The stories we tell ourselves

“Life sucks and then you die,” I overheard her say while sipping my coffee, watching my laundry spin in the dryer and listening to Tim Ferriss talk with Marie Kondo about the Japanese Art of Tidying Up. Life sucks and then you die. This statement gave me pause, I had to look and see at who had said such a thing. I mean, I couldn’t resist the urge to see whose life was so bad that they felt this way. People from all over the world have overcome all types of struggles and hardships so this person had to be worse off then any of them, right? I set my coffee down and glanced over my shoulder to see an older woman. The older woman who I had seen carrying her laundry in an hour ago. Life sucks and then you die. Admittedly, I’m working off assumptions and I know nothing about her current life situation. But, she did carry her laundry in and that’s a luxury she has forgotten to count. Life sucks and then you die. Hearing this brought back memories of me as a brooding teenager filled with angst, hanging out in Hot Topic with a group of my friends, even though, all of us “hated people.” Wearing all black clothing in the Texas summer sun, hormones and misanthropy abound, professing “life sucks and then you die.”

I wasn’t going to stare at this woman, so I turned around, put Tim on pause and pondered her statement. Life sucks and then you die. She didn’t look as if she was joking when she said it. This woman might actually feel this way. Life sucks and then you die. Being the type of person that I am, I had two questions come to mind that I also kept to myself out of politeness, “did it really?” and “did it have to?” Followed by the thought that “there is no way she’s always felt this way.” Pulling out my moleskine, I had to start making some notes. I noted a few moments in my life where things were less than optimal but could never find a moment where I held a deep belief that “life sucks and then you die.” Marcus Aurelius and other stoics throughout history used to force themselves into situations that were sub-optimal. Acting as a re-calibration of what hardship could exist in their lives and giving them appreciation for what they actually had. Eating the roughest of foods or often fasting, wearing the worst clothes that they could find, all the while thinking “is this the condition that I feared? I am still alive.” That moment I decided to write three things that I was grateful for into my moleskine and put it back into my pocket.

Perhaps I was over-analyzing her statement but, after all of the reading I’ve done and out of my own experience, I think there is a type of power in words. Especially, your words, spoken aloud to yourself and to others. Maybe not like the power of prayer, spell words or incantations. For me, I have not ever seen or experienced this power at work. However, I have seen how the stories that you tell yourself can influence the life that you lead. “Man, I’m just always gonna be fat no matter how much I go to the gym. There’s nothing I can do about it.” That was me after eating a whole pizza for lunch that same day. “Dude, I’m broke all the damn time. I’m never gonna be able to save any money. Fuck, this car payment is killing me.” Also me after spending $120 on video games that month and eating out every other day as a “treat.” These are just some of the stories that I’ve told myself but each of them is important because they either influenced my decisions or were often used to rationalize bad behaviors.

I’ve heard others such as, “i’m never going to pass this class. The professor wants to fail me because he’s an asshole.” It has nothing to do with you partying all night and never studying, right? “She’s just a bitch. They’re just socks. It’s not a big deal. I don’t know what her fucking problem is.” Has nothing to do with the fact that she reminds you all the time, feels disrespected when you don’t listen or don’t seem to care about her concerns and the things she talks to you about, right?

Do you have story that you’ve told yourself over and over? What about other people telling you a story over and over? I know it can get old. Start thinking about what you can do to change it.

Granted that not everyone has the opportunity to have huge influences on their circumstances. With hereditary health problems, societal injustices, war, bad luck and worse. The last thing the world needs is another white guy who grew up in the suburbs, on the internet talking to us about positive thinking and shit, right? I don’t have control over the actions of others. All I can do is be aware of the stories that I tell myself, take responsibility for my actions, vote with my dollar and share my opinions on what has worked for me.

For instance, I was sitting on my couch, reading because my hypothyroidism was concerning me. I was what is sometimes called “treated with symptoms.” Meaning that I was medicated but didn’t feel much better even though my levels turned out within range on the lab tests. Determined, I was reading about supplementation on top of medication and success that other people were having with this method. After consulting my doctor and a second doctor for good measure, I decided to give it a go and, after a brief period of fish oil burps, I feel surprisingly better considering I was  quite skeptical about the ordeal. I am following up with other tests to make sure that it’s (A) not complete placebo bullshit and (B) that I’m not going to doom myself by adding these other supplements. I’m not a doctor so I consulted one because I was unwilling to accept the story that I was hearing that said “hypo sucks and then you die.” Now, that I’m feeling better, it’s easier to address the other story of “dude, you have hypo, you’re just gonna be fat.”

Set aside time to analyze the stories that you’re hearing (what else are you going to do while pooping?) Think about where these stories are coming from, who are they coming from? Can you do anything about it? Have people before you been in similar situations or worse and come through it? Does life really suck? Like really really? For real? Does it have to? As far as my life is concerned, the answers are the same: Hell no. I can always  rewrite the stories I tell myself. Change the narrative.

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