Delayed Mental Narratives – Origin Stories

Monday Morning Quarterback

Recently a thought really grabbed my attention while listening to The Moment podcast.  The idea that our brains are much like announcers in our favorite TV event in which many actions are narrated play by play.

The narratives in those broadcasts are merely reflecting what happened after the events in the field and like any professional commentator, add their flavor of the reasons for why it took place and certain decisions were made.

Apparently, our brain tries to deal with our behavior in the same way.  Trying to cognitively reconcile the events with our beliefs about ourselves or the world around us.  The oversimplified chain of events goes something like this:

  1. We do something.  This could be all sort of action, the most “spontaneous”, the more likely we need to reconcile it later.
  2. Our mind observes that behavior and we formulate a “narrative” (a story) of why we did it.  Some stories are better than others.
  3. Depending on what happens afterward, our narratives get strengthen with the results that we see, the feedback or encouragement that we receive, and/or the need to “double” down to maintain cognitive consistency.
  4. The results feed the narrative or give us some future pause to reshape the narrative later.

All this process to make sure our mind aligns with itself. This is both fascinating, freeing, and concerning at the same time.

Fascinating by the fact that we assign a particular narrative after the fact. One that we choose from somewhere or we made it up. However, since most of us live in a society of norms and experiences, it is likely that we just selected the narrative from a place already influenced.

Freeing because it means that our original actions came from someplace else.  A place likely worth exploring to understand it without the filters of the narrative.  We are also free to change it; a fact easier said than done.

Concerning that understanding the power of narratives, our choice could send us in an upward spiral or a downward one.

The Power of Narratives

While attending the altMBA, I realized that narratives are among the most powerful forces in the universe.  They are so strong that they have the power to force us (deep in our conscious) to comply with the narrative and the story being told. This shapes our behavior, our language, our attitudes, and all sorts of others aspects.

Since the narrative came later, two questions jump to the surface:

What drove the initial action before the narrative?

From what collection do we select the narrative that best fits what happens?

It is worth exploring these questions on some of our own stories and potentially find their origins.

The ultimate goal is to develop the power to be in charge of the internal monologue and queue up narratives that build us up.

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