Whoever controls the story controls the action.
As a writer, it’s what I do, but I got to thinking and realized this concept can be applied much more broadly.
A dramatic example: a man with a gun orders you to get down on the ground. You get down on the ground.
What happened here?
The gunman figured that you’ve probably seen enough TV shows and films to be suitably intimidated, and that you will either obey, or be shot. You do as he says because you have indeed seen enough TV and movies. Note: you both share the same story, and both of you believe it.
My question for you is this: if neither you nor the gunman shared that story, would the same action follow?
I doubt it would. Why not?
Suppose you notice that the man is actually holding a squirt gun.
The story has changed. Squirt guns don’t kill people. For you, the story becomes “It’s a bluff”. Given this fact, you can choose to: A. get down on the ground, B. confront the man and perhaps attack him, or C. run like hell because it’s safe to do so.
Which choice you make will depend on the stories and the narratives you hold in your mind regarding handling bluffs. For myself, I would probably choose C. Cowardly, you might think. Perhaps, but that’s my story. What is important in this example is that by changing the narrative from “I’m dead” to “It’s a bluff”, there are more options and maybe better choices.
We rely heavily on memory to tell ourselves what’s true, and what is not. What if the stories you tell yourself aren’t exactly true, particularly the ones you hold most dear. What if most of them contain facts that are either wrong, or are cherry-picked from a host of others that would not support the story you believe?
Here’s a thought: if most of the stories we tell ourselves are lies in the first place, wouldn’t it make sense to simply work out a better narrative that puts us in a bit more of a commanding position?
Lest you think this is ridiculous, did you know that trial attorneys are well aware that memory is malleable? Witnesses can be made to remember differently with certain methods of questioning, even as to matters of fact. Yield signs can be made to be remembered as stop signs, not the yield signs of the actual incident. The more often a memory is remembered and recounted, the more it is changed.
Eyewitnesses are not exactly trustworthy; this is a fact. And who is the prime eyewitness to your own life?
Perhaps that is why we are happiest at 16 and at 70. At sixteen we are full of promise and promises. At seventy, we have recalled how our lives turned out enough times to change the memories to the ones we want.
Remember, whoever controls the story controls the action. Bad day? Bad week? Bad life? Why wait to seventy? Start early. Change your story.