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What Stories are you Telling Yourself?

I had a situation recently where I let my newly adopted dog Fawkes out in the garden.  His recall was coming along, and he’d stuck by my side on previous outings, but yesterday he wanted to run.  Having a big garden with a large area inaccessible to humans (well me), he proved himself to be quite the adventurer and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.  I couldn’t see him and could only just hear the occasional jingle of his dog tag.

After half an hour of calling and rattling the food tin, Fawkes finally appeared looking very pleased with himself.  In the time it took to get him back, I’d already gone through a list of concerns…

…what if there’s a gap in the fence

…what will I tell the Dogs Trust if I lose him

…what will the local farmers do if he chases the sheep

…what if he gets hurt

…I’m a bad dog owner

and the list went on!

As I was catastrophising, I realised I was just telling myself stories.  I was feeling vulnerable and out of control and the fears were coming up in different scenarios I was playing out.  Nothing had actually happened, he was just exploring and doing what dogs do!

We all run stories in our head.  Whether it’s something that’s happened, or something you’re catastrophising about, they can easily put you on an emotional rollercoaster.

It could be this person said this, so they obviously think that about me.   The fact is what they actually said, you’d need a crystal ball to know what their thoughts are.  In these situations, we’re mind reading, thinking we know why someone did or said something when we don’t.  This is our interpretation rather than the reality and can get us caught up in feeling bad about ourselves and/or others.

Whilst the ability to think around situations can be useful at times, it’s a great way to keep yourself stuck in cycles of overthinking.  The time comes to stop playing the stories and start to rumble with them in order to work out what is actually happening here.

Get them out of your head

Offload all your thoughts onto a sheet of paper allowing yourself to just write freely.  It doesn’t matter what you say, this is for your eyes only.

This exercise is great to filter your response to someone, especially when your knee-jerk reaction is to be mean because you are hurting.  Getting these conversations unedited onto paper will allow you to take a breath and reflect on what is really going on.

See stories for what they are

As the stories unfold in front of you, the facts will start to stand out.  You can begin to identify which bits you’re creating your own assumptions and stories about.  You can also filter your responses to situations to make sure they are appropriate and fitting for you.

Reality check

Take time out from the situation and do something different.  This could be going for a walk or having lunch, anything that provides a little distance.  When you return, read it through your thoughts and think about what was really going on here.

If it’s something brings up a huge amount of emotion, you could run it past a trusted friend to get their opinion on the situation.  You want someone who loves and respects you but is but is also willing to call you out when you’re out of line with your values.

Plan of action

Now you’re clearer about what is going on, work out how you want to feel in this situation going forward and create a plan of action to help you move forward.  What’s your first step?

For me and Fawkes, I’ve decided it’s OK for him to explore but when I have the time for him to wander.  Any other times when I’m fitting in a quick walk between calls, he’ll be on a lead for now.

“The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.”  Mandy Hale

If you struggle with getting stuck overthinking, contact us to find out how we can help.