Tell yourself better stories

I was pissed.

We were heading to a friend’s house for dinner on Friday at 6PM. It takes us 30 minutes to get there, so, naturally, we left at 5:30.

Idiot. Now, we’re stuck in traffic. It’s crawling. We’ll be at least 45 minutes late, if not more.

Who came up with this plan to have dinner during weekday rush hour, anyway? My wife? My friend? Why did they plan it this way? I’m pissed with myself for not thinking through this more. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, and know how traffic is. I should have never agreed to going to dinner at this time in the first place.

I’m just getting more pissed.

This dinner is going to suck. We’ll be late, and I’ll fume about these poor decisions we all made. We should turn around at the next exit and go back home and plan for a different day.

Oh, now I see the cause. An accident in the right lane. We’re all jammed up because everyone had to get over to the other lanes.

5 minutes later we were past the accident and traffic cleared up.

We made it to dinner at 6:03PM. 3 minutes later than we planned. Not even noticeable. And had a great time with our friends.

Looking back on the dinner, it was funny realizing how quickly my mind invented stories of how bad of a predicament I was in: I was going to be terribly late, I’m a poor decision maker for not thinking about this more intelligently when the plan was being formed, my friend and wife also got blamed for their planning.

And the problem turned out to be miniscule. The delay was imaginary. My wife and friend didn’t make any poor decisions at all.

The real problem was me.

I had invented all these stories about what actually was wrong and how bad the situation was. And I gave everyone roles in that story. We were all villains.

And I almost gave up in front of an imaginary problem.

This happened during a journey to a casual dinner. How often are we creating stories like this for even more important tasks?

There’s jobs we want to change. New careers we want to pursue. Businesses we want to start. Bad habits we want to drop.

All sorts of journeys we’re on that have bumps and obstacles. And what goes through our heads?

Of course your new business won’t work out. It’s too hard. You’ll never get there. Why were you foolish enough to think you could even start? And why won’t your friends help? Why isn’t your spouse more supportive? Just turn around and give up.

But just like that trip to dinner, most of these stories are imaginary. If we just had a little more patience with ourselves. If we just enjoyed the ride without blaming someone else. If we just started telling ourselves better stories, where we and the others around us get to be the heros.

We’d still get where we were going. Maybe a few minutes late. But we’d still get there. And we’d have a lot more fun doing it.

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