Monday Morning Mindfulness: What Story Are You Telling?

August 15, 2016

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak argues that one of the most powerful ways to build compassion among people is through stories. His research claims that when we hear compelling narratives oxytocin releases in our brains, ultimately increasing our capacity for empathy and connectivity to others. Although I’ve never thought of it in these sorts of technical terms, I imagine this is one of the reasons I enjoy my work. Every day I get to meet people who are willing to show up and at least try to learn new ways to integrate their experiences – the good and the bad — so that they can then author their own story of resilience, wit, and truth.

This process, however, is easier said than done. Because we’re social creatures who are wired to seek a sense of safety, to feel loved, and to be seen by others, our natural urge to share our story is often shadowed by our much stronger inclination to protect against any potential threat to those key components of our being.  And one of the easiest ways we protect ourselves is by telling a modified version of our story — a version that seems safer, probably more likable, and worthy of recognition. These modified versions usually go something like this:
– We tell a story only about ourselves;
– We share only the good stuff;
– We let our symptoms control the narrative; or
– Maybe worst of all, we hold back because we we’re pretty convinced someone else could tell the story better.

Instead of sharing our own, unique narrative, we exchange the difficult parts for false projections of perfection or annoying bouts of blame, and in turn, lose what’s compelling and what connects us as.

So this week’s intention is about learning how to share a story that is both broken and beautiful – a story that fuels compassion and connection as well as truly reflects the interesting, resourceful, and imperfect person you are.  Here are some practical tips to begin doing just that:
1.  Acknowledge your suffering isn’t special: I know, this seems a little ruthless, but once you recognize that pain and insecurity is universal, you can finally step outside of yourself, quick comparing hurts, and start showing up for others.
2.  Learn your shame triggers: These are the things you are quick to hide, that create stress or even anxiety for you.  It can be something physical, mental, or emotional, but for whatever reason, you don’t really like this part of yourself so you hold tightly to it so no one can see it. Once you learn and admit what these things are, EMBRACE the shit out of this stuff.
3.  Practice radical acceptance: Or more plainly, learn to how to deal with the things you don’t have control over and do something about the things you that you can control.
4.  Participate: Pick something, big or small, and be all in with the people around and the task at hand.

Although these intentions, in and of themselves, do not create compelling stories, they foster authenticity and connection, and they ultimately enable us to live out a story that speaks for itself.

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