Do you have a prescribed set of values that you live by? Most of us have an underlying ‘code of ethics’ that we adhere to but have you ever set aside some time to evaluate and consider what Making up stories is how our brains process information and make sense of the world. Even when we don’t have access to all of the facts, the urge to complete the story pattern (beginning, middle, end) is so strong that we will fill the story gaps rather than leave the story unfinished.

Our brains reward us with a dopamine hit when we recognise and complete patterns (the ‘aha’ moment). Stories are patterns and our brain rewards us for clearing up ambiguity. Regardless of the accuracy of the story, we are compelled to complete it. These are our ‘Shitty First Drafts’ or SFD’s.

The idea comes from Anne Lamott’s book on writing Bird by Bird:

“The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later”

In Dare to Lead by Brené Brown she explains that when it comes to our emotions, the SFD is our fears and insecurities romping all over the place, making up worst case scenarios. In caveman times this was a necessary survival skill - recognising fresh predator tracks and filling in the story gap with - hmm, looks like a big cat has been here recently, we should probably put an extra man on watch tonight is why we have survived as a species as long as we have. The downside is that it has probably caused us to overreact, jump to conclusions and beat ourselves up way more than we needed to.

Knowing that we all write SFD, it can be helpful to acknowledge them openly.

For example the last couple of weeks Matt has been working on the next steps for building our house. When he started talking to universities about product testing and then mentioned perhaps getting a grant, I had to take a moment and gather my thoughts.

From my perspective he’s gone way further down a really expensive and time consuming path than what I had envisioned. From my understanding we just needed to get a building permit. Approaching the conversation with “The story I’m telling myself is that you are creating a way more work for yourself and it will affect how quickly we can build our house”. This was way more productive than my normal - WHAT ARE YOU DOING MATT!!

‘The story I’m telling myself...’ is powerful because it acknowledges the fears but doesn’t let them lead the charge in the conversation. It also gave Matt a chance to explain his perspective and actions. He understands the whole story of going from ‘building permit’ to ‘University testing facilities’, I don’t. It turns out we can do both at the same time - just as well.

Writing down your SFD can be a great way to objectively look at what's going on before taking action. Brené mentions that if you're mortified at the thought of someone finding your SFD because it's blamey, pissy, immature and a full on rant, then you’ve done well. I like that!

You may also have someone in your life who you can bounce your SFD off. I’m lucky my sister will listen to the most outrageous stories, judgement free. Sometimes just saying it out loud is enough to defuse the situation. Quite literally, SFD is writing that email response that you first have - the angry one with swear words, then deleting it to send the sensible and professional response.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself before firing back (no worksheet this week!):

1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?

What do I know objectively?

What assumptions am I making?

2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story?

What additional information do I need?

What questions or clarification might help?

3. What do I need to learn and understand about myself?

What’s underneath my response?

What am I really feeling?

What part did I play?

While every situation might not require this level of investigation it helps to have a few simple questions to ask yourself.

Another, slightly more alarming idea is that “stories based on limited data and plentiful imagined data, blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality, are called conspiracy theories.” So, we are all technically conspiracy theorists, constantly bridging data gaps with our fears and insecurities. Just think about the last time you sent a text message to someone and then the (typing…) bubble pops up only for you to never receive their response! Gosh, the agony of being a teenager these days!

The story I’m telling myself is that you’ll read this story about shitty first drafts and you’ll embrace their power as an exploratory tool and a way of addressing our over active (well my over reactive) emotions. Understanding that we don’t have the full picture everytime and giving ourselves permission to write a ranty version of things will lead us to becoming curious and digging deeper for answers. Clarity reduces the gaps and therefore, conspiracy theories. Thank goodness.

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