Stories we tell signify much

Most of us eventually come to realize that we pick up on certain changes and miss others because they fit (or don’t fit) nicely into the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works.

If, for instance, you believe in the power of technology and progress — that no matter what the challenge it will be met and exceeded — then you will constantly fit tidbits you pick up into that tale. Evidence that progress and technology isn’t working right now will be suppressed, discarded, or twisted so that it supports the master story. Even slight signs of success will be amplified and made much of, in turn.

This is what it is to be human. That’s why occasionally challenging your natural faith (your master story) is a good thing to do, hard though it is.

But remember, you are a complex adaptive system operating in other complex adaptive worlds. You can probe, then find out what happens. That will help you both understand what you may be “believing in” without realizing it, and also help you challenge it where necessary.

So what is a probe? Well, think of it like a test or experiment. It can even be what the German philosophers call a gedanken experiment — one that takes place solely in thought — as long as you set it up appropriately and are willing to truly work with the results.

So, grab a piece of paper and write down a name for your experiment. I’m going to take “growth is inevitable once the price of oil comes down” as an example.

Now describe how you’ll do this thought experiment. “I’ll find out how much new oil comes on the market as a result of current high prices, and see what that new supply does to lower the price.”

Next explain to yourself — on the paper — why you’re doing it. “Standard economics says higher prices leads to more supply which lowers the price, so more things that don’t make sense when having to buy at the higher price should then start up, or start again.”

Good. Now talk about how you can tell if the experiment succeeded, or failed. “If that’s right, I’ll see the price lead, followed by more supply, followed by a price drop, followed by more GDP and falling unemployment. If that’s wrong, one of the things in that chain won’t happen.”

All right. Now gather up your information — historical data will serve here — and find out the answer.

You could do this again and again, with different time periods and different questions, of course.

But, having probed with your experiment, and sensed the result, you need to do one more thing: respond.

So before you start, there are two more things to write down. What you’ll look to do to move forward if the answer is “successful” — and what you’ll do if it isn’t.

The first, in this case, might lead you to thinking about where and how to prosper, in a career or business venture, as a result of confirming the cycle you thought was there.

But the second is the really important outcome: there, you’ll lay out what to probe next to work away at the master story that’s dominating your choices.

A person’s natural faith can be changed, you see, but only by repeated efforts. It resists the first attempts, twisting the results in your subconscious to fit the underlying story.

If you found you believed the world worked in ways it apparently isn’t following, wouldn’t you want to keep sorting that out?

Since, after all, success goes to those who work with the situation as it is more easily than to those who try to fight the world every step of the way.

2 thoughts on “Stories we tell signify much

    1. Bruce Stewart Post author

      Thank you for that. Even more important for their success would be if they practised it daily. (Getting there generally requires they work with an advisor: someone who talks to them regularly and draws out the process with them until it becomes habitual.)


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