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Erasing the Tapes from Your Past (or, How to Avoid Faulty Conclusions)

Low ego

Are you convinced that you’re bad at something, not up to snuff for a new adventure, or doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?

“I’m not good with money.”

“I never finish anything.”

“I’m not athletic.”

“I’m bad at relationships.”

“I’ll never be organized.”

These are the tapes from your past that play over and over in your head and even sometimes come out of your mouth. They aren’t true now and probably never were. You’ve grown since the day you recorded these tapes, but you continue playing them over and over in your mind for years or even decades as if time has stood still.

Why do you sabotage yourself when the evidence is so clearly in your favor?

  • You juggle a great deal of responsibility at work but say you can’t manage your personal life.
  • You claim to be bad at relationships yet sustain lifelong friendships throughout your romantic heartbreaks.
  • You say you aren’t good with money, but the minute something you want becomes available, you find a way to get it (are you really broke if you can afford a $500 phone or a $1000 laptop?).

You count yourself out before you even start in an opportunity or face a challenge, imagining yourself as the years-younger amateur you instead of the experience-laden, accomplished person that exists today.  These stories you tell yourself are keeping you from realizing your full measure of happiness, success, and personal fulfillment.

And it’s baffling to the people around you who see the facts and can’t understand why you’re holding yourself back.

How to Rewind, Upgrade, and Rerecord

If you regularly talk yourself out of activities you want to do, “interpret” the actions of other people with no input from them, or assume the answers to your questions without ever actually asking them, then this is for you. It’s time to rewind those scratchy tapes, upgrade your equipment, and rerecord your life in crystal-clear HD.

No more fuzzy stories, no more fuzzy life.

Rewind: Evaluate

If you’re our age or older, you remember the “backmasking” scandals for rock music albums back in the 70s and 80s. The story went that if you played certain records backwards you got a hidden message, usually counterculture. (Not sure if record execs planned it, but the controversy was a great way to sell more records to rebellious teens.)

These hormonally-challenged teenagers (and adults with too much time on their hands) spent countless hours trying to pull out a hidden message in a song when the straightforward lyrics were available for listening without effort. You just had to put the needle on the record.

When it comes to the tapes in our heads, we often do the same thing, inserting motives and meaning into the most mundane events and turning them over and over in our minds for days, weeks, and even years to come:

“He didn’t say hi because he doesn’t like me.”

“The boss didn’t respond to my email yet. She doesn’t respect me.”

“I’m always terrible with money, and this overdraft proves it – again”

In most cases, the simplest explanation is the truth. (See: Occam’s Razor.) When you add in assumptions, playing the tape back to look for hidden messages, you distort the event beyond all recognition. Stick with the facts:

He didn’t say hi because he was preoccupied and didn’t see you.

The boss didn’t respond to your email yet because she’s got a higher-priority project right now. Give it time.

You got an overdraft because you chose to spend money you didn’t have. It was a poor decision, not a personality flaw.

Until proven otherwise, the facts you at hand are the only things to consider. When you add in personal assumptions, you’re trying to direct a scene that has already been acted out.

Upgrade: Get a better recorder

You can equate this one to using a cassette recorder in the digital age. If you were recording an important event or even a message your dear old grandma, would you use the same equipment you had 30 years ago, or would you use the digital recorder on your cell phone or laptop?

Of course you’d use the technology at your disposal.

There’s no reason to have a fuzzy recording, skips, background noise, or any of the other distortions of a faulty tape. You shouldn’t have to “explain” a story to help someone else understand it. If you’re filling in the gaps with your own assumptions, you’re not recording it correctly in the first place.

Reading between the lines often means “making up new lines.” And if you’re replaying an event in your head with what you wish you said or the most extreme version of what they said, you’re recorder is broken. You’re rewriting history, and that helps no one.

Ask yourself what a stranger who knew none of your backstory would say when experiencing the same event. If she isn’t getting as riled up, hurt, or disappoint as you, you might need a better recorder because it’s not giving you an accurate playback.

Rerecord: Record new, accurate stories to play back

When you stop coming into every scenario with a preconceived agenda, a funny thing happens. Life gets easier. Impossible situations become doable. And you find that you’re a lot stronger, smarter, and capable than you think.

Your brain stops playing the same stories on a loop and you begin to have more variety going on inside your head.

No one is out to get you, and – more importantly – you’re no longer out to get yourself. (Tweet this)

Say you lose 20 pounds (or 10 kilos). Your clothes are too big and you need new ones. But when you first go shopping, you aren’t sure what will look good and be comfortable, much less what size you’ll wear. If you’re interested in a recording a current, factual story about yourself, you’ll try on a variety of clothes and sizes and decide what feels and looks best to you now. You won’t keep wearing your old clothes and telling yourself you’re 20 pounds bigger.

In your relationships and a work, you record factual details about your interactions instead of adding your personal commentary.

  • If he didn’t call when he said he would, ask why.
  • If she isn’t listening to you when you need her, ask why.
  • If you are confused, ask for clarification.

Go on a fact-finding mission before you come up with your final conclusions.

Keeping Your Story Up-to-Date

It’s easy to get obsessed over a bad experience, a negative comment, or poor performance. But you’re not who you used to be (and let’s be honest, you’re probably not even remembering who you used to be all that well).

If you feel held back by your own assumptions (or the faulty projections of others), take these 3 steps to make sure you are working with the right information:

  1. Rewind: Did the story really happen the way you think it did, or are you embellishing? You might have become so good at “filling in the gaps” that sticking to the facts will be hard. Think back and write down what you know to be true, not what you feel or wish to be true. Then see how this matches up with the story you’ve been telling yourself.
  2. Upgrade: When you discover you’ve been altering your story all these years, it’s time to upgrade your equipment. When you are faced with a new opportunity or a challenge, learn to evaluate the facts and filter the commentary. As you become better at this, you’ll start to see things from a more holistic perspective. It’s not always about you, and even when it is about you it’s often less than you think. This is humbling yet freeing.
  3. Rerecord: Questions are your friend. When you don’t understand, ask. When you’re upset, say why. Get the clearest possible recording so you can make an informed decision. Don’t assume, assign motives, or otherwise “edit” the event yourself.

You don’t have to edit the scenes from your past or live a script that is outdated. You can simply play your part – in crystal-clear HD with surround sound – and appreciate the person you’ve grown to be.

Your true story is the best one of all.

Strip Off Your Fear Cover artLearn how to appreciate the facts as they are and avoid faulty conclusions. Life’s too short to limit your options like that, and Betsy shares her experience in upgrading her tapes and eventually her life so you can, too.

Click here to find out how you can, too. Get it in print ($8.99) or ebook ($7.99) from Amazon, iTunes, or B&N.

 

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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.

Comments

  1. Yup . . . when we have conquered the enemy within . . . there are no enemies left to conquer!

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/dont-believe-everything-you-think-2/

  2. Yup . . . when we have conquered the enemy within . . . there are no enemies left to conquer!

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/dont-believe-everything-you-think-2/

  3. Great insight to how to channel past experiences into productive perspectives! I find this especially hard to do, so thanks for the advice.

    • Hi, Mike. You are not alone. This is something you have to learn and consciously practice, because it is human nature to create these stories in our heads. We’re not as interested in facts as we are in how to support our opinions – even if they are harmful to ourselves. Crazy but true.

  4. Great insight to how to channel past experiences into productive perspectives! I find this especially hard to do, so thanks for the advice.

    • Hi, Mike. You are not alone. This is something you have to learn and consciously practice, because it is human nature to create these stories in our heads. We’re not as interested in facts as we are in how to support our opinions – even if they are harmful to ourselves. Crazy but true.

  5. I believe our past has always something to do with our present, but we can always do something make everything alright regardless of how bad our past was.. :)

  6. I believe our past has always something to do with our present, but we can always do something make everything alright regardless of how bad our past was.. :)

x

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