Are you stuck in the past, or work with someone who is? Not everyone aims for personal growth or uses their past experiences to move forward. If you’ve ever worked with a colleague who tells the same old stories over and over, you understand how people can distort reality to suit their purposes. And yet, most of do our own version of repetitive storytelling.
We form an identity of ourselves as team members, colleagues, or friends by telling personal stories about our past. And we project the lessons we’ve learned onto our present situations. We let our past influence our present reality and in doing so, affect our future. As a coach, I hear a lot of personal stories. And I consider it part of my job to question the assumptions and origins of stories and ideas behind one’s personal identity. The fact is, personal stories serve to protect our egos — it’s human nature. Our stories aren’t about what actually happened, but rather what we told ourselves happened. They’re founded on real events, but mostly on real emotions. They are stories that we’ve invented based on how we interpreted things back then.
Few of us take the time to evaluate our stories for how well they help us navigate the complexities of present day relationships and work teams. We hold onto the past because it’s all we know for sure. Then we try to figure out how we can do better the next time we’re faced with the same emotions.
Strong emotions are retained by the brain as memories of events. Without strong emotions, we forget events easily. So we end up with many memories of anger, disappointment, embarrassment, guilt, and revenge, which far outweigh our positive memories. You can see how holding on to such memories primes the brain to be alert and distrusting in the future for similar situations. Yet with awareness of these strong emotions, we can choose to question assumptions and learn to reframe reality. We can shift what we thought was reality into a more consequential story, one that promotes growth and success.