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Podcast: The Story We Tell Ourselves is the Reality We Sell Ourselves (Claim Your Freedom #6)

cognitive health emotional healing emotional health podcast Oct 08, 2019

A few talks ago, we discussed perception- and how that perception often becomes our reality if we’re not careful to separate what we think we see from what we actually see (we discussed perception vs. reality at Then we discussed internal rules- mental agreements we make with ourselves (often subconsciously) which help us sort and maintain some degree of personal safety as we navigate life. In the same way elite athletes thrive from muscle memory, we often navigate life in both good ways and bad ways from soul-memory (see 

In this talk, I want to push that idea a bit further, because soul-memory is built in small everyday encounters. But, the overall impact of these encounters, over time, becomes exponential. 


Told what to see

In the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (now, think about that title!), Ori & Rom Brafman write about the effects of pre-existing beliefs and how they effect our ongoing belief patterns- even when confronted with new information to the contrary. (Remember, Dr. Perkus told me some of our self-created internal rules are functional and some are completely dysfunctional.) The Brafmans write about a visiting lecturer, a guest teacher at MIT. As an experiment, the teacher lectured 70 economics students at the prestigious university. 

Now, you've gotta think- if anyone is not going to be irrationally swayed by something, it's going to be this bunch of smarties, right?

Well, wrong. 

All 70 students were given a bio on the visiting professor. The bio was a page long and detailed the prof’s accomplishments. The students were instructed to review it before listening to the lecture.

Here’s the set-up:

  • Half of the students received a bio that said the guest teacher was "a very warm person.”
  • The other half received a bio that said the prof was "rather cold.”

That's it. No differences otherwise. The students all listened to the same lecture at the same time, and were then asked to grade the professor.

The results were, well… revelatory.

  • The half who read the "warm person" bio wrote how great the teacher was. He was funny. He made them laugh. He told great stories and made things applicable. He actually made economics exciting!
  • The half who read the "rather cold" bio said the teacher was aloof. He was self-centered. He was rigid, inflexible, and boring. Oh, and he was formal. Stiff. Lifeless.

Did they not sit through the same lecture at the exact same time? 

Of course they did. 

What happened? 

Quite simply this: the students saw what they already believed to be true.  

How so? 

Their perceptions were all front-loaded. They were told what they were going to see. 

As a result, reality or not, that’s exactly what they saw.


We see what we’re looking for

Many times we see what we've already decided we'll see. In other words, seeing is believing, yes. But, often, believing is seeing.

See how that works?

  • If you're looking for reasons why you'll get a bad outcome, you'll likely read everything through that lenses.
  • If you believe you're going to succeed, that you're going to have a great outcome, you'll (likewise) look at everything through that lenses.

This is especially true when past trauma is involved. If you’re looking for mortar fire or bullets or people to shun / hurt / abuse / take advantage of you, etc… well, you’ll likely see what you’ve already decided to see.

Internally, your mind will subconsciously kick into over-drive, scanning the universe for hints and clues to back up what you've already determined to be true. Then, that will become the grid whereby you view reality.

(And every now and then reality will actually match your perception completely, thereby giving your false impression enough credibility to continue.)

I decided to try this theory out one summer while at the pool on vacation. I often give my kids a "challenge" when we're swimming. Something like “do 10 flips under water." Or "catch a pass behind your back while jumping into the pool." It's become an expected game we play every time we're at the pool.

"What's the challenge for the dollar?" they ask.

(I often reward all the winners with a dollar they can blow on video games when we go eat pizza, use to load up on candy from the grocery store, or do something else whimsical.)

On this trip, I had already asked them to swim sideways across the pool- there and back- underwater, holding their breath. No one had even tried it yet. They had all assumed it was impossible. They stood there in the pool fretting about how it couldn't be done.

Their mom leaned to me and said, "This is a great time to give them a pep talk..."

So, I ran an experiment about beliefs and perceptions and how they alter reality. Particularly those big subconscious ones- the ones that tell you that you might die.

"Kids," I said, "turn around and look around the pool. I want you to take 5 seconds, while I count out loud. Count how many blue things you can find."

I began counting backwards down from 5...

Quickly, they began counting up from 1, each of them rushing to find blue.

  • Some noticed the blue sky
  • Others noticed a blue tool shed
  • Someone insisted the water should count, since it was a light shade of blue
  • Another spotted a toy that had some blue in it

After 5 seconds I stopped them. Then I asked, "How many green items did you see?"

"We were counting blue," they told me. 

Each of them.

They posted their numbers to prove it. Some had 6. Most had 3 or 4. 

“It doesn’t matter,” I reminded them. Then, “I want to know how many green items you found.”

"None," one of them finally told me.

"None?" I asked. "You have the grass all around this pool and at least a few hundred trees."

"We didn't see green," they said. "We were looking for blue things."

I explained the gig to them. I showed them how I had set them up.

"You found blue," I said, "because that's what you were looking for. Even if there is infinitely more green here to be found. In the same way, you assumed you couldn't make it across the pool, so you looked for reasons to prove you couldn't do it.”

I reminded them of what they told me about the swim- 

  • It's too far
  • We're not strong enough
  • We’re too tired because we stayed up late last night and have been playing all day
  • We're too little and the pool is too big

Sometimes we believe something because we see it. Most of the time, though, we see because we already believe what we're looking for. And those are two different things.

Notice what Proverbs 23:7 says about this: "As a man thinks, so is he..."

Turns out, they all made it across the pool after our short coaching session. 

Why is a picture worth 1,000 words? 

Because if you see it, even in your mind, with your thoughts, you can tap into it… and then do it!

What have you seen before that you need to "see again"?


Time for a rewrite

We actually have the ability to stand “outside ourselves,” observe, and edit the narrative.  That means this: your mind can observe what your brain is doing, what it’s thinking, how it’s responding (sounds odd, but if you’ve ever thought through a few “if-then” scenarios then you know exactly how this works). 

Dr. Caroline Leaf calls this Multiple Perceptive Advantage, a way of viewing our lives that allows us to stand “outside” of ourselves and view reality from multiple angles.  MPA makes mind renewal possible. Every human has it- you just need to develop the skill set to leverage it.

That means this: since you can see how you’re responding and reacting in the moment, you can actually change that response… in the moment.

And that means this, too: if you can string together a whole bunch of these moments, intentionally, you can change the entire story arc of your life.

That is, we can change the script we read to ourselves.

You can change the narrative. 

Don’t like the way things are going? 

Rewrite your story.

Don’t like playing the tragic hero? 

Do a recast. 

Rather give your “hero” certain gifts, talents, relationships, places to go and things to see…? 

Time to rebrand.

Once you understand the power of the mind… and how it literally creates destiny, some of the most popular Bible verses make even more sense. Things like…

  • “Take your thoughts captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  • “Be transformed… by renewing your mind” (Romans 12:1-2)
  • “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6f)
  • “Think on things that are pure, lovely, good…” (Philippians 4:8)

When we really believe that we can do these things- that we can take thoughts captive, that we can transform ourselves by proactively recreating what’s in our minds, that we can choose peace over anxiety and stress, that we can select the object our our thoughts- we begin to see just how powerful we are. 


Back to the perception isn’t  reality tango

(We discussed perception vs. reality at

It’s easy to look at where we find ourselves in life and grow disheartened. We look at our progress- or lack of it- and feel we might be further along towards our dreams and goals if we were in a better place. 

A few weeks ago I was pulling a few clips from a documentary produced by a nonprofit where I do some writing and teaching. I came across a segment I clipped from the documentary Honoring the Code to post on social media. I’ll tell you about the film later, in the chapter about Moral Injury (Chapter 9, “More Powerful Than PTSD”).

Mary Neal Vieten, a Navy Corps Commander and PhD / Clinical Psychologist who served numerous soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reminds them that, “You didn’t leave trained for combat as an elite soldier at the top of your game and then come back certifiably insane or crazy. The things you endured are hard. They mark you. It’s normal to be affected by them.”

Or, to say it another way, “You’re not foolish because you have these internal rules that have created this story that you’ve lived.

Many of those internal rules are natural responses to real issues you’ve faced. And, in many senses, they’re the things that got you through. They helped you survive. But now you’re in a different place. As a result, it’s time to scrub the rules that no longer serve you, so that you might live a better version of your story.

A few pages ago I referenced Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book Switch On Your Brain. In that book she reminds us that some of the clutter we’ve got to clean up isn’t the result of random things we experienced; a lot of it is the result of choices we made. Even then, though, we can step “outside of ourselves,” use the MPA to look around, and make course corrections. In her words, 

It’s important to make a distinction between who you truly are- the real, multifaceted, unique you- and the person you have become through toxic choices.

So let’s own that, too. You see, the reality is that- 

  • Sometimes we suffer because of what others have done to us (we’re the victim)
  • Sometimes others suffer because of what we’ve done to them (we’re the perpetrator, which leaves wounds on them and an entirely different set of wounds on us- equally calling for a rewrite)
  • Sometimes we suffer because of what we’ve done

We can courageously own all of this, because we’re not defined by the past and we’re not stuck in the beginning (or even middle) of our story, regardless of how we got there. There are still pages to (re)write, still a script to be lived. 

And the story we tell ourselves is… and will be… the reality we sell ourselves. 



Links from this talk

Emotional Wholeness Checklist- the book- (5.5x8.5, 92 pages) 

Take the PTSD Self-Check at 

Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)-   


Listening options- 

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