Life as Fiction

Much of what agitates us both in our personal and work lives is rooted in the imagination. In other words, it isn’t real. Despite it’s lack of rooting in reality, however, it has significant consequences for how we experience life and on our decision-making. Even truth – once it has been filtered by mood, the imagination, other people, the passage of time and the juxtaposition of other events – becomes fiction.

Let’s look at an example. Say you have been asked by your boss to attend a meeting. She almost never meets with you, one-to-one. You start ruminating over what it might be about and worry that it is about the incident that occurred in the office the other day, when you became somewhat agitated with a colleague. You worry over it for the three days until the meeting. The meeting arrives and your boss outlines a new opening in the organisation which will represent an opportunity of promotion to you.

The stories we tell ourselves dictate the experiences we have. Not only can they make life uncomfortable leading up to events, or conclusions, but they also affect the degree of comfort and success that we experience in dealing with the events as they actually unfold. If that is the case, and we don’t have good experiences, we need to start telling ourselves new stories. We need to develop a habit of telling ourselves these new stories.

If we believe we fundamentally do not deserve good things to happen to us, or that we are not good enough to achieve something, then this will likely affect our behaviour and decision-making. If we do not apply for that new promotion, we will be assured of not getting it. If we do apply for it but unconsciously communicate to our interviewers that we are not worthy of it, we are far less likely to secure it. If we do not attempt to strike up a conversation with another person to whom we are attracted, it is unlikely we will be able to develop a romantic relationship with them. If we do not invest in the marketing of our business because of worries that the money will be wasted, we are unlikely to witness a sudden boost in sales. We are almost guaranteed the outcome that we think we deserve.

In cognitive psychology, this phenomenon is called ‘cognitive bias‘ and has been exhaustively studied over the past six decades.

Essentially, when I refer to stories, I am talking about our belief systems. These are constructed over many years and clearly cannot just be changed overnight. Like any new skill or competency, it has to be practised. We need to tell ourselves these new stories often enough so that we start believing them. They just become a new part of our evolving belief system. It matters little whether they are ‘real’, or not. But it does require a lot of reflection and practice in order to change these old habits of thinking.

One of the reasons we cling so dearly to our old beliefs might be explained by another term in cognitive psychology: ‘cognitive dissonance’. One way of explaining this is the discomfort we feel when we see what we perceive as our external reality being contrary to our beliefs. The result is that we try and explain away these differences by telling ourselves stories.

So, in conclusion, changing our lot requires action. It requires concerted study, introspection and commitment to change. Use of a reflective journal, meditation, employing a coach competent in the field – a cognitive behavioural therapist – or just regular exchanges with friends who have also recognised the need for change in themselves are all good methods. A combination of them all is likely to yield the best results.

A coach acts as an external, objective sounding board and will use a combination of the following skills to help us tell ourselves new stories:

  1. Rapport building skills: preparing a relationship that facilitates trust and positive action
  2. Observational skills: listening to what we say and the way we say it and watching our behaviour, reactions and body language. Furthermore, noticing the context within which all these take place
  3. Questioning skills: asking the right questions at the right time to facilitate understanding, clarity or inspiration
  4. Analytical skills: making meaning out of what is observed about the client within the context observed
  5. Framing skills: presenting evidence in a manner that is most likely to facilitate a productive outcome
  6. Modelling skills: selecting and using appropriate models as tools to facilitate insight and action.

So, do not become paralysed into inaction by the fear of not knowing whether what you do will be right or wrong. Human beings have just been inventing their reality as they go from the dawn of time. Decide what you want to be real and then just go about your day acting congruently with this chosen reality. In other words, we can make it up as we go along! A coach will help you make up the stories that are most likely to serve you well.

For guidance and advice on any of these methods, and the concepts outlined in this blog, please contact me through any of the following methods:

Telephone: 01522 700600

Contact form on our website:


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