Have you ever considered how amazing you are at making up stories? Take a moment to reflect on any stories you may have conjured up today. Maybe it was attributing a meaning to an unreturned call, interpreting a look on someone’s face or perhaps assuming someone’s intentions.
Our brains are meaning making machines but the problem is that sometimes the meanings aren’t reflective of the experience of others involved in the situation.
I had a powerful example of this a few years back with a career coaching client. Let’s call her Jan. My first session with Jan was great. We had a natural rapport, she was highly engaged and she set an objective for our work together before signing up for a three session coaching package. Jan booked her next appointment at the end of session one.
A week after Jan’s appointment I realised that her payment hadn’t appeared in my bank account and was now overdue. Summoning some courage, I rang Jan to confirm that she’d received the invoice and that everything was in order. When I said that I’d hadn’t received her payment Jan replied “I sent a cheque last week”. Involuntarily the words “Do people still use cheques?” tumbled out of my mouth. Immediately I wished I could suck them back in.
I fumbled my way through the rest of the conversation with Jan and later found her cheque in my letterbox.
Jan postponed her next appointment and despite a couple of attempts to contact her, I didn’t hear back. I concluded that Jan had been offended by my cheque comment and felt terrible about it on and off for quite some time.
Six to 12 months later Jan contacted me and asked me if I could write a letter on her behalf. She had a good friend who had got herself into some trouble in a stressful circumstance and needed a reference written for the courts. Although it was a bit left field I agreed to help Jan out.
Still conscious of my cheque comment, I offered to transfer credit from the career coaching program to this service but Jan wouldn’t have it. She insisted on paying me for this service, funding a career coaching session for her friend after her court case and she subsequently funded career coaching sessions for one of her long term staff who needed support writing an application for her dream career.
When I asked Jan somewhere along that journey why she hadn’t continued with the career coaching she said that the insights she took from the first session gave her the necessary clarity for her career planning and she didn’t need any more.
This is just one example of many that I could give you about my history of making up stories. I have to say that I’m still guilty of this from time to time. Could this be something that’s playing out in your life as well?
If so, here are a few strategies that have worked for me:
- Could there be an alternative and more helpful interpretation?
- What’s going on in my life right now and where am I at from a wellbeing perspective?
- Why don’t I check in with the other person about the story that I’ve created?
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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.