We do not always know how it got written nor do we always know the origins of it, but the “story in my head” is that thing that tells us what to expect, what to believe, what is – and is not – possible, and what power or personal agency is available to us. It is that thing that happens organically and so quickly that we do not pay attention to it, but we allow it to guide our reactions and responses. It is often what we use to justify our position. It is what we use to declare that we are in the right. But does it actually serve us?
I love when a client tells me about the story in their head. The story is always positioned in a way that fulfills whatever earlier messages determined what path they should be on. This is where the challenge comes in. We have to understand how a story works.
A great story, whether a book or movie, is predicated on the fact that there is limited space to tell the story. A movie is done in 90 minutes. A book as a page limit. The story must be told within those confines and there is no ability to expand it. The story also requires a certain suspension of disbelief. We must put reality on the shelf. If we did not, dinosaurs would never takeover Jurassic Park, the car chase would never go around those corners without crashing, and Annie would never find Daddy Warbucks. We must believe those things can happen. And we do. We stop questioning the reality of them. We get a sense of pleasure accepting things at face value. Then, we come back for the sequel because if it was true once, it must be true again. Even in nonfiction, we never get the full reality with all the facts and truths. We get a version of story – always missing parts.
I challenge clients to drop the story in their head and replace it with the theory in their head. A theory is something else. It is a hunch, a suspicion, a prediction that is based on some form of experience, inside knowledge, and/or a hope. But a theory has no value until it has been tested. A theory is not credible until proven. It must be studied. If it is disproven, then theory must be reconsidered. Perhaps it needs more context. Perhaps it is situational. If the theory is proven, it must be tested again. Is there consistency? Is it proven every time or only in certain situations with certain people under certain conditions? To prove a theory there must be a result that has been replicated. As situations and conditions change, the theory must be tested again to ensure it still stands up to rigor.
This subtle but significant shift in how we think and process can open new avenues to heal relationships, build bridges, increase introspection and improve communications. Imagine what might be different if you took the story in your head about why your partner did what they did or how you expected your coworkers to respond or whether someone thought you were enough and framed it as a theory? How would you test it? What change do you think might be possible? Changing from story to theory helps us to get unstuck and break negative patterns which invites new ones to emerge!
To learn more about how to shift from story to theory, contact Dr. Elliott at [email protected]