The Stories We Tell Ourselves


18 Apr The Stories We Tell Ourselves

At a friend’s urging, I attended a ‘self improvement’ seminar last weekend. It was held in a convention center in town, and more than 100 people came together to embark on a journey of self discovery and powerful living.

The seminar was intense. The rules were laid down hard and fast. It was structured purposefully so that participants feel submissive and vulnerable. Breakdowns were common and for many in the room, it was an emotional roller coaster ride.

It was not my first encounter with this form of Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT). But it was the more intense (and to many, the more effective) one.

I would like to share an incident during the session. Names and details changed to protect the innocent.

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Man Vs Wife

In response to the Facilitator, Man took to the mike. He felt stuck in his marriage and he wanted to share his predicament, hoping to achieve a breakthrough.

Facilitator: Tell us what happened.
Man: I have been married for 20 years. My Wife is a domineering character. She always insist on her own ways. She always jumps to conclusions. She has no trust in me. She never wants to….
Facilitator: Ok, tell us what happened.
Man: I just did.
Facilitator: No you did not.

For something to have ‘happened’, Facilitator explained, the incident must have the quality of being readily ‘capturable’ by a video recorder at the moment in time when it happened.

The Broken Vase


For example, ‘the vase dropped and it broke’ is an incident that actually happened. If there was a video recorder there and then, it would have captured the scene of the vase toppling off the table and how it came crashing down onto the floor.

‘She was careless in handling the vase’ is not something that ‘happened’. Rather, it is simply an interpretation of what we see – perhaps she was on the phone when the vase fell, or perhaps she was flippant in placing it properly.

Whether she was really careless or not, no one really knows. The video recorder cannot capture carelessness. Carelessness is merely our interpretation of the reality. It is a story we tell ourselves.

In the case of Man vs Facilitator, the domineering wife is not an incident. A domineering wife is something that could never ‘happen’.

What ‘happened’ could be an incident whereby Wife insisted that Man stays away from unhealthy food. Or the occasion when she stops him from drinking with his colleagues. Or the time when she disagrees with his decision to buy a new car. These are actual events that could have actually have happened.

In all these instances, Man assigns a story to each of them. He sees Wife as trying to run his life. He labels the wife as being domineering.

The truth, according to Facilitator, is that the incidents themselves have no meaning. Wife is not domineering. She merely carried out an action. It is Man who has interpreted the incidents and assigned meaning to them.

Do the interpretations make sense? Of course they do. After all, it is Man’s very own interpretation. They are all sensible conclusions.

But are they Reality? No. They are not. At the very best they are assumptions made based on the circumstances.

The Facilitator goes on to suggest that Wife cannot become less domineering because she is not domineering in the very first place. Her dominance only existed in Man’s head.

There is no change to be effected because there is no Reality. For Man to achieve that end goal, the only avenue would be for him to assign a different meaning to his wife’s actions.

It was a powerful moment there and then. Man threw away the thought shackles bothering him for the past 20 year. He called Wife to reconcile during the break. And they lived happily ever after…

The Desire to find Reason

The ability and desire to reason is something that separates Human Beings from other animal lifeforms. We are able to make sense of the world based on us being willing and able to search for the ‘truth’ behind what is going on in our world.

Newton tried to make sense of why the apple fell from the tree. He wanted to assign meaning to it. Alexander Fleming was fascinated by the growth in his petri dish. He wanted to know why and ended up discovering Penicillin.

Closer to home, in our interactions with other human beings, we are constantly assigning meaning.

Like Man, we are good at giving reasons for people’s actions. The guy sings loudly in the train because he is crazy. Neighbour drips laundry all over your washing because they are inconsiderate. The boss assigns work just before your vacation because she is sadistic.

This is how we interact with our world. These are the constructs we make up to make life bearable. These are what makes us human.

Unfortunately if we take a moment to think about it, many of these meanings we assign may or may not be true at all.

The Financial Markets

I took a quick glance at the headlines. Here are some

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 8.41.52 AM


Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 9.22.57 AM



Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 8.42.33 AM

And this one that just popped up as I write.
Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 9.10.51 AM
What Happened?

I would like to leave you with some questions. Looking at the headlines above,

1. What happened?

2. What are the journalists’, experts’, analysts’ interpretation of what happened? Are they reality or are they assumptions?

3. Have we ever challenged these assumptions? Should we at all? Should we be rethinking how we consume news and information?

Have a ponder. The conversation is open.

image: wallartmag, yipa


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  • James Hon
    Posted at 11:18h, 18 April Reply

    I’m driving on the highway at the recommended safe speed.. Anyone who overtakes me are crazy, and I those I overtake are stupid. I know because I am right.

    • Jon
      Posted at 17:38h, 21 April Reply

      Wise words James, always good to hear from you!

  • James Ng
    Posted at 11:56h, 18 April Reply

    Thanks for sharing. What’s the name of the seminar? I’ll be interested to attend it myself. Thanks.

    • Jon
      Posted at 17:36h, 21 April Reply

      Hi James, name of the seminar sent to your email.

      • sunshine
        Posted at 15:56h, 23 April Reply

        Hi! Can you please share the name of the seminar for me to attend it ? Thanks.

        • Jon
          Posted at 10:25h, 25 April Reply

          hi, name of the seminar sent to your email. thanks

  • Adrian Tan
    Posted at 15:24h, 18 April Reply

    Learned a new term today – LGAT. Thanks!

    • Jon
      Posted at 17:35h, 21 April Reply

      Waiting for you to conduct your own LGAT Adrian. First to sign up.

  • desmond
    Posted at 10:44h, 19 April Reply

    hi jon
    there are many ways to approach a problem, the one you cited is an interesting one, flipping the participant base perception, and connect to the bigger goal in mind. I had written an article, paint a bright future showing the methods, hope you like it

    • Jon
      Posted at 17:34h, 21 April Reply

      great article desmond. thanks for sharing!

  • penny Chow
    Posted at 16:59h, 09 May Reply

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for sharing. First tie I am reading your articles and I am hooked by your POV.

    BTW what is the name of the seminar. I’m curious too.

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