I absolutely love learning new things about the human brain and how it processes information. (I feel like there should be a joke in there about my brain being obsessed with brains…) Our brains process information, protect us to survive, and develop comfortable patterns in the neuroplasticity of our habits; I really could go on and on about the awe-inspiring organ that is the human brain. I am a huge fan.
The brain loves to know information… so much so that when it is trying to put the pieces together of any situation (especially when our all too human ego gets involved) it can start to fill in the blanks. To give it credit where it is due, this is a tool that is used for survival. If your brain can assume more information, theoretically, it can protect you from danger. I had never really thought about this as a part of human behavior, until I began exploring two of most favorite experts on the human experience: Brene Brown and Byron Katie.
In reading these two thought-leaders' books and evaluating the theories and tools they lay out in relation to my own human experience, I found myself overwhelmed by the realization that the human brain is both amazing and sometimes… a lying storyteller.
In the brain’s mission to understand, process, and survive, it assumes a whole lot of information. In other words, it tells us all sorts of stories to fill in the blanks of life. For example, if you have an encounter with a friend or loved one and you are picking up vibes that they are mad at you, your brain starts filling in the blanks on that assumption. You assume they are mad at you, so your brain starts filling in the reasons why. They must be angry at you because you were running a few minutes late, last time you were late, and did you forget about something important they shared with you? Did they have a big meeting or medical appointment that you forgot to ask about? They must be mad at you because they didn’t want to meet at this restaurant or they heard that you did x, y, or z and they really are only doing you a favor by hanging out with you because really, you are kind of a bore.
Whew! I am all too familiar with this anxious storytelling. My brain LOVES a good story.
My ego loves to tell me reasons why I am not enough. My brain loves to tell me the stories about my relationships, my capabilities, and my qualities that reinforce that I am not enough. Consider how you navigate your own relationships and how your storytelling impacts them. When I get honest about my relationships, I must recognize that I am very guilty of filling in the blanks on my partner’s, friends,’ colleagues’, and family’s opinions.
An example: It is the end of a day and my partner is quiet and feels distant. The story I am telling myself is that is that he isn’t asking about my day because he is angry with me. I find myself feeling sensitive and self-conscious that I did something wrong, and begin obsessing about every part of my day now because I believe that I did something that upset my partner.
The reality is that it always proves to be much more productive when I am vulnerable, authentic and just… communicate. If I stop and question my stories first, I take a step away from the anxiety inducing rabbit hole that my brain loves to send me down. Also, this helps me avoid starting a fight for no reason (we have ALL done this). When I hit pause and tap into Brene Brown’s recommendation to check in to the story that I am telling myself, I start to change the pattern my brain defaults to in its strategic telling of tales. I stop myself from unnecessarily filling in the blanks.
From here, I like to integrate pieces of Byron Katie’s The Work. Byron Katie’s process includes asking yourself four questions:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
I highly recommend you explore Byron Katie’s work in full, but even a quick check in with these questions is enough to change the path.
Back to our example…
If I pause on my assumption that my partner is angry with me, and recognize that I just might be telling myself a story, I also pause on the slippery slope I am heading down towards feeling awful about myself and starting an argument. If I ask myself the questions:
Is it true that my partner is mad at me?
It seems like it.
Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
Okay, not absolutely, I am not in his brain, it just seems like he is mad.
How do I react, what happens, when I believe that my partner is mad at me?
I become sensitive and self-doubting. I make myself miserable assuming that I did something wrong. I drive myself crazy trying to figure out what I did and end up being short or snippy with him because I suddenly feel like I am not a good partner. (Enter shame, guilt, etc.) Inevitably I end up starting a fight because I feel less than.
Who would I be without the thought that my partner is mad at me?
I would be less anxious. I would not resort to being short in an immature way because I am feeling less than. I would not be someone who starts fights for no reason. I would be more comfortable in my skin, as I would not be feeling as anxious or sensitive.
Pretty simple, yet so powerful, right? To loop back into Brene Brown’s theory, I then step into my vulnerable and authentic human experience by talking with my partner.
To go back to the example: If I can tell my partner that I am getting the feeling that he is angry, and I am telling myself that I did something wrong, but I can’t figure out what; I am speaking my truth, rather than ruminating over lies. By openly, honestly, and kindly sharing what I am feeling, while also expressing that my intention was not to upset him, I open the door to productive conversation that is not driven by my silly old ego. If I can be open and vulnerable, I also avoid making my partner feel like he is under attack.
In the end, I have found that usually, in situations like this, a person is telling themselves their own stories, filling in their own blanks. For my partner, he easily could have had a bad day and been focused on his own interactions with others. He could have eaten something funky and simply doesn’t feel well. He could be distracted by a looming deadline or outside pressure.
Until I put myself out there and ask, I can never know what is true versus what is a story that my brain created to fill in the blanks of my experience. Until I have an open, kind, authentic conversation, I am not providing him with the love and respect to hear about his experience.
The more you tap into questioning your stories and asking yourself if your stories are true, the easier it gets. In my practice with these tools, I have found that most of the time, I am filling in blanks in ways that are not healthy for me, that don’t aid in my sparkle.
While this just scratches the surface of these amazing practices, it can make a powerful impact on your experience with other people and your self-love. If you haven’t read any of Brene Brown or Byron Katie's writing or theory, I highly recommend any of their work. These thought-leaders have provided life-changing, sparkle-inducing practices into my life. A few of my favorites include:
Your open, honest, authentic, vulnerable sparkle is so beautiful. The more you practice in letting it shine, the brighter it shimmers!
*We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.