The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Hey friend! I'm Liz
I'm committed to helping you discover a daily practice of meaningful spirituality so that you can live a fulfilling and courageous life.
I'm committed to helping you discover a daily practice of meaningful spirituality so that you can live a fulfilling and courageous life.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Words create worlds; the great Rabbi Heschel used to say. And the stories made up by the words we use create the content of these worlds.
Our memories and perceptions of the past influence our expectations and possibilities for now and the future. Memory and expectation go hand in hand. Why else do you think it was so important for ancient (and modern) cultures to tell stories of victory and rescue and overcoming? Our narrative informs our perspective.

That’s how we get into these negative loops where we say things like:

– This always happens to me.
– There I go again, making another mistake.

– I never seem to catch a break.
– Will things ever change?

And here’s the thing with memory, it’s highly subjective. In fact, we often choose how we remember our past experiences, and they may or may not be what happened. How we remember informs what we anticipate for the future.

“Sometimes the truth can be hard to find through the murkiness of pain or elation, heartache or passion, darkness or joy. But do the work.

Powerful, two minute reads that have helped change the script in thousands of people's lives.

Regarded as the world's most influential living psychologist, David Kahneman gave a TED talk a few years back titled, “The riddle of experience verses memory” (Google it. I dare you).

He explained that we all have two selves: a remembering self, and an experiencing self. In essence, we do not choose between experiences, but rather between memories of experiences. According to Kahneman, even when we think about the future, we think of our future not as experiences but as anticipated memories.

In the end, our experiences are not the dominant force affecting our happiness or expectations. It is instead our remembered self that controls how we perceive and experience life.

That’s why two people can have the same experience and remember very different things about it. It's not our experiences, but how we remember those experiences and even what experiences we choose to remember, that have the most profound effect on our happiness, and our perception of the future.

British Philosopher Allan Watts once said: “The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings, the past and the future are not as real, but rather more real than the present.

My parents divorced seven years ago. It was a harrowing, horrible time. And since then, the temptation to that let experience taint my previous memories of a happy family are strong. Sometimes I’m not even sure what is a real memory and what has been influenced by the pain and confusion of that season. Our memories are subject to our own biases.

Our narrative informs our perspective. The stories we tell ourselves about our past directly impact our expectations of the future. Or more to the point, the way we tell those stories and the things we choose to remember, directly influence our beliefs about tomorrow.

I’m not saying that we don’t own our stories. That we live in denial about all the bad and horrific and unexplainable things that have happened to us. Not at all. I am suggesting that we get to choose how those stories, how the words in those stories, create our world, for today and tomorrow.

When Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8 NIV) he wasn’t just talking present and future tense. What is true about your past? Sometimes that truth can be hard to find through the murkiness of pain or elation, heartache or passion, darkness or joy. But do the work.

Wrapped up in the Hebrew word for Hope – Tiqvah – is the character Vav, which means: ‘to add completion and redemption.' When redemption and completion visit our memories, it visits our expectations, too.

Written by Liz Milani

4 Comments

  1. Coleene VanTilburg

    I believe these first 3 chapters were a Godsend. I've been trying, in prayer, to process a very hurtful conversation between a close friend, her disappointment and expectations of me and my own reality. It is very obvious we come from different perspectives, though we share the same loving God and a faith journey. I am trying to continue to pray this through the other side, but damage has been done.
    I also, am a writer.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Lizzy Milani

      Writers have to stick together, right?! Grace and grace and grace, Coleene… for you and your friend. Relationships and seasons change, and it can be hard for us to love and let go. Can I encourage you to let your prayer lead you to action, too? You never know what a generous and compassionate and kind act will lead to. Much love, Liz. xo

      Reply
  2. Janet Robertson

    Lovely lovely hard words for my Monday morning. Yesterday I was also deeply humbled by the concept of “life sucks therefore you all owe me something”.
    As an adopted kid I've veered that way around “the bio siblings” I'm well known for having a good memory for trivial things and for other peoples stories, but last night I had to pray away a sternum clenching memory. Right now I'm seeing things through a “glass darkly” so it's good to be reminded of the present glory of this day. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Lizzy Milani

      Janet… as always… humbled that you journey with us, and praying for you on your journey. They were hard words for me to write, too. xoxo Liz.

      Reply

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