A colleague of mine recently copied the team on a document. They failed to copy me. I only discovered this when another colleague asked me for a view on the work.
This was the third time this had happened. The team is only six people and we have been formed for about six months and so I have viewed this as interesting. Actually no, I have viewed it with suspicion. I have started to create stories, in my head, about a hidden intent, tales about a potential dislike or disregard for me. I have been telling myself that once is a mistake, twice is careless, three times is deliberate.
I have of course taken an adult approach to this and spoken to the individual directly. (You know I’m lying here, right?)
Yesterday I was in a team meeting and another colleague began a discussion on a topic they are leading. They referred to the pre-read they had shared. I said I hadn’t received it and they apologised and sent me a link to the soft copy on our systems. I received the email and clicked the link. I didn’t have access rights to the material.
Now my story has legs. It has all the makings of a novel. With characters, twists of plot and an evil back story. I have trapped myself in a fabrication of my own making. I am unconsciously looking for evidence that my tale is correct.
Imagined dragons. Stories of the mind. Myth and truth.
Observing a driver reversing an articulated lorry always gives me a sense of admiration. I notice a desire to be able to do that. It looks satisfying. I feel compelled to stand and watch.
But my brain says it’s hard.
‘I would probably struggle,’ it says. ‘It’s not as easy as it looks,’ it says. ‘Look on and marvel in the ability of these wondrous people, but it’s not for you, is it?’ it says.
Maybe it is hard, maybe it isn’t?
The point is that what my brain says, makes a big difference.
More importantly, what else does my brain say is hard? What else do I avoid or just never get around to experiencing because my brain says it’s hard?
And … why does it do that?
What is my brain’s purpose in telling me it’s hard? How is my own brain serving me, by telling me I will struggle to master that? By putting me off? By putting me down? By creating a limiting frame of reference?
But still I listen. Still I stand and marvel. Still I imagine.
One of the most necessary liberations comes when you discover that what other people think of you is not the same as who you are.
When you can stop identifying yourself with the stories, mistruths and assessments of others, you can also free yourself from a constant inner pressure to appear as you think people want, or expect you to.
But once you know this, another wisdom must be taken on.
You have to understand that other people are not the same as your stories, perspectives or assessments either. That means that whatever you think you know about them can only ever be partial; one aspect, a single angle on a situation way more complex than you’ve allowed for. Whatever you see, know you are blind.
Once these truths are mastered, know also that the story you tell yourself about you, about your own limitations, your acceptance in the world, your abilities or inabilities, is also not who you are. They too are a judgement, blind to the whole you; distorted tales from long distant memories or unintended fabrications from your past. Knowing this allows you to silence your inner critic. It relieves you from the self imposed weight of expectation, the burden of disappointment, the constant sniping at your capability, your value, your contribution, how you come to this world.
This awareness makes space for compassion. Compassion for others and compassion for self.
Roald Dahl’ first children’s book was The Gremlins.
The term gremlin refers to an imaginary mischievous sprite lurking in the electrics. World War II pilots coined the phrase when their engines, mechanics or electronics developed unexpected faults. In Dahl’s book, written in the 1940s, the gremlins’ motivation for sabotaging aircraft is revenge for the destruction of their forest home, which was razed to make way for an aircraft factory.
As human beings, neurons in our brains fire electrical impulses. This is how we think.
Often however, we have glitches in our own electrics; our thinking engines. For many of us, annoying little programmes have infiltrated our thinking process. This unwanted code, this inner voice, runs despite our wishes. The inner voice becomes a habit. It becomes something we routinely tell ourselves, in our heads. This self talk sabotages us. Derails us. Causes us to detour or to crash land. Often these little subroutines of code take the form of “I can’t…”, “I shouldn’t…”, “If only…”, “I’m not good enough to….”. They are self judgements and limiting beliefs.
The familiar friends of these little inner voices, the ones who speak up most regularly, become our gremlins. Mischievous little sprites lurking in our thinking.
In Roald Dahl’s book, the gremlins are persuaded to change their habits and are retrained to repair aircraft rather than sabotage them.
Maybe we need a gremlin retraining school?
“I might have told you this before…”
I say that quite often. Or something similar. Usually I’m about to tell a story. A story that makes a point, or enhances a previously made point. Or maybe it’s a story to support or refute the point you just made.
I know the story. I’ve said it before. I just can’t recall whether I told you. Or someone else. Or if it’s just a story I tell myself. One of those ‘in head practice’ stories. Or, one of those conversations where only I’m present. Me talking to me.
Usually I go ahead anyway. Mostly people are polite. Sometimes they say, “I know, you’ve said before.”
I’ve been on the receiving end too. Someone tells me a story. One they’ve told me before. Maybe twice before. Or five times. They tell it with gusto. Like it’s new. Sometimes the context is different. Mostly it’s not.
It’s as if we like our stories. Like a good book, we’re happy to read them several times. The story is what matters. The person we’re telling, not so much. The context and relevance, not so much. If those things mattered equally, we might remember. But no. The story comes out again. The story is what matters. It’s as if actually we’re telling ourselves. We telling and listening. The other person is incidental in this transaction.
What about our life story? Is that a story we tell ourselves? Over and over? Is that a story we share with others? Over and over?
Is that a good book?
I’ve been noticing how modern technology reminds us.
Some of this is helpful, but generally technology reminds us to catch up. Reminds us of what we’ve missed or not done. In this way it unconsciously builds a sense within us of being behind. It gives us an always on reminder; a visual or auditory ‘shove’ to encourage us to catch up.
My inbox tells me how many ‘unread emails’ I have. It doesn’t tell me how many I’ve read today or how many I’ve responded to, or the hours of effort I have invested in my endless communication with those I interact with. No. Instead it reminds me what I still have to do.
My phone alerts me to ‘missed calls’. Raising in me a sense that I’ve let someone down or maybe missed an important person or message. It nudges me towards a message, a voicemail the person has left, and then sends me a text in case I ignore the other signals I have been sent. It is like my phone is constantly whispering ‘Come on, come on, keep up’.
Meanwhile all my technology reminds me I have ‘updates’ – even my TV. I’m always out of date it seems. Missing some vital feature or fix to make me ever more capable, or ever more efficient. Now, my i-phone and i-pad, not only tell me I have updates, but if I say I’m not ready to install them they say ‘shall I remind you later today?’ Nooooo!
The failure. The pressure. The anxiety.
What has happened here?