take this constant stream of things happening, most of which are outside your control, and reduce it down to a kind of adventure tale. You are the hero of this tale. And what does every hero need? A villain.
You wake up sick one morning, but you go to work anyway. You heroically face the shower, your breakfast, etc. You get to work and your boss–your ego story’s villain at the time–is rude to you, makes unreasonable demands on your time, etc. So now your day at work becomes a drama. Good guy struggles to provide for his family despite evil boss’s schemes. You tell this story over and over to whomever will listen. You tell it because you are trying to hold onto this image of yourself as hero. Of course, your evil boss has her own ego story and likely sees you, ungrateful employee #6, as her villain.
Not everything is a story. Getting a cup of coffee? Not a story. Bank teller rude to you? Not a story. We frame these mundane events as stories because we see our lives in dramatic terms, a noble struggle. Can you be more mindful when you notice yourself going into story mode? Are you open to the idea you tell stories to make you sound smarter, funnier, kinder, more successful than you really are?
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.