Stories make you, you

  • Reading time:7 mins read

How to decide who you will be

Symbol of Hamlet, from Shakespeare, the great storyteller

Short version

Stories make you, you.

Control the flow of information to control the stories that define you.

Examine the stories you believe to weed out the erroneous and self-harmful ones

Decide how you interpret the world to control the stories you tell yourself


In-depth

1. Stories make you, you.

Stories make us human.

We think we learn facts. We think our model of the world is a database. But it’s not. Robots act based on databases, not humans.

We learn from experiences. Our model of the world is centered around ourselves. Because it is not meant to explain the universe, it’s meant to ensure survival. You don’t learn facts, you learn ‘If I do X, then Y happens’. You learn how to survive.

That is why we learn through stories, not data. Stories are how we learn from experiences, without the risk. That is why all stories show people in trouble. Studies on small children show two things in common in their stories: a wild imagination and trouble. All their stories have problems at their core.

And stories are not just books, and movies, and video games. They are music, articles, marketing, sales pitches, business. When we get together with friends, we each tell each other narratives from our lives. You don’t exchange facts, you share stories.

Because your mind decodes the world through stories. It exists to help you survive. It does this by preparing for scenarios of what might happen, aka stories. They are both training for the world and pleasant play. I suspect we might love stories very much divorced from our current reality because they are safe, they don’t activate any fear response because the trouble in them seems distant, not possible for us. Yet they wind up being about problems we might face, more than imagined ones. Lord of the Rings was about the wars of the time for example (among other things). X-Men is about discrimination. Many different stories wind up being about love problems.

One person can have n experiences. But the same person can absorb n at the nth power stories. Exponentially more learning points, richer model.

You are all the stories that you absorb. So be careful about the stories you learn and the stories you tell.


It is now Orthodox Easter. Easter is many stories at once. 

It is the story of Jesus Christ dying for humanity’s sins and being resurrected as the Son of God. In this He absolves humanity of the Original Sin from the Old Testament.

This is a story about morality. It teaches to be grateful on one hand. On the other hand it teaches to be humble. It also teaches that suffering is morally good. It teaches that suffering can be a good thing, rather than something to be avoided. 

Easter is also the story of the Easter Bunny. It’s a time of joy when kids play and laugh and get colorful candy and gifts. A time of generous loving imaginary characters. It teaches the world is friendly and that there is always hope.

Behind the Bunny, there is the story of the escape from cold and harsh winter and the bounty and hope of spring. Easter comes on top of an older story of celebrating the coming of spring.

Winter was a tough period for people in the past. It was a time of death. People died from the cold and from starvation. The coming of spring signaled people will survive as the weather gets warmer and sources of food replenish.

This teaches that there is hope in the world and you should tough out all difficult situations because in the end they will improve.

Easter is also a story of spending time with family. Rejoicing with your loved ones on this special occasion. It is a pause to indulge in excessive food and look at the bright side of life.


2. Control the flow of information to control the stories that define you

This is why a conscious information diet is essential. If you don’t control the information that you process, then you control the stories that you absorb. Reading the news is not a harmless activity. It changes your model of the world through the stories you see.

As you are the stories you absorb, this means by not deciding what information you take in, you are abrogating the decision of who you are. 

Do you abrogate the choice of who you are?

If you don’t want to abrogate it, then you have to decide the stories you absorb. Create rules for information and apply them.

Some good questions for information:

  • Do you trust this source? Can you verify it?
  • Is this information useful for you?
  • Does you believing this piece of information serve someone else’s interests?
  • Is this information hacking your emotional system? For example is it attracting attention because it is dramatic, sad, emotionally manipulative? Does it pretend to be believed by a majority of people to convince you?

3. Examine the stories you believe 

The information diet is for the future. You should also examine what are the stories that you believe now. This is the baseline or present model of the world.

Investigating your basic assumptions of the world makes life easier and clearer. Most conflicts are not about the explicit reasons, they are because the ‘combatants’ have conflicting underlying assumptions about the world. If you know your assumptions, then you understand why conflict appears and how to solve it. More importantly, you can identify erroneous or self-harmful belief and correct them.

How can we have self-harmful beliefs? Because we absorb stores with little conscious filter. We have unconscious filters that decide which stories we absorb. But these filters evolved during the Paleolithic. They are unsuited to our modern world. Thus they allow us to absorb wrong or harmful stories.

How do you identify your underlying stories? You ask really basic questions:

  • What do you believe to be absolutely true?
  • How do you believe a person should act in the world and towards others?
  • How much control do you believe you have over your own fate? Why?
  • Who do you believe impacts your success and happiness?

4. Control the stories you tell yourself

Besides the stories you already believe and the stories from others, there are the stories you tell yourself. These are the most powerful.

If you tell yourself you are a victim, you will be.
If you tell yourself you are weak, you will be.
If you tell yourself you are sick, you will be.

But also:

If you tell yourself you have the power to change your destiny, you will have it.
If you tell yourself you are assertive, you will be.
If you tell yourself you are strong, you will be.

This is not positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo. It’s not enough to say something in the mirror for it to be true. Convincing your unconscious is much more difficult. 

These are the stories you tell yourself about all that happens in your life. It’s how you interpret events. If someone cuts you off, and you tell yourself you were persecuted, your unconscious hears the story that you are a victim. If you interpret someone’s gesture as rejection, your unconscious hears you are unloved. If you interpret a setback as an exciting challenge to overcome, your unconscious hears you are perseverant. 

Telling yourself stories is not something that happens in an overpriced self-help guru seminar. It’s something that happens every minute of every day. Changing your stories comes from changing how you interpret the world.


Recap

Stories make you, you.

Control the flow of information to control the stories that define you.

Examine the stories you believe to weed out the erroneous and self-harmful ones

Decide how you interpret the world to control the stories you tell yourself


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