Sometimes life needs a rewrite
Everyone has a story about “the way life is.” That story is never entirely accurate and you can spend a lifetime getting it closer and closer to correct. The problem is, the story feels true at every stage. Especially when you are young it feels truer than the truest thing you can feel. The sky is blue. I’m sitting in a chair. That’s up. That’s down. This story is true.
No, sorry. It’s just a story and stories can be rewritten. There are several general types of stories and here are a few.
Life is always going to be like this.
Life is always going to be like this? Wow! You can foretell the future! If you really could foretell the future you’d be rich. All you’d need to do is bet on the stock market or the ponies.
Check your pockets. Not rich? Read on.
It sometimes seems like nothing is changing or can change. Things are good. Nobody’s sick, the car is running and the weather is decent… okay, nobody believes that’s permanent but they think the change will come far, far into the future. Or maybe there is bad stuff but you pretend that the bad stuff isn’t there. If I ignore it, it will go away!
What people believe about good times is that they ought to be permanent. Bad things in life are offensive, a blot on the universe. Why is this happening to me?!? (Hint: because this kind of thing happens to everybody and you are an anybody.)
“Life ought to be a certain way” is a story that feels perfectly true, darn it. But it’s false. Life has no “ought” or “should.” Life is what it is.
And when things are bad? The car broke down, your partner left you for someone younger and thinner. Your roof leaks. Things are always going to be bad. Life sucks. There’s no reason to fight it. Microwave something fattening and fire up the Netflix.
That’s a story called “overgeneralization.” It’s false. Life is never perfectly good and it’s never perfectly bad. You have Netflix, for crying out loud! No matter how bad many things are, there are nearly always good things happening too. That’s why gratitude lists are so popular. Pretty much everyone needs to be prodded to pay attention to everything, not just the good stuff or the bad stuff.
Things can change on a dime, between one breath and the next. It can look like an endless road ahead of more of the same and suddenly things are better or they are worse. Or just different.
If things are going well
If things are going well and you say “life is always going to be like this,” you are feeding yourself a false narrative that will bite you on the ass sooner or later. Things change. You must plan for it. You won’t always be young. You won’t always be healthy. If you avoid telling yourself that story, you’ll live within your means and keep a savings account, a current resume, appropriate insurance.
And if you ignore it, it will NOT go away. In fact, it will probably grow.
Also when things are going well and you depend on it to stay that way, you are taking life for granted. You lose a sense of enjoyment and gratitude that comes when you keep in mind that the happiness you feel at the moment is fleeting and therefore all the richer.
If things are going badly
If things are not going the way you want them to and you tell yourself “life is always going to be like this” you are refusing to accept responsibility for change. You are cementing your helplessness. Fear has overcome your courage.
No matter how horrible things are and no matter the fact that you can’t see a way out, it is still within your power to change the situation. You may not have thought of a solution to the situation, you may not have found a way out but “life is always going to be like this” erects a wall between you and those solutions.
I can’t make friends
I suppose there are people who think “everybody likes me” but that’s kind of rare and possibly pathological. “Nobody will like me” is way more common.
“People don’t like me” is a form of mind reading. With a real gift of mind reading you could make your fortune playing poker! Successful poker players use many skills to make their fortunes, but not by reading minds.
Some people are very open about how they feel about you and it’s obvious. That’s not the kind of thing I’m talking about.
What I’m talking about is the people you’ve never met or have just met. People do make snap decisions about new people in their lives, but usually not. They are busy being at the center of their own stories.
Usually they are not even thinking about you. You have an opportunity be kind and understanding to them and see what happens. Some people won’t like you, just as you are not going to like everyone you meet. But that’s not a problem. There are a lot of people in the world. A lot. Be kind and curious about the next person you meet and see what happens.
Your stories can fool you
They are seductive and feel true. But when they get in the way of your growth and your happy life they are toxic. The the stories need to be rewritten. Sometimes the rewrite doesn’t feel “right” but that’s because you haven’t been thinking that way. A bad story is a bad habit.
Are you foretelling the future? How about “wait and see” or “I can change this”? Are you overgeneralizing? How about paying attention to everything going on? What good things are happening? What needs your attention? Are you reading minds? How about just asking? Why not get curious what people think and find out for sure?
A human life is a constantly flowing and changing river. Nothing stays the same for long, good or bad. And while it’s out of your control, there’s always something you can do to change a situation that needs changing.
Because you are a part of that river.