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The Story You Want to Hear vs. the Truth Within

Human beings are natural storytellers. All of us are familiar with the time-honored stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, from Adam and Eve, to Romeo and Juliet, to Hansel and Gretel. But we don’t just tell stories to each other. In fact, some of the most powerful stories are the ones we keep inside; they’re the ones we tell ourselves. Some of these stories serve us, but the problem comes when the story you’re telling is the story you want to hear, and when that story contradicts the truth that lies within.

The truth that lies within you has incredible power to shape what you do and who you are, but too often, it gets buried beneath stories that we tell ourselves. But why do we insist on rejecting the truth within? Why is that harmful? And what can we do about it?

The truth within

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

Henry David Thoreau

When I say “the truth within,” I mean the things that you believe or know to be true. These are things that have some measure of personal importance to you. In some way, shape, or form, the truth within you has dictated who you have been, who you are, and who you will be. 

But why is truth valuable at all?

First, let’s zoom out and look at “truth” as a whole. 

Truth has practical applications. Knowing that 1+1=2 is useful to me, as is knowing my phone number, my mother’s maiden name, and my pant size. If I didn’t have those truths, life would be difficult for me. 

Of course, truth isn’t just important for me personally; it’s important for the world at large. Uncovering truth is responsible for every technological advancement we’ve made, from the wheel to the iPhone.

Beyond the practical, I believe that truth still has value. Why? Because it keeps the spirit of discovery, adventure, optimism, and innovation alive. Knowing that there are new truths out there for us to find motivates us to pursue those truths, and that is responsible for human progress. 

The value of the truth within

When we’re talking about the truth within, the same general ideas hold true: the truth within you has both practical and philosophical value. 

  • Your inner truth shapes who you are. Your thoughts (aka your beliefs, aka your inner truths) have power. It is your thoughts that dictate your actions, and your actions lead to habits, and your habits make up your life. Whether you recognize it or not, the truth inside you directs you on a daily basis. 
  • The truth within reveals your values. What really matters to you? The truth within you will always let you know. 
  • Your inner truth can help you make important decisions. When you’re trying to make important decisions, it’s critical to rely on your values and to listen to that voice inside of you. 
  • Living by your inner truth leads to personal growth. When you follow the truth within, you’re on your own side. Instead of feeling like you’re your own worst enemy, you can be your own best friend and greatest helper. 

The story you want to hear

Imagine you’ve been out of town at a conference. It’s within driving distance, but still several hours away. The conference is over and it’s time to drive home. It’s getting late, and after several days at the conference, you’re physically and mentally exhausted. But of course, that’s not the story you want to hear. You miss your family, and you’re ready to be back at home in your own bed. The story you want to hear is: “I’m not tired! I have plenty of energy and can totally make the drive safely. No problem!”

Now, this is a pretty obvious example. We know that telling yourself that story—and ignoring the truth that you’re actually tired and need to rest—is dangerous and can end in disaster. And yet, how many times has each of us told ourselves a similar story, and ignored a similar truth?

Why we tell ourselves stories

We know that the truth is valuable, so why do we sometimes replace it with the stories we want to hear? Why do we resist the truth when it could so clearly benefit our lives?

In our example above, the answer is that a desire to get home drove away thoughts of pragmatism or safety. But sometimes, it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories:

  • To protect ourselves or others. What if the “truth” reveals something less than flattering about you or someone you love? In that case, trying to ignore the truth becomes a defense mechanism. We’d rather believe the lie than own up to our own weakness, or blame someone else for theirs.
  • Because the truth can be hard to hear. Some truths are pleasant and easy to take in. Others… not so much. Sometimes, we’d rather lie to ourselves than accept the harsh facts of reality.
  • Because we’re so used to the story. Many people tell themselves the same stories over and over again, so often that they start to feel like the truth. Our brains like to conserve energy, and breaking free of the stories we’re used to telling takes a lot of energy, so we keep telling ourselves the lie.

Unfortunately, even if we think we have good reasons for telling ourselves a lie, it rarely pays off the way the truth does. Living a lie is tiring and discouraging. It can leave you with a sense of something being “off” or “missing.” It can cause you to ignore a truth you really need to hear (like “you’re too tired to drive” or “you really need to improve that skill if you’re going to keep your job”). Plus, the stories we tell ourselves often end up trending toward the negative, leading us to adopt beliefs like: “I’m not good enough;” “I have no worth;” or “I always screw up.”

How to embrace the truth within

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there are pains taken to bring it to light.”

George Washington

As powerful as the stories we tell ourselves might be, they can always be counteracted if we can find and embrace the real truth that lies within us. Here are some ways to do that.

Recognize when you’re telling yourself the story you want to hear

One of the most important things you can do is recognize when you’re telling yourself a story rather than listening to your truth. Do you have to talk yourself into it? Or justify it? Then it’s probably a story, not the truth. 

Don’t act based on the story

The more you support the story with actions and continued belief, the more your brain will get used to thinking that way and believing the story. Once you recognize a story for what it is, don’t support it by acting on it. 

Identify the story

Use the words “The story I’m telling myself is….” Call it out. Don’t let it hide in the shadows or go unnoticed. Be deliberate about recognizing it and declaring it to be a story, rather than the truth. 

Don’t beat yourself up

Beating yourself up for telling yourself a story isn’t going to do any good. It’s certainly not going to lead you any closer to the truth within that you really need to hear. Forgive yourself, move on, and start earnestly searching for truth. 

Be patient

It takes years to learn truths in mathematics and physics. Why should discovering your inner truth be any different? Be patient with yourself as you work to identify and recognize the truths inside you. 

Invite truth

Chaos (inner and outer) is going to make you want to create a story to protect yourself. Create an environment that invites peace, contentment, and truth. Listen to your intuition. Stop second guessing yourself. When you create space for truth, it will show up. 

Consider all possibilities

Keep your mind open to new possibilities. They may lead you to truths you didn’t know you believed. Instead of flat out rejecting ideas, entertain them. Which parts of those ideas resonate with you, and which don’t? 

When the truth speaks, listen

Just as it’s important to not act based on the story you’re telling yourself, it’s important to act according to the truth within. Listen to what your inner voice tells you. Show yourself that you trust yourself. Build that relationship with yourself so that you’re able to hear the voice more easily next time. 

Know what you know, and what you don’t know

When a truth resonates with you, write it down. Remember what you know. Remind yourself of the truths that mean something to you. At the same time, know what you don’t know. Don’t try to convince yourself that you know something you aren’t yet sure of. If you want to find the answer to something you don’t know yet, look for it until you find it. 

Talk to other people about their inner truth

Humans are wired for connection. Connect with others about the truths inside them. Let them inspire you and lead you to your truth within. 

When the story you want to hear is at odds with the truth within, things can get messy. You don’t know what to believe, what to do next, or how to progress. But if you can learn to separate the two—to distinguish between what you want to believe and what is actually true—then you can start letting the truth work in your life, in powerful and meaningful ways. You can use it to design the life you want to live, and to “create happy.” You can use it to be the best version of yourself.

That’s the truth, and I think you know it. Now it’s time to do something about it.

Discover your truth, with Design.org.

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