What’s Your Story?

          There’s a major player in our lives that is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

The other day, my friends drove about twenty miles for us to meet for lunch. When I asked them how the drive was both simultaneously responded:

            “The traffic was horrible.”  

              “It was good.”

            One car, one trip, and two completely different experiences.

            We can see these alternate reactions from a young age. A mother tells her children they can’t have a cookie now. One child howls, like something heavy landed on her foot, the other shrugs her shoulders and continues playing in the figurative (or literal) sandbox.

            Then there’s the difficult, harrowing experiences, like those who lived through and experienced life in a concentration camp during World War II. The inhumane conditions of life at Auschwitz; the incomprehensible cruelty, abuse, violence, and firsthand witnessing of genocide caused many to lose the will to live. Then there were those survivors like Elie Wiesel who wrote:

            “We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats [gas chambers] over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.” -NIGHT

            Wiesel was only fifteen when the Nazi’s deported him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau—only fifteen when, on their first night in the camp, his mother and younger sister were killed in the gas chambers. And yet, his spirit spoke of helping others, of survival, of help as the oxygen for their survival.

            Many Holocaust victims did not find helping others as a means to survival. Many victims were lost in incomprehensible fear and depression. Same situation but a very different experience again. 

            What causes us to react so differently to similar situations? What causes one person alone on a Saturday night to feel sorry for himself and another to relish his own company?

            A major player is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

            Take a moment to think about something that happened today. If an unpleasant experience arose for you, consider the following:

  1. What were you thinking about the situation at the time?
  2. Is it possible you could consider perceiving the situation differently?
  3. If you answered yes to #2, how does the alternate perspective(s) make you feel?

   When we grow mindful of our inner dialogue, we are less likely to fall prey to negative thinking and more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and others.

The Key to a Healthy Relationship

Self-awareness starts with a simple but powerful shift in questioning.

Most of us are familiar with the now famous commercial: Jake, from State Farm. Jake (actor, Kevin Miles) is helping a married man (actor, Justin Campbell) get affordable insurance through State Farm in the middle of the night. His bathrobe-clad wife, (actress, Melanie Deanne Moore), grabs the phone from her husband’s shocked hand and with air quotes asks:

“What are you wearing, ‘Jake from State Farm?’”

The dumbfounded Jake answers honestly, “Uh, khakis.”

What is it about this commercial that we find funny? A wife’s assumption that her husband is getting stimulated by some form of infidelity when the audience knows he IS getting excited, but by State Farm’s insurance policy.

Off screen and unscripted, we make assumptions in our relationships. Those assumptions are based on our inner dialogue, our inner stories. The key to rewarding relationships, whether intimate or work-related, is self-awareness. 

But what does that mean? What does it mean to be self-aware of our inner dialogue and inner triggers? 

According to psychologist and author (INSIGHT), Tasha Eurich the key to self-awareness is a shift in questioning: Ask WHAT, not WHY.

So, if we were to take the wife who happens upon her husband at 3am talking in hushed tones to Jake from State Farm, her current inner dialogue seems to be assuming the worst. We can see this when she yanks the phone from her husband; we can hear it in her clipped, accusatory tone and her anger disguised as sarcasm. Her inner dialogue goes something like this:

“Why isn’t my husband in bed with me? Why doesn’t he love me?”

Instead, this fictional wife can ask empowering “what” questions such as:

“What is making my husband speak to someone in a hushed tone in the middle of the night? What can I learn from his body language? What can I learn from this moment? What can I learn about myself from my reaction?

The shift from “why” to “what” paves the way from victimhood to insight, from a sense of failure to a sense of purpose.

The most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. So, it behooves us to understand ourselves and our reaction to others. Relationships offer a spiritual mirror to who we are. When we get into an argument with a loved one or a colleague, we are given the opportunity to learn who we are. When someone “rubs us the wrong way” or makes us feel uncomfortable, we need to ask, “What is this feeling trying to teach me?”

Asking WHAT instead of WHY fuels our growth, dispelling anxiety and depression while strengthening our inner compass. We can’t change others, but we can work on ourselves. And when we are in a place of greater self-awareness, our relationships become healthier.