“Our thoughts create our reality.” I love this statement. I live my life by it. I don’t know who originated it, but it’s an idea I’ve heard from Wayne Dyer. To me, it makes sense on so many levels. It feels a bit like common sense. Whatever we attend to the most we’re going to get more of, simply because we are expecting it.
This has been borne out by scientific evidence. A study was done with teachers and students. The students were randomly assigned to two populations: high performers and low performers. This was totally independent of their actual performance. The arbitrarily assigned labels (low or high performer) were communicated to the teachers (who didn’t know about the study). By the end of the semester, guess what? Actual student performance conformed more to the labels than to the students’ actual performance history. Why? It seems that teacher expectations had a huge influence on student performance.
The observer effect in quantum physics gives more evidence for this phenomenon. Studies have repeatedly proven that the form that a quantum of energy takes (either wave or particle) conforms to the researcher’s expectations. While probabilities dictate that the quantum of energy has an equal chance of showing up as a wave or a particle, when researchers measure for the presence of a wave, they always get a wave. When they measure for a particle, they always get a particle. Researchers had no choice but to come to the eerie conclusion that the observer was somehow influencing the outcome of the experiment.
So, with my firmly held belief that “our thoughts create our reality,” I was excited to learn that Brooke Castillo has developed a model that eloquently captures the interplay of this dynamic. She simply calls it “The Model.” The Model states that our actions and hence our results, always stem from our thoughts and from the feelings that those thoughts create. To help people capture a model of their thinking, she has people write down five lines: the circumstance or situation that gives rise to the thought (C), the thought itself (T), the feeling that comes from the thought (F), the action that you take when you are thinking those thoughts and feeling those feelings (A), and the outcome that results from the actions taken (R). This model helps us easily see that our thoughts are the true point of leverage if we want to change our results.
It is rooted in the idea that our thoughts create our reality.
I was inspired by Brooke’s model and also the Work of Byron Katie to create my own model. I talked about Katie’s process of inquiry in detail in another blog article. I work with my model every morning during time that I dedicate to mindset mastery. During this time, I like to examine my thoughts and explore how I’m creating the world of my experience from the thoughts that I’m thinking and the stories that I tell myself.
When we don’t examine our thoughts, we can virtually hypnotize ourselves with self-reinforcing stories that don’t support our highest good. By becoming aware of, and deliberately changing our stories we can open ourselves to a richer experience of life.
The Story World Model
I call my approach The Story World Model. Here’s how it works. The process involves answering five questions with two additional optional questions. The questions are:
1) What is the situation?
2) What is your story about the situation?
3) What emotions arise when you tell yourself this story?
4) How do you respond when you tell yourself that story and feel those feelings?
5) What is the world you are creating based on your responses to your thoughts and feelings?
Then, if you are not satisfied with the kind of world that you are creating above, move to the next two questions:
6) Who would you be without your story?
7) What’s a new story that you could tell yourself?
I’m having some internal debate about #7. On the one hand, I imagine teachers like Katie protesting that we shouldn’t be telling ourselves any kind of story. Our stories are a dream world, a kind of delusion that separates us from the beauty of what is. Our task is to see the world in a sort of pristine state, without the judgment, labels, or story. And then instead of evaluating that world, our task is to accept it. Hence the title of Katie’s book, Loving What Is. To tell any kind of story is wrestling with what is.
On the other hand, how many of us are near to that form of consciousness where we can actually get beyond stories, labels, judgments? From what I can see, Katie resides in non-dual consciousness, and if you can get there, then yes, dropping all stories is the ideal. But for those of us who are still walking the path, maybe it’s helpful to have some scaffolding that helps us learn to be mentally flexible while we are still steeped in dualism.
What follows is an example of the Story World model in action. I used the model to process a situation that I had recently with a relative, Eric. In future articles, I’m going to break down how to think about each of the individual questions. For now, I’ll leave you with this example.
Story World Example
Something Happens/ We are presented with a situation (Situation)
Eric didn’t do what he said he would.
What is your story about this situation? (Story)
He can’t be trusted. Eric not fulfilling his promise is part of his passive-aggressiveness. He’s angry at me for other things and it manifests as his not doing what he said he would. If he’s not going to/doesn’t want to do something, why does he say he will do it? He’s deliberately trying to hurt me. He says he wants to improve our relationship, but then he does things to undermine it. I guess he just wants a relationship on his terms. He’s very controlling. I don’t want anything to do with him. Having a relationship with him for me only brings pain. He is a damaged person.
What must you be believing to tell yourself this story? (Belief)
That I’m somehow better than him. I overlook that I also engage in passive-aggressive behaviors. For example, the only time I called him was when I needed something from him. That hurts him. I must believe that he is insincere when he says that he wants a better relationship. I assume that he isn’t willing to work for it, to look at his own behavior or change it. I believe that he is dangerous, scary person and that it’s unsafe to trust him. I fail to see that at least he wants a relationship and that he keeps trying no matter how much I hurt him by constantly rejecting him. I get self-righteous on account of how he has treated me in the past. I act a bit like an impetuous child. I give him control of the way that I feel.
What emotions arise when you tell yourself this story? (Emotions)
Anger, resentment, hurt, confusion
How do you respond when you tell yourself that story and feel those feelings? (Response)
I am distant with him in general. Sometimes I’m a bit inconsistent, reaching out and then pulling back. So, I know that I do things that must be confusing to him. I don’t tell him what’s on my mind. I don’t confront him about how he let me down. I assume that he realizes what the problem is, when in fact, he may not. I decide that I don’t want anything to do with him. I tell myself that it’s entirely his fault and that it’s for my own well-being. I make him the villain and myself the victim.
Describe the world you are creating based on your responses to your thoughts and feelings. (Our World)
I’m creating a world of black and white, victims and villains. I see him as all bad and all powerful. I discount my own power in the situation. I fail to see how I’m hurting him and that by hurting him I’m contributing to the behavior that I don’t like to see in him. I’m unraveling the relationship. It’s a lonely world where I choose to throw away relationships and not work hard to maintain them. I create tension for other family members.
Who would you be without your story? (Your Essence)
I would be surprised by his behavior and I’d be curious and compassionate about it. I wouldn’t assume any malicious intent. I would ask questions in a sincere, non-blaming way to understand what had happened. I wouldn’t take his behavior personally. I would empathize with his situation. I would recognize that he is busy and that the favor he promised me is difficult for him to do with all that he has going on. I wouldn’t have high expectations for him doing what he says he will do and I would make contingency plans, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be bitter if he didn’t follow through, and most of all I wouldn’t take it personally. In fact, I would have empathy for him, recognizing that he is acting against his own desires: on the one hand he wants a relationship, on the other hand he engages in behavior that might undermine that relationship.
What’s a new story that you could tell yourself? (New Story)
Eric is a good guy who is a bit overwhelmed with life in general. He does a lot to juggle taking care of his parents while working full time and attending to his own family. He is a very dedicated son. He wants to have a better relationship with me and does not mean to do things that will hurt me. He doesn’t know how to process his feelings of anger and resentment in our relationship, and so he makes mistakes in that area. There is a positive underlying it all even though he doesn’t always act consistently with what he says he espouses. I’m in large part responsible for creating the results that I get with Eric. For example, I say that I will get together with him on the weekend, but then I don’t reach out to him to schedule anything. I often reject him. I need to make a choice to either work on improving our relationship or to cut myself off from him entirely. It is probably not feasible to break away from him entirely because of our familial interconnections. The most practical route would be to improve the relationship.
For me, the model usually serves to make me feel lighter about whatever the problem is. In this example, while a solution presented itself, I still don’t feel ready for it. However, I’m certainly more open. The situation seems less serious and onerous and a bit more approachable. There are more possibilities about how the situation might unfold. I’m less rigid in my thinking, less upset about the situation. Repeated use of this process creates a shift in my thinking. I become more nimble, more able to adopt new perspectives.
So, go ahead. Give it a try. I’m offering a free worksheet that takes you through the process. You can gain access to that here. Let me know your experiences of working through the model. Also, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about question #7. Do you find it helpful to craft a new story to tell yourself?
Our mindset determines everything: how we feel about ourselves, the quality of actions that we take toward our goals, and how we show up in the world. I'm excited to be offering a three-month group coaching program, starting May 14th. Check it out here.