We all have stories… some good, some not so good.. about our lives. Some stories are true, some are purely perceptions, and some are not true at all. The stories we tell determine how we feel and what we look for in our day, and ultimately, how we live our lives. Our stories can cause us pain, and often those are the ones we re-run time and time again. There is a reason for that which is known as the “negativity bias”. Our brains are trained to notice and be aware of negative events simply to protect us and keep us safe. This is helpful when being chased by a tiger, but not when you re-run a negative encounter with someone, that has happened and passed.
Don’t forget, with 60-80,000 thoughts running through your head everyday, many being negative thoughts….. surely not all are worth believing!
In fact, when you are feeling down or stressed, there is usually a story or thought behind it that you are telling yourself. We usually shoot ourselves with what Buddha called the “second arrow” which is the drama or beliefs that we assign to a painful situation. The first arrow being the actual event. Mindfulness helps us to ditch the drama we are telling ourselves, and just be with what has happened and the subsequent feelings. For example, if you have experienced the pain of rejection, you might tell yourself stories such as “it’s my fault”, “there’s something wrong with me” ,”that shouldn’t have happened”, “I’m not good”…. or you could just be with the pain of rejection and let it pass, as it always does. Or, if something doesn’t go your way, notice any stories such as “nothing’s going right”, “this is a bad day” or “this always happens to me!”…… and switch to just feeling the frustration, breathe and move on.
There is a part of the brain called the “reticular activating system” (RAS) that is responsible for sorting and filtering information that we tell it is important. Ever notice that when we decide we like a certain colour of car, we see that colour everywhere. Likewise when we are constantly worried about getting let down, guess what? Your RAS will see evidence for this all around. On the other hand, when we fill up our brains by noticing all the good stuff, the good stories and all the things that we are grateful for, your RAS will hook you up with all the evidence you need to support this story.
Dont believe it? Try it for a week. Every night write down 3-5 things you are grateful for that day. Feed your RAS with good stories about your life (don’t sugarcoat it, allow the negative, just notice the good stuff). Notice how you feel depending on what story you are telling yourself.