When I was twelve, I started playing a video game called Neverwinter Nights, which rapidly became one of my favorite games of all time. It's essentially an online Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. One day in-game I was in a tavern in the seedy little part of town and somebody beat me up in-game. When that happens, there's a sound effect when somebody clicks on your little bag to look into it. I heard that sound effect and got really pissed off that somebody had taken all of my stuff.
So once I got up, I ran over to the city guard, played by another player, and told them that somebody stole my stuff. When we went to go check, all my stuff was still there. I assumed that the player that beat me up had taken all my stuff and not just looked into it and thus, I got really frustrated and angry.
I came from one perspective and then acted according to the story I had told myself. Note the use of the word “story” here, because my assumptions were just that. Things I assumed, not based in any fact. The reality of the matter is I heard a sound effect, but I assumed someone stole all my in-game items I spent hundreds of hours collecting, and so I proceeded to get very angry.
Once I realized that I was incorrect, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was SO SURE that the other player stole my belongings. Instead, he had just looked inside to see what I had, and ended up taking nothing.
Here's another example of the type of story I'm talking about. Imagine it's 8 pm and you've just run out of milk, and you don't have time to go to the store in the morning. So you send someone from your household to go get the milk at the grocery store and they say, "Ok, I'll be back at 9 pm. It's just going to take me a while to get the milk, but I'll be back soon."
Now it's 9:30, and they still aren't back, so you try calling them, and you try texting them. No answer. So you start to panic. Now it's 10 pm and they still aren't back, and your mind is racing, asking "What happened? What does this mean?" Since you have no data, you start making up stories and guessing. Maybe they got in a car accident. Maybe they were kidnapped. Maybe they have a flat tire. Or maybe they won the lottery.
You have literally no idea.
These are examples of assigning meanings and stories, and these are an essential part of everyday life. Can you imagine how it would be if when you had a problem or a lack of information, you couldn't just make up stories and have a best guess? We wouldn't be able to function. Stories are essential to our lives and they drive our everyday functions, everything from the alarm beeping indicating it's time to get up, to the green light signaling it's time to go, to my stomach gurgling that it’s time to be hungry.
The problem is we often don't have enough data to really derive a true meaning or story, so we need to make a guess. Sometimes, those guesses can end up generating more problems.
Let's say you take a math test, and get a C on it. You could say "I suck at math," but here's the thing. You don't know that you suck at math. The only true thing you do know is that you got a C on a math test.
Obviously, you did not answer all of the questions correctly on the math test. That's the "fact." All other stories and meanings that stem from that fact could swing either way. You could say "I suck at math, therefore it is worthless to try to study," or you could equally say "I just didn't study hard enough, therefore I need to study harder next time." Both are valid, but the story that you choose greatly affects your life going forward.
The story that you choose will create a positive or negative, self-reinforcing feedback loop that can color your identity (your story of yourself) for years to come. If you tell yourself the story that you are bad at math, you won't study, and when the next math test comes around, you will get a bad grade, thus proving that you suck at math (because you didn't even try to study because it was pointless).
Now, on the other hand, if you tell yourself the story that you are good at math and just didn't study hard enough, you'll take the actions necessary to figure out where you went wrong, improve, and do better next time.
So how do you choose a story that serves you best? It starts by separating out the fact from the story about that fact. In our math test example, the fact is that you didn't get all the questions right. The story is WHY that occurred.
Once you start to practice separating out the fact from the story, you can challenge that story. What other stories could be true? Is it possible that you don't suck at math and were just having a bad day? Is it possible that other stories about yourself could be told differently?
The better you get at telling yourself stories that serve you instead of steal your power, the better off you'll be in life.
Note: This was an excerpt from our book "Surviving & Thriving With Asperger's". Learn more about the book & purchase it here.