Do you like a good story? Most of us do. I went for a walk in the rain recently – as it turns out, with an umbrella that wouldn’t stay up. Half way round I started working out a few things about stories. Like how they’re constantly changing, both as you experience them and as you tell them. And how you can edit things out, and shape your story in all sorts of ways. Let me show you what I mean.
First, I guess, I should give you the bare bones details:
I wanted to go for a walk
As I left I noticed it was showery, so I went back and grabbed an umbrella
I walked for a minute without it and decided I’d get too wet to be comfortable if I didn’t use it
The first time I put the umbrella up it stayed that way for about 20 seconds before closing
I fiddled for the next few minutes trying to fix it, but it wouldn’t stay open
In the end, one or other of my hands held the umbrella open the rest of the walk
So here’s my first telling:
"Because I’ve recently got a Fitbit (my latest attempt at being healthy!), this morning when I got up I figured I ought to go for a walk. The kids were asleep, and it wasn’t too hot. Since it looked showery I grabbed an umbrella – which was lucky, cos it started raining almost immediately. I quickly figured the umbrella wasn’t going to stay up, because it kept closing on my head almost from the beginning of my walking. I then spent five minutes wondering if the fact that I had to hold it open, hand up high, would affect whether the Fitbit knew I was walking. I’m pleased to confirm it counted my steps anyway!"
My second version is a little different:
I was aware of the possibility of rain cos I checked my weather app before stepping outside, so dodging back inside to pick up an umbrella was a conscious decision. I knew it was the right choice before I’d crossed the road. However, what I didn’t know was my husband’s golf umbrella was broken. I considered going back and getting a different one all the time I walked round the park opposite us, but I chose not to. I was almost regretting it as I climbed the hill – the point I realised I was going to have to continually re-open it all the time. Within five minutes I was a bit frustrated, probably because it was dawning on me that if I wanted to stay dry I was actually going to have to hold the umbrella open the whole walk! Trying to find the best system to do this filled my next five minutes. Actually, I don’t recall thinking about anything other than this issue my whole walk, though I did become aware of the way I was editing and interpreting my own thoughts somewhere in there.
I could shape this story as a martyr:
You know, despite my New Year’s resolution to get fit, it was raining this morning. I grabbed an umbrella, and wouldn’t you know it, the damn thing wouldn’t stay up! I had to choose between getting soaked and holding it open the whole way round, all the time with my arm aching! It started raining instead of just showering half way round, and to top it off as I came round my home corner the grass was so wet my shoes got soaked!
Or I could attempt comedy:
The funniest thing happened to me this morning! I forced myself to go for a walk so I could lose some of this jelly belly (wobble it for effect), and just after I stepped outside it started raining! ‘Aha!’ I thought, being smart, ‘I’ll take an umbrella!’ Well, to be cheeky I grabbed one of The Gentleman’s golf ones (it fits me all in!) and headed off. It hadn’t been more than 20 seconds before the darn clip released and the umbrella gently closed on my head! Blow me down if it wasn’t broken. I spend the rest of the walk getting periodically lost inside an umbrella! Must’ve been a good look, the headless woman going for a walk!
The point of all this is that each of these stories came out of the same experience. And none of them are untrue! It’s just that I’ve told them from different angles, and added information for different effects. Sometimes I’ve done it to get sympathy, sometimes to add detail and sometimes I’ve attempted humour. But each time there’s been a different outcome.
We all do this constantly, mostly without even being aware of it. We do it not only when re-telling our experiences to others, but also in the stories we tell ourselves. What we say – and what we don’t! –how we interpret, and the value we place on each interpretation, affects us. For these stories become our memories, and the way we see the world.
Have you ever caught yourself interpreting how you recall your experiences? Maybe you should try it today? Why not turn an annoying or sad experience into a better one? It’s possible, you know!