Are Your Stories Serving You? Or Sabotaging You?

What’s your story?

We all have stories. They’re the inner thought tracks of our lives. The challenge is they’re not always true, and sometimes even if they are true, repeating them doesn’t always bring out the best in us.

For instance, you probably know a divorced person storywho is still eager to tell you the story about how awful their ex-spouse was.

The divorce may have happened a decade ago, but once they start telling you the story, they’re transported right back to all that pain and hurt.

One minute they’re a nice, normal person talking to you about the upcoming staff meeting. The next minute their face is contorting in anger and frustration as they recount the long list of ills perpetrated by the awful one.

That’s the problem and the beauty of stories. The reason we remember them so well is because they’re deeply connected to our emotions. Yet that emotional connection is also why we have trouble letting go of them.

This isn’t problem unique to divorce situations.

Case in point: within two seconds of finding an open jar of mayo on the kitchen counter, I find myself deeply engaged in the story of how I have raised the most selfish children on the planet, children whose equally selfish father is completely oblivious to this HUGE problem.

A half-eaten jar of Hellmann’s is all it takes to turn me into a crazy person.

But I’m not alone. We all tell ourselves stories, stories about our boss, our in-laws, our kids, our spouse, our church, our neighbors, and even stories about ourselves.

Whether it’s the story of how your supervisor doesn’t understand what really goes on inside your organization or how nobody in your church appreciates you, once you have a certain perspective on something, your brain looks for ways to retell the tale.

For example, a coworker you don’t like leaves an unwashed coffee mug in the sink. Instead of putting it aside with an “oh, well,” your brain begins the narrative, “That’s just sooo typical of her. She doesn’t care about anybody except herself. This is just like when she hung us out to dry on that big project. She waltzed out of here with her nose in the air, assuming the peons would clean up after her.”

For all you know, she rushed out for an emergency appendectomy or to save a child from a burning building. But once your brain launches into the story, your internal interpretation of her actions feels like the truth.

The left-up (or down) toilet seat, the forgotten turn signal, the ill-considered budget cut, the non-invitation, the curt hello, all become fodder for our stories.

The human mind is pretty impressive. However, one of the major design flaws is that we can’t tell the difference between what’s actually happening and our perception of it.

Your thoughts are like the tires on a bicycle; they keep drifting back to that well-worn groove in the road. Once they find the familiar track, they want to stay there, because the pedaling is easy and it doesn’t require much work.

The question you have to ask yourself is: Are the stories I tell myself making my life better, or are they making it worse?

Stories are the internal narrative by which we live our lives. Make sure you’re telling yourself good ones.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.” Visit for a short video intro.   Copyright 2010 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.