We are the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Stories matter.

They are how we shape and interpret the world around us. because what is a story if not a lens through which we can view another human’s experience?

Stories are how societies impart their beliefs on morality, on what makes someone a good person. From the simplest tales where liars and thieves are cast as villains, to the stories of honor and sacrifice that led countless young men and women to die fighting in wars that had nothing to do with their daily lives.

But the most interesting of all are the stories we tell ourselves. The ones where we are protagonist, or on a good day the hero. Think about the memories you revisit the most often, or the ones your friends and family tell about you. This is the lens through which you see yourself. Are you smart, funny, courageous? Or perhaps you paint yourself in a less favorable light. Either way though, the way you’re going to act on a day to day basis is built upon the feelings these stories create.

Of course most of them aren’t accurate.

The funny thing about human memory is how poorly it recalls events. This is why eyewitness accounts are actually terrible pieces of evidence. Every time we remember an event we are likely to alter it one way or another. Take for example the classic fishing story where every time the fisherman talks about his catch the fish just keeps getting bigger.

In a 1974 study by Lotus and Palmer, three groups of people were shown a video of the same car crash. The first group was asked “how fast the cars were going when the hit each other?”, the second was asked “how fast the cars were going when they smashed into each other?”, and the third group served as the control and wasn’t asked anything. a week later each group was asked if they saw any broken glass in the video. Here were the results:


While the “hit” group and the control group reported almost identical numbers, the “smashed” group were more than twice as likely to remember seeing broken glass, despite there not being any in the video.

What this means is that our memories are flexible. Do you really remember that family trip back when you were six? Or is that memory just a story built by countless re-tellings?

Does it even matter?

If we’re talking about our legal system, then yes what actually happened matters a lot. But on a day to day basis we build our lives and identities around the stories and memories of ourselves and those close to us, whether they are true or not.

We are the stories we tell ourselves.

Take care of your narrative; it’s what builds your reality. So make sure it’s a story you like.