Make Better Stories

by Patrick McNerthney

(Drum roll…)The decisions we make all evolve from a story we tell ourselves. This is great news, because who doesn’t love a good story? Like the time I was climbing up the side of an oil tanker in the middle of the night in the rain with a bag containing roughly $80,000 in cash…

Oh, that’s a long one, (and a true one), but no time for that here. Onward! 

We tend to think we make decisions, especially the important ones, based on logic and reason. But the truth is we make decisions based on feelings, then we come up with a story that justifies the decision. 

Wait, what? 

I know, but please allow me to explain by telling a few, ah, stories:

                                     (One feels better than the other. Don’t ask me which one.)

I chose to go to the University of Washington, not due to deep insight about what I wanted to pursue, what the school could subsequently offer me to achieve that goal, or even because I knew what college was for.

Nay! I chose to go to the University of Washington because I told myself I wanted to go to a large school that would provide an urban/metropolitan experience or otherwise deliver “big city living.

Why? Because I feared I was naïve and inexperienced about life, having grown up in a fairly small town. 

I bought a pair of black Adidas high-top sneakers not because they are comfortable or suit virtually any sport-related need footwear otherwise provides (I would last about 3 minutes on a basketball court right now…just sayin’). Nope, I bought them because I told myself a story that went, “Hip 40-year-old’s wear adidas.” Not the stuffy and lame 40-year-old’s, they wear loafers or something.

                                   (See? Adidas = doing cool stuff like hanging out on a bridge at night).

Why? Because I feel stuffy, lame, boring…and slightly tense most of the time. Oh, and I’m in my forties. Bonus:it’s true– the shoes do make me feel hip. 

We bought our house not because we sought a specific neighborhood or style of home, or fit some long-term financial model or plan, or really any reason other than telling ourselves the story that “it was time.” That’s it, this whole major decision was based on an imagined expiration date we’d reached. Luckily, the difference between rent and a mortgage payment is small!

Why? All our friends were starting to buy houses and we were afraid of being left behind, and I’m pretty sure overall we felt insecure about our status with our peers (which is silly).

Boom. Feelings come before the facts.  We act on emotion before logic. Wayyyyyy before logic. And feelings/emotions result in a story, and we make a decision based on that story. 

As you can imagine, this means the story we tell ourselves is incredibly powerful, and can be used for good, or…you know. Thus, we need to pay attention to what we pay attention to as we talk to ourselves, and then make decisions.

Phrases like…

  • “This won’t work.”
  • “I’ll fail.”
  • “That’s scary”
  • “Nobody cares.”
  • “My friends will think _____.”
  • “I don’t deserve this.”
  • “People will find out how much I don’t know.”

…are not very helpful. And we all use a version of this language at different times; most of us every day! 

But if our goal is to help ourselves (and others) make better choices, it’s best to begin by creating better stories which start with a positive phrase. Action follows attitude! Which is why stories with narratives like…

  • “I worked hard and made this.”
  • “You have a gift.”
  • “It wasn’t perfect but I did my best.”
  • “You created something beautiful.”
  • “That hurt, but I’m strong.”

…tend to be much more helpful since they come from positive feelings and emotions, like self-compassion, empathy, generosity, and gratitude.

Speaking of positivity, Fine Art Miracles (FAM) is all over this business of creating good attitudes. They think creative expression is a gateway to important things we all could use more of: Pride in our abilities, relevance to our community, connection to our pasts, relationships with others , and sometimes simply the joy we get from doing

More importantly, feelings like these foster attitudes that allow the elderly and people of all ages with various challenges to tell themselves better stories about how GREAT they are, and what they have to look forward to, even in the face of social isolation. And this can lead to better decisions about how they receive care, or care for themselves, or help others, or think about their lives.  

Please drop FAM a note or give’em a call if you want to learn more about how Art Therapy, Dance and Movement Therapy, Music Therapy, Multi-Sensory Sessions, or any of their other programs can help your residents and loved ones experience creative expression, which leads to good attitudes, great stories and better decisions. 

Okay so about the money and the oil tanker…long ago I was a maritime courier and what we’d do is…oh never mind. I gotta go. I’ll save it for next time–promise! 



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