I wonder how many relationships have broken down completely because of a combination of 2 things:
- An information gap we fill with a made-up story
- Not asking a simple question to fill that gap with truth
It’s been an interesting (and glorious) year with my 16-year-old daughter, being privileged to be alongside her as she learns to navigate the world as an emerging young adult. In particular, guiding her as she learns to manage relationships and her contribution to them.
Relationships with teachers, boyfriends, friends, bosses, family.
And one of the things I’ve tried really hard to help her know is this:
When you have fear or a worry, there’s usually a strong element of the unknown. There’s missing information. And what our brain naturally does is build a story to fill that gap. That story might be true or it might be completely fabricated or it might have elements of both.
The trick is for you to be AWARE that it’s a story you’ve built.
And you simply can’t know if it’s a true story or not without asking.
Words have power
In her Netflix special Call to Courage, Brene Brown says one of the things all resilient people had in common was a phrase like,
“The story I’m telling myself is…”
So I’ve been guiding her to use phrases like that:
To her boyfriend: When I can see you’re online but you don’t reply to my messages. the story I’m telling myself is that you’ve lost interest in me.
To her teacher: I’m really worried about not passing these credits and in my mind, I’m going to fail everything so I should just give up.
To her boss: I’m freaking out that since I injured my hand you’re not going to want me to work for you anymore, and I feel like I’ve let you down.
You have power.
Each phrase is followed by a question:
- So, can you reassure me?
- So, can you tell me what you think?
- So, can we talk about how this is working for you?
- So, can you help me understand what it’s like for you?
- So, can you tell me if you’re upset with me?
- So, can we talk about it?
Every single time, EVERY SINGLE TIME she’s used this approach, she’s very quickly come back to me with some version of, “Everything’s ok now, Mum.”
The conversation was opened.
The information was transmitted.
The gap was filled not with her imagination but with insight from the other person.
And that was the basis of the resolution, or the progress, or the reassurance, or WHATEVER.
It’s been such a joy to watch.
It’s been such a privilege for her to turn to me for this support and to take on my advice and to report back with excitement when having the right words to use gave her power in her world.
I truly believe that one of the key differences between self-aware, self-determined people and everyone else is this:
Self-aware people KNOW when they have facts and they KNOW when they’re filling information gaps with a story they’re telling themselves.
And for you?
Maybe revisit something that’s bothering you. Ask yourself what evidence you have that it’s all correct, or how many gaps you’ve filled with assumptions.
And then go to the other person and try the phrase: The story I’m telling myself is…
You got this, friend.