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Communicate & Tell a Good Story

We tell ourselves stories. All the time without even realizing it. Especially those who are "over-thinkers". Did you know that over 90% of people are over-thinkers? So everyone. We all make up stories in our heads to answer the unanswered. To fill the space. To give unreasonable reasons. What do I mean? Well let's say you text or call a friend with an invitation to go to dinner next week. You know they received the message and you know enough about the friend to know they definitely had time to reply... so you start making up a story as to why they didn't respond... they have had enough of you for a while and aren't interested.... they are probably waiting to see if something better comes up first... you aren't the best friend you thought they were or they would have got back to you sooner. It snowballs... what did I do last time we spoke or hung out? Did I say something that offended them? Did they not like the wine I chose for wine night? Was I too loud? What's wrong with me???

Here's what actually could have happened -- your friend read the text in the middle of a meeting but couldn't reply... got busy with work, had to drive her kids to activities all evening, got home late, only to have to clean the kitchen, make lunches and fell into bed exhausted... but with happy thoughts of having a fun evening (away from the kids) with you to look forward to next week! Or maybe she just lost her phone. For real. This does happen sometimes. ;)

Our human tendencies, unfortunately, tell the negative stories a lot louder than the positive ones. Not only that, but they play on repeat! Ouch! How do we change this? What steps can we take so that the negative stories become positive (or at least neutral) ones? I'm going to suggest becoming aware of this human tendency is a huge start. Knowing this happens frequently for many people, will help you understand you're not the only one doing this. I think becoming aware of it will also help us stop the "story" from continuing.

Now the next step -- communication. How simple would it be to ask the other person and find out the actual story? Definitely easier said than done -- because another human tendency that many of us have is to avoid potential conflict. And if we are already starting to tell ourselves a negative story, then we certainly will be playing all the potentially negative situations a conversation might result in! But guess what? Even if conflict or confrontation is scary, it won't last very long (a few minutes of conversation?) and it will clear things up so there is knowing. A few minutes of potential discomfort sounds a LOT better than days or weeks or months of discomfort replaying negative stories in our heads.

So you've decided to have the uncomfortable conversation. How do you do that easily? Sometimes this will be easy and a quick text or email can easily clear it up. If it's more personal -- with a spouse or someone you're dating, it might help to have some help. Brené Brown outlines this in her book "Rising Strong", she outlines a very simply technique that can work in most situations easily. I have used it several times and it has been a life-saver (or a feelings-saver!) She suggests using the phrase "the story I make up" in conversation. For example, with your friend that didn't reply, you can have a conversation that expresses your feelings "when you didn't reply right away, the story I make up in my head tells me you're not wanting to be around me". This not only allows you to express your feelings, but it gives the other person a chance to communicate the real story, which undoubtedly is much more reasonable.

Communication is one of the foundational pillars in a relationship of any nature. Yet it is a skill that needs to be continually honed and drawn upon in order for relationships (friendships, romantic, business) to flourish. Communicating with ourselves, internally, by becoming aware of what we are doing and talking ourselves into reason. If you have to, say speak out loud to yourself next time you catch yourself telling a negative story. Hey, Adrienne, why are you making up a negative story? Does this make you feel good? What other stories could be more true? What could you do to find out the real story?

The older I've gotten, the more I realize the importance of communication. For me, personally, it has cleared up issues or uncertainties quickly instead of me (out of fear) not confronting the concern and suffering in silence for weeks running different negative stories through my head. I know patterns are difficult to break. This will not be an easy tendency to reprogram. But isn't it worth it? To save yourself mental anguish, anxiety, stress, sadness, rejection. We become our own worst enemy and it's time we became our own cheerleader and uplifter!

So tell me a story, please. A really good story. I'm listening!

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