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February 9, 2019
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February 18, 2019

It’s About Control

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

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.


  1. LB says:

    I love it! LOL. Yes, indeed change your story. We do it all the time, and like a fine wine, we do it better with aging. Great post!

    On a funny note, I had a friend when I lived in Detroit, years ago, who was a rather ballsy chick. A guy approached her with what seemed to be a gun in his pocket and told her to give him her purse. Now, Detroit was known for this sort of thing like robbing and mugging, and I even experienced it myself once, but that’s another story, and the guy got away with my purse. But in her case, maybe the fear in his eyes gave him away, or maybe it was his slumped posture or his weak voice in making the demand. Whatever it was, who knows? But she figured out he had his finger in his pocket and not a gun, at which point she whacked him over the head with her purse. He pulled his finger out of his pocket to protect himself from further blows and began apologizing profusely, making excuses for his cowardly attempt to rob her. I think she said she felt sorry for him (or that may just be my memory at this point) and gave him a few bucks and told him to be on his way.

    I’m guessing, unlike you and I, she probably didn’t watch that much TV. 😉

  2. Vanessa says:

    I found this article enlightening and empowering!! So true – we have the power to change our story! On a daily basis we tell ourselves things that affect our decisions.. so important to be aware and know we are in the drivers seat! Thank you Ivan!!

  3. craig houchin says:

    Great post. Great advice. Ever since I heard it, I have loved the phrase: Prison of Belief. It is so true.

    • I’m never sure whether it’s the stories that dictate our beliefs, or the other way round. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. We need the stories to create the meaning in our lives.
      That’s why they’re so important.

  4. LB says:

    Your article on “Memories” was very thought provoking. You made your point so well and did an excellent job with finding references and examples to support it.

    Memory is a reality shifter — that’s totally real to me. The example you gave of the expert trader even made me think of myself when I got a 1099 statement this year. The capital gain for some investments seemed so much higher than last year. I thought about calling my financial advisor to tell her I wanted to be forewarned if there was going to be an increase like that. I was a bit aggravated and worried how it would affect my taxes. Then I happened to look at last year’s 1099 and the increase over last year wasn’t appreciable at all.

    Memories. Point taken.

    Maybe I was short on problems and wanted to get worked up over something or I was in a critical mood when I looked at the statement. Probably the latter. As it turned out, I was relieved to discover how altered my memory was and that the problem was a total fabrication.

    Your article also made me think of quantum mechanics and the double-slit experiment regarding the concept of wave-particle duality. Adding an observer changed the outcome of the experiment, which is referred to as “the observer effect.”

    You have to wonder how much thought plays a part in shaping the “reality” that we call our physical world. And if that’s the case, let’s get back to your take away from one of your earlier posts called “Good.” “Good things are happening!”

    Again, thanks for your articles. They’re very insightful and I’ve really enjoyed them.

    • Thank you, Lyn. Memory is slippery, and the older one gets the more slippery it is. Could you imagine what will happen if our lives are extended to several hundred years? It is
      a point that is rarely if ever mentioned, but I think significant.

  5. LB says:

    Great point. I think it’s significant too. If lives extended to several hundred years, we’d need a far different perspective on aging. Some cultures view it very differently. In Asia, the elderly are revered for their wisdom. In American culture, which is so physically focused, aging is seen as a state of deterioration. We even have a basis for taking legal action in our justice system and it’s called “age discrimination.” What does that tell you? Maybe as a society, we need to rethink our view of aging. How much of aging is really just a state of mind?

    Perhaps the daily mantra should be, “Good things are happening and I feel so young!” LOL.

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