The Meaning Making Story Machine
Why do we want? Because we believe it will add to our quality of life. We think about what life would be like, if we only had whatever it was that we wanted. We believe we would be a better person if we only had what we wanted. So, what is it that makes us believe our wants will change everything? It’s the stories our brains are constantly creating through our emotions and our values becoming a meaning making story machine. Let’s look at how this happens.
Our senses are not only biologically important to living, but they are the foundation to living life. They help us identify our primary learning style (as mentioned in the post Know Your Learning Styles) and they also bring in messages and ideas to help our brain make our experiences mean something.
Here’s an Example
You want to buy a house and go see a house for sale. When you get out of the car, you SEE a beautiful home, you SMELL the flowers that line the front walk and HEAR the birds in the trees as you head towards the front door. As you continue viewing the house, both inside and out, your senses are at work sending messages to your brain bombarding it with all kinds of information. It has to do something! Quickly and efficiently your brain takes all those messages and begins to make some meaning out of them. (good or bad)
Stories and Perception
“Great, I get that” you say but what’s also important to understand is that while your brain is making meaning and stories with all this information, your brain is also creating a perception of value in this meaning.
Perhaps after seeing the tidy garden, you believe the owners do a great job of taking care of the house and hence love the house and have taken care of it for years. Or perhaps you see the skirting board has no dust and think that the owners are very proud of their house, keeping it clean, giving you a sense of pride too. Or perhaps the house ticks all your boxes for buying a house making you excited about everything surrounding it – it has tremendous value in your brain and you believe this house will add to the quality of your life. The bad news is that, this may not necessarily be accurate.
The stories your brain has just created are our perceptions of what we may want to have happen, what we have taken in, and what we have experienced in our lives – because that’s the information our brains have to work with. However, the reality may be that the owners hate the house, hate the neighborhood, and pay four people to upkeep the house while they live in someplace else? At the end of the day – DOES IT MATTER?
Our Stories Matter
It’s important to understand that the stories your brain has just applied meaning to, are accepted and either aligned or dismissed with your values.
As humans, we assign value to everything with the most important value being around the stories we create and retell. We have the power to justify anything, based on what we care about. And this justifying comes back to our values (outlined in the post, How To Find Your Values).
However, for us to benefit we have to make meaningful stories with positive assigned value. We also have the ability to make up stories and assign negative value that can become detrimental to our lives.
When I interviewed Scott Drummond, he explained it best:
The power of Story is immense. Those stories you tell yourself. Those stories you tell others ABOUT yourself, about your family, about your life. They’re really important. The more you tell the same story, the more it gets ingrained in your head. So before you say anything, be aware and conscious of how it’s going to AFFECT you, the listener, and anyone else in the story. It’s utterly important to make peace with your stories, be honest and truthful, be grateful and positive and be thoughtful because these stories end up becoming you.
The Opposite of Meaningful Story Creation – Justification
The opposite of understanding that our brains are constantly creating meaning and assigning value to our experiences is allowing our brains to JUSTIFY our actions for experiences that are not aligned with our values. For example, I know a workaholic who works ridiculous hours, in an office, away from his family. When I asked him what his core values were and on the top of the list was family. I had to question this. If his top value were family, then being with his family should be a priority for him, not spending most of his time at work.
This is a perfect example of the brain doing a really good job at justifying the situation. PRESENCE with his family has more value, to those around him. His story is telling him that he is family oriented but his actions are creating a different story to his family. They see him working for the money, not them.
Create Positive Meaning Stories
Your brain is an amazing meaning making story machine. You can help it along by taking a couple minutes of the day thinking about an experience that maybe bothering you. Or a decision you have to make. How is the story you’re listening to or repeating in your brain, affecting your emotions, mood, and others?