You ever experience this?
Maybe you texted someone and they haven’t texted you back yet.
Your brain starts cookin’ up some story about how they must be angry with you — and in reviewing the last time you saw each other, now you’re seeing all those memories through this they-must-hate-me lens.
By the end of the day you’re convinced that your friendship is over and now you’re just waiting for the big blow-out. And also, certainly this is the end of the world and the end of all good things forever and always.
And then, a text:
“hey what’s up?”
Our brains are built to tell stories. We’re really good at it. But sometimes we make stories before any real, true thing has happened yet. And we buy into them.
It’s a protection instinct. Brace for the blow.
I do this ALL. THE. TIME.
What I’ve been trying the last few weeks is to ask myself, when Anxiety arrives:
“What stories am I telling myself about this moment?”
What are the true, unbiased things that have happened?
I texted her.
She hasn't texted me back. Period.
The story I'm telling myself is that the reason she hasn't texted me back is because I did something to make her angry with me.
But she hasn't told me she's angry with me. There's no reality in this story.
So, the next question is: Why do I get hooked by this story?
Everyone gets "hooked" by different stories. I get hooked by "imposter syndrome" stories. I get hooked by stories about whether my friends like me. Those stories might not hook you -- but maybe a story about how you're supposed to look, for example, is the one that hooks you.
The reason one story might hook me, but not hook you, is totally dependent on my experiences, and how I've responded to them in the past. That friend I'm waiting for a text from? She's never told me she doesn't like me, and in fact, quite the opposite -- but it's something I've told myself in moments of doubt, repeatedly, out of fear from past experiences where I was hurt by someone I trusted and loved.
The more I repeat this pattern of
Doubt --> Fear --> I did something wrong --> She doesn't like me,
I'm literally carving and recarving a neural pathway in my brain. It gets easier and easier for my brain to jump from Doubt to She doesn't like me.
And it becomes a hook that takes me out of reality and the present moment, and into this story that I've been crafting for years.
The story might end up being true and it might end up being false. But 9 times out of 10 it’s a story about something that hasn’t actually happened.
And if I can just stay present, it allows me to worry less about the future, and just tackle hard things as they come, instead of always be in “oh-shit-oh-shit” mode.
I can literally create a new neural pathway in my brain:
Doubt --> Fear --> I did something wrong --> HOLD UP, girl. That's a Story.
I can train my brain to acknowledge stories as they arise, and see them for exactly that:
Just a story.
Does this land for you? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Here's a video on neural plasticity demonstrating the ability of the brain to adapt and change with mindfulness: