Myths, Stories & Fictions – How an evolutionary advantage for humankind could be holding you back.

My Mother always told me that “You will never be lonely if you like to read”.  She meant, of course, that a reader can always be occupied, even if they are alone.

Our house was full of books.  From a young age, once I had finished a book I simply had to find a new one to read, right away!  I could be found climbing up to high shelves to find my next book.  No matter the hour, I had to read at least a page or two of my new book before going to sleep.  I simply couldn’t be without a book ‘on the go’.

And I am exactly the same today, except now I browse the Kindle Store from the comfort of my bed rather than balancing precariously on a hastily drawn up chair.

I am currently reading ‘SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND by Dr Yuval Noah Harari.   He has a PHD in History from Oxford University and now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specialising in World History.  In this book he examines the manner in which our species has done battle for dominance.  He looks at why our foraging ancestors came together to create cities and kingdoms; how they came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to become enslaved by bureaucracy, consumerism and the pursuit of happiness.

I say that I am reading this book, but in truth I am savouring it.  It has been described as bold, wide-ranging and provocative and it is indeed all of these things.  It challenges everything that we thought we knew about ourselves as a species:  what it is to be human.

Dr Yuval Noah Harari posits that humans grew in number and stature as a species because they developed the ability to believe in fictions, stories and myths.  He suggests that the ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.

“Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively”.

In order for cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants to emerge and function, large numbers of strangers needed to believe in common myths so that they could cooperate successfully.  This would have included social constructs that we take for granted today; money; gods; city states; kingdoms; corporations!  A fiction or myth regarding your rights or self-worth could have vastly different impacts if you were born a slave or born to a merchant family, born a boy or born a girl.

So why am I sharing this?

His thoughts on fictions and myths really got me thinking about the stories we tell about ourselves.  The fictions that evolve in families to describe how they see us, and how we see ourselves.  Were you the smart one, the funny one, or maybe the black sheep?  The stories that we tell ourselves can have far reaching effects on our lives, our happiness and our potential to thrive and succeed.

One of the powerful stories in my life is that I view myself as ‘a reader’.  Reading was valued in my house growing up and ‘being a reader’ means far more to me than merely describing one who reads books.  It’s how I view myself.  It’s an intrinsic part of who I am.  Or at least it is an intrinsic part of the story that I have created about myself.

Beyond that, it influences how I see others.  Yes, I am one of those annoying people who goes straight to your bookshelves on first entering your home.  I don’t do it to judge;  I am looking for connections, for common ground.

It also explains why I don’t understand boredom or what it means to be bored.  I associate boredom with small children lolling about on hot summer afternoons, scratching their sticky legs and plaguing their parents for ‘something to do’.

I always have ‘something to do’.

Our ability to frame stories and realities with their own life force; to believe them and share them with others is a powerful tool. It is against those stories that we often measure our own value and that of others.  My lifelong passion for reading has been a wonderfully positive story in my life but I have other stories that serve me rather poorly by comparison.

As a child, my Mother also told me repeatedly that “I stuck at nothing”.  It was simply my nature to try lots of different things – what she feared was an inability to stick at things was actually an inquisitiveness and natural desire to be ‘always learning’.  It took me many years to quiet that voice and re-frame it in the positive light that I now see it.

What are are the stories that you tell yourself?  How real are they?  Do they stand up to scrutiny under a sharp dispassionate light?

What is the language you use to describe yourself?  Does it serve you or hold you back?  Does it drive you forward or lock you down?  Undoubtedly, my story that I am a reader can be reality checked.  And the language I use to describe myself on this topic is positive and uplifting.

But we are not always generous with ourselves and circumstances often lead us to hold to myths that are simply not true; that simply hold us back.  We tell ourselves things like “I am not good enough”, or we feel that we are not deserving of credit or success.  Often we have stories that we cling to because we have been hearing them in our heads for so long.  They can be draining and damaging.

In my coaching, I listen closely for these tired old stories and for negative or self deprecating language.  They are guideposts to uncovering self limiting beliefs.  Try it yourself.  What would you unearth if you were to make a list of the stories that you have gathered about yourself.  What would it feel like to write them down so that you could confront them head on and in so doing, assess how real they really are!

Working with clients to re-frame long held negative beliefs into positive enriching ones is hugely rewarding.  Creating a safe, confidential space where clients can gain new perspectives that lead to lasting change and personal growth is both a powerful and humbling experience.

Remember.

They are only stories.  

The ones that do not serve you can be edited, re-written, or replaced with something new that enriches and empowers!

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