Narrating Your Narrative

22 September, 2015

Have you ever wondered what is going on in other people's heads?  Is it the same as yours?  And is it useful?

I've had many experiences in the past where I have "woken up" from a story.  I don't mean that someone was telling me a nice fairtytale and that I fell asleep and woke up again (although that would be nice), but the feeling of awakening might be similar. 

The interesting thing about how human brains work, is this thing called filtering.  We know from research that we have 2.7 million "bits" of information coming through our senses at any given moment, right downt the temperature on the souls of your feet, to the colour of the leaves on the tree, to the words that people are saying to you.  We also know that consciously, you can only process (or, pay attention to) 7 + or - 2 bits of information at any given moment:  that's 5 after a sleepless night on a Monday morning, and 9 after a strong coffee on a Saturday!

So the question becomes, where does all that other information go?  If you're any good at maths then you'll know that's a lot of information going in, and yet we are only made consciously aware of such a small part of it.  How does your brain know which bits to get you to pay attention to and which to filter out?

There is only one way, which in NLP we identify as filtering.  We all have filters set up: they let some information in, and let some go.  Just like a filter in a swimming pool.  But who is in charge or these filters?  Who gets to decide what goes in and what we pay attentinon to?  Who decides if you have filters that only let in the yucky stuff and filter out the good stuff?  Who cleans them up if stuff gets stuck in there?

Well, there's bad and good news here.  The good news is that it's actually you.  And the bad news is, is that it's actually you. Good because if you're not getting the experience you want out of a situation you can learn to change your filters.  "Bad" (inverted commas) because a lot of the time they are operating unconsciously (that is, without us being fully aware) and it can be a journey and an effort to change them.  

Let me give you a simplistic example.  When I was 17 years old, I fell in love for the first time. That relationship ended with my boyfriend getting a new girlfriend.  There's a whole lot to the story of course, which doesn't belong here.  Needless to say I developed a belief that partners couldn't be trusted, and that relationships would eventually end in being cheated on.  For many years, without consciously realising it, I applied this to all of my relationships: it didn't matter how devoted or in love a partner might be with me, I just couldn't believe it.  In otherwords, my brain was just working hard filtering out all the "evidence" that they were good to me, and filtering in anything that my brain could interpret as "evidence" that they were going to hurt me.  For example, if they didn't call back for one day, to me it was obvious that they were off with someone else: the conclusion was forgone.  Logically, when you lay it all out like that, you can see that not calling back for one day doesn't necessarily mean that.  It didn't matter though, because I believed it, and what you believe, you see.  Needless to say that the behaviours I exhibited whilst running this filter were not very conducive to maintaining long term and loving relationships!

In other words, when you are in the grips of a certain narrative, when you're internal story is all that is running in the background, then you will be confirming it as true to yourself no matter what might going on "out there".  What you believe, you see.  You're simply narrating your own narrative in other words.  In NLP terms, we call this recognising that the map is not the territory: the truth of how things are laid out in your head are not necessarily what's really going on out there in the world.  Of course this means that everyone is telling themselves a story about the "truth": who likes them, who doesn't, what they're good at, what they're not, what went well, what didn't, what other people are thinking of them, how things are.  If you're asking the question - well how do we know what's really true?  The answer is that we don't.  We have the world out there, the "reality" if you like, and the map we make of it inside our heads, and that's it.  And everyone has their own map, bourne of past experiences and memories, values, beliefs and personality traits.

For me, I eventually woke up from that filter that partners can't be trusted, and I realised how much those old filters had shaped my behaviour and outcomes of past relationships.  The "waking up" was like a "woa.... wait a minute, this might not actually be true? I can trust this person?" and was very profound. It was also very necessary and transformational. 

I'm writing this blog now as having given birth to a baby and becoming a mother has almost acted like a trawling net: scouring the bottom of the ocean and bringing up not only a beautiful pearl, but a load of other stuff at the bottom which had lain dormant, that requires healing.  It has revived to me the importance of recognising filters: what's being deleted, distorted, generalised here?  What is being filtered in, and out, that is shaping my current experience?  I can share more about this when I am fully on the other side, looking back with (hopefully!) more wisdom.

So how can we begin to "wake up" from our narratives, the stories we tell ourselves and therefore believe?  The first thing is to become aware of how you're interpreting a current situation.  Can you hear yourself telling people how unfair things are?  Or how hard?  Or that people might be against you, or that things will never get better?  If you can hear it coming out of your mouth, then you're definitely thinking it!  The second thing to do is to ask "what am I really believing about this situation?"  and see what you come up with.  The third thing to do is then ask a question, and be open to the answer:  "how do I know it's true?" or "who says this is true?".  Sometimes it will feel true and that's OK.  Even opening up a tiny crack of doubt, that perhaps there's a possibility of viewing things differently, can create space for something new - and more useful - to be filtered in.  Also ask: what if it weren't true? What if I believed xyz instead, what would I see?"  and perhaps a new story might emerge, e.g. person's stressed out and needs help, rather than that person doesn't like me.

Let me know of any awakenings you might have - I'd be keen to hear!

With love, Charlotte.

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