Life is as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it. I think it was Shakespeare who said, “…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. More often than not, it is not the things that happen to us that cause us pain, anxiety, or discomfort – but rather the meaning we give to those events. Our lives come down to the stories we choose to tell…and most people tell rather terrible stories.
Frank and I like to play a game together. We call it “The Consideration Game”. Partly inspired by Pollyanna’s Glad Game. It works like this. Let’s say, you go to your favorite coffee house and on this particular morning, the barista is surly and rude. You could meet her rudeness with rudeness of your own. You could tell a story about how she’s always disliked you…or maybe she’s mad at you for some reason. Telling stories like that would allow you to stir up all kinds of negative feelings and emotions like anger, anxiety, and rejection. Or…since we’re telling stories anyway…and the stories we’re making up don’t have any basis in facts…why not make up a more favorable story? Why not tell a story about how she’s really tired because last night after volunteering late at the nursing home she rescued a litter of kittens from a tree… Her rudeness isn’t personal. It has absolutely nothing to do with you. She’s simply tired. And…she’s a hero! Now you’ll react to her rudeness with extreme courtesy. In psychology, this is called noncomplementary behavior. And according to research, noncomplementary behavior is one of the most effective tools for diffusing hate.
I play The Consideration Game most often while driving. I tend to have a lot of road rage. Using this technique, when someone cuts me off in traffic, I immediately think “Wow…that poor man really has to go to the bathroom”. This makes me laugh…and brings me back to the present moment.
We could spend our whole lives caught up in the stories we tell. Stories based on assumptions and fear. We could train ourselves to tell better stories. Or, we could drop the stories altogether and simply accept that some things happen; some things don’t.