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Stories in your head

Did you know that stress, worrying or feeling bad often has to do with stories in your head? Luckily you can do something about it! I’ll share 3 simple steps that will alleviate the worry and will help you feel lighter and more relaxed.

Tara, a client of mine (fictitious name) had applied for a job. Much to her delight, she was invited for an initial interview. When I asked her how it went, she replied… ”Yes it went well, at one point I even got the feeling that they were selling the job to me.” She now felt even more enthusiastic about the job! That same week, Tara would hear if she would be invited for a second interview.

Fast forward to later that week. Tara had received a call from the organization she applied to, but she was in a meeting at the time. After she had sent a message that she could be reached again, she got the answer that the person would try to call again tomorrow ... because he had no more time that day. Tara texted me… she didn't feel good about it now. Her initial feeling where she thought she had a good chance had turned into a negative feeling. She didn't feel good at all.

What happened here? When Tara got this message, all kinds of thoughts automatically went through her mind. “If I were through, the person would really call back today. So I am not through to the next round ”. These automatic thoughts go very fast and often you are not aware of them.

But this was a story that Tara had created in her head based on the situation. The situation was simply this: the person had indicated that they did not have time to call back that day and would try to call tomorrow. No more and no less. The rest was the story that Tara had created herself. It was precisely those stories that made Tara feel bad.

We all make stories in our heads
We don't just make those stories for exciting, special things such as job applications. We do this automatically every day in very normal situations. For example, if your colleague or a friend responds in a curt tone. If someone does not respond quickly to an email or text message.

👉It is only naturally that your brain comes up with stories. Our brains are wired for story. But if these stories make you feel upset take the following three steps:

Three simple steps to help you feel better:
Do you feel upset about something? Change this feeling with the 3 steps below.

1: Separate the facts from the story. These are the facts. This is the story I created.

Example Tara: I got a voicemail from X telling me that he had tried to reach me. He did not have time to try again today and he will call me back tomorrow.

2: Create alternative stories that have a neutral or positive connotation that could also suit the facts.

This person is in meetings for the rest of the day. He doesn’t want to make a rushed phone call. Instead, he wants to have enough time to talk to me so he can give me the good news, positive feedback and more information about the follow-up.

This person has the rest of the day off. That is why he will call back tomorrow.

3: Check in:  how are you feeling now? Do you feel different now than before you took steps 1 and 2?

Separating facts from story and creating this alternative story that could also be true made Tara feel less down and worried.

Still feeling worried, anxious or stressed?
Then take a 4th step. Check the facts. E.g. Have a conversation with that other person who was curt to you. Describe the situation as factually as possible and then say: the story I am making in my head is this…. Is that actually correct?

Automatic stories in your head can make you feel uncomfortable… .. but you can also use the power of stories to influence your feelings in a positive way.

If you have used these 3 steps a number of times, you will probably find that you will only need step 1 (separating facts from story) to change how you feel

But what if the negative story in your head is correct?
Then it is still is a shame to get into the feeling of that potentially negative outcome before you know for sure that the outcome indeed is negative. All it does is make you feel bad already before you possibly might receive bad news. Feeling bad now will not make you feel less bad if you indeed get bad news. No, you just feel bad for longer: Before and after the bad news. And if a more positive scenario turns out to be correct, then you also have been feeling upset for nothing!

So I invite you to take a look this week: what stories are you making up your head? And in case of an emergency: use the three steps.

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