I was listening to an audio book today, where the main character bemoans some of his past mistakes, while on a journey to reignite his life. To start living again. Because for 20 years he’s shut himself down to life. All because of heartache.
In short, he’s been telling himself a story for 20 years that without a certain person, life is not worth living. That women betray. That he feels nothing. That he’s dead inside. Only to open the letter the woman gave him when leaving and realizing she left because she was dying, not because she wanted to leave him.
The character has lived a lie, but the truth is, whether it’s a lie, or not, the way he has lived his life is because of a story he’s been telling himself. Even if that woman left him because she no longer loved him, he didn’t have to live a life without deep feelings. Without love. Without joy. He could have told a different story. A story where he said that even greater love awaited him, or at the very least: a love as impactful, if different. He could have challenged himself to live even more; to honor what he’d learned in the relationship. To taste life. To drink it in. To fully live. The actions he’d have taken would have been different and hence, his life would have been different.
The quote I heard this morning though was about fear. The character says that fear is the most stupid thing of all. But fear is also just a story inside our mind.
If you fear a plane will crash, you are telling yourself that story over and over again. That’s why you feel fear. If you’re telling yourself you’ll land safe and sound on the other side, you’ll have no fear.
Likewise, imagine going to an audition. You have fear that the people auditioning you will be mean, that you’ll forget your lines and that you won’t get the part because there will be people there who are either better actors, or better looking.
When you get there, if one of the people auditioning you says anything nasty, it’ll trip you up. If you see one of the actors performing and it’s good, it’ll trip you up. If you momentarily can’t remember a line, it’ll trip you up. If you see someone better looking than you, it’ll trip you up. Because you expect that the moment you feel fear, you’ll make a mistake.
If, on the other hand, you realize you have fear and face it, you have an opportunity to overcome it by rewriting (or overwriting) the story in your mind. You close your eyes and imagine how you want to feel at the audition: calm and composed. If you see a better actor, one of the people auditioning you is mean, or you forget a line, you’ll take a deep breath, relax and keep going. When you feel fear, you’ll relax. This is what you imagine over and over again.
In short, you’re programming your brain. When the day comes and the fear hits, you relax. By relaxing, you’re able to remember your lines and pull off a great performance no matter what’s happening around you.
This is one very powerful way of changing habits: of imagining what you’ll feel and then choosing how you’ll feel next. If you have a problem with getting nervous with your boss and therefore not standing up for yourself, imagine seeing your boss, feeling the nervosity and then becoming calm and acting from that sense of calm. Imagine standing up for yourself.
If you have a problem with eating too much chocolate, imagine a time when you’re likely to want chocolate. Imagine the desire. Then imagine another feeling: the desire to go for a run, or become healthy. Imagine the action you’ll take when feeling that way. Imagine this over and over again until you’ve programmed your mind to do what you want it to.
I listened to someone recently telling me a story about a movie. In the movie the main character is an alcoholic who lands a plane during some sort of crisis and saves a lot of lives. However, because he was drunk when doing it, he’s sentenced to serve time in prison.
He stays sober in prison and then appeals for a lesser sentence. He’s left alone for a couple of hours and gets drunk, ruining his own opportunity.
I recently read an article where Brad Pitt talks about sobriety — Angelina Jolie divorced him due to some things relating to alcoholism and he went through a really rough time, which he spoke about in GQ. It was an impressive article and a sad one. The man looked like hell and felt like it too. But he joined AA and found a therapist and in this recent article I came across he talks about how he used to numb his feelings with alcohol, drugs, food, Netflix…now he wants to feel. Feel everything. Hear the birdsong. Because once he became comfortable with feeling pain, he let himself feel other things too, like joy. It was beautiful. And he no longer looks like hell. In fact, he’s fit as fuck and gorgeous as hell. And this is a man in his fifties.
Likewise, I’ve read Russell Brand’s book Recovery which is an incredible account of what it means to be totally fucked up and unfucking yourself. From heroin addict and bulemic to father of two and happily married. I read it because I’ve been around a lot of people who have raved about AA/NA and I was always jealous I couldn’t attend meetings (addicted to creativity…uhm), and the book talks about the 12 steps. But Brand is not your average writer. He swears more than I do. So I liked his take on it. And the book took me through a period when I was mourning my grandmother.
Now, as an addict you can either tell yourself the story about the man who had a chance of redemption and got drunk, or you can tell yourself the stories about Brad Pitt and Russell Brand. Your choice. How you act is dependent on the stories you tell yourself though. If you don’t think there’s hope for recorvery and staying clean, why would you try? If you chat to the millions of people who have recovered and stayed clean (and most importantly: become happy again), then you’ll be prone to go down the route of recovery. Because who doesn’t want to be happy?
When you start listening to your own and other people’s stories, you hear the most incredible things. I’m bad with finances. I get depressed on Thursdays. I have date night anxiety. Really? Or are they just stories in your mind? Stories based around some event that happened at some point that you then decided to keep repeating to yourself. Like the character in that book, all of us are living lies. Because there’s more to life than that one event. Even if that woman would have left that man, not all women betray you. Not all love affairs end in tears. But as long as you repeat the stories in your mind, you’ll keep reliving your patterns.
Life happens to all of us, but how you react to it is up to you. And that’s mainly dependent on the stories you tell yourself about what’s happening. You can sit watching the news all day long and feel miserable about the world, or you can head to the Amazon and discover the grandeur of nature and this incredible thing called life. You can be depressed by the state of the planet or awed by its amazing beauty. Your choice.
I can hear you say: but I must think about the bad state of the planet to do something about it. No, you don’t. If you celebrate the beauty of the world, you’re a lot more likely to be inspired to do something good. To come up with solutions that actually save the planet.
But more importantly, maybe, are the stories you’re telling yourself about yourself. About who you are. About how your relationships will go. About how tomorrow will be like. About how the next hour will unfold. Have a look at them. And if they aren’t working for you, overwrite them.
So who are you? Really? Beyond the stories you’re telling yourself. What is the truth? The naked truth. Not the imagined lie. Just you. Naked.