Facts vs stories

There is a difference between facts and stories. And it’s important to know it.

To understand why it’s important, consider these examples that I have heard from clients I’ve worked with.

Fact: I currently have $2 dollars in my bank account.
Story: I’m broke, I’m terrible with money and I’m always going to struggle because of it.

Fact: It’s raining.
Story: It’s horrible weather. What a dreadful day.

Fact: He hasn’t asked me out on a second date yet.
Story: He doesn’t like me. I’m unattractive and I’ll probably always be alone.

When we stick to the facts of the matter, things are fairly simple. But the stories we tell ourselves about the facts can add a whole lot of extra stress, suffering, hostility and negativity on top.

So today I’m talking about how this distinction between the two can make a big difference in your ability to stay mentally strong. Keep reading or press play below to listen.

According to dictionary.com, these facts and stories are defined as follows:

Fact: Something that actually exists; reality; truth.
Story: A narrative about the facts; either true or fictitious.

If you were speaking about facts, you would report what happened objectively with nothing added – a bit like a camera would. A camera is objective. It doesn’t have an opinion or emotional reaction. It simply sees the scene.

The problem with ‘stories’

Our stories about these facts however, may be coloured by our beliefs, our past experiences, our mood in that moment, our opinions, judgements, and desires.

In our stories, we often make interpretations and meanings out of the facts and this can distort our own ability to see things clearly. In our stories, we often make assumptions and jump to conclusions that are often not accurate and can be unhelpful.

Importantly, our stories have the ability to create a lot of emotional turmoil and suffering.

That’s why it’s important, every now and then, to pause when we are anxious, stressed, reactive or overwhelmed to see what kind of stories we are telling ourselves.

Once we can see the stories, if they are unhelpful, we can let them go.


Let go of unhelpful stories by checking the facts

One way we can unhook from unhelpful thoughts is to see that it is just a story, not a fact. It’s only when we buy into the stories that they create suffering, stress and inner turmoil.

For instance, if you wake up one day and it’s raining and then the thought arises, “What a dreadful day” – that’s a story. And if you believe that story you will start to feel an emotional reaction to that story in your body – the negativity and grumpiness. And you will probably go ahead and have a dreadful day!

But is it a ‘dreadful day’ or is it simply raining?

By questioning your thoughts in this way you can unhook from them. You realise, “I’m telling myself that story that’s its dreadful, but it’s not reality, it’s just raining.”

Then, you can come back to the facts of the moment. It’s simply raining. Now you are free to just enjoy the sound of the rain and the coolness in the air with no negativity.

In the same way we tell ourselves stories about the weather we also do it with events, other people, ourselves, our work and so on.

So my invitation for practice this week is this.

The next time you find yourself feeling reactive, triggered, upset or pulled into negative emotions, pause, take a breath and check to see what stories are arising in the mind.

If it’s an unhelpful story, try mentally noting to yourself “unhelpful story”, and then try checking in with the simple facts of things. Especially do this in your interactions with others, which is where many of us will make assumptions and stories rather than keeping it simple and staying with the known facts.

Practising mental strength in this way, you unhook from unhelpful stories and find more calm, ease and clarity in everyday life.

I hope this is helpful for you. Take care and stay strong.

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