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Separating Facts from Stories (and Why Everyone Should Learn It)

  • 31 min read

One of the most common causes of personal frustration and interpersonal problems is the failure to separate facts from stories.

Think of a time when you felt angry at someone, felt bad about yourself or felt frustrated about the world

Unless you had first taken the time to separate facts from stories, there’s a very high chance that what you think was causing you to feel that way, was not the real cause. And if it was, then not separating facts from stories will have definitely made things worse.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure how one exactly would go about “separating facts from stories before feeling bad” don’t worry:

It’s totally normal to not know this. And it’s easy to learn.

Guess it’s just another one of those things you can put on the list of “Skills I should’ve learned in high school while I was learning about different types of triangles instead” 😉

This blog post is here to help teach you the basics, and save you plenty of unnecessary hardships from here on.

How to Tell a Fact from a Story

Before we get into separating them –and why it makes us feel upset when we fail to do so– let’s quickly remind ourselves what facts and stories are in the first place:

  • A fact is a thing, event or circumstance that is verifiably true.
  • A story is a narrative which can either be true or false.

This means that all facts can be stories, but not all stories can be facts.

Facts are cold and neutral.  They are all around you but they mean nothing in and of themselves.

Stories about these facts are what give the facts meaning.  This meaning usually evokes a certain emotion inside you, and this emotion inspires you towards action.

Because of this, facts and stories are both equally necessary for your survival.

If you only had facts but no stories, those facts would be useless to you.

For example, you could be starving, see an apple tree and say “Fact! There’s a tree there with funny looking appendages.”  

This would not help you survive at all, unless you also had a story about it. (E.g. “Those must be apples.  I’ve heard about them from my mom.  They’re juicy, sweet and full of sugar.  I bet eating one of those will stop me from starving.”)

If you only had stories but no facts, those stories would be equally useless.  There would be no way to separate a lie from a truth.  And therefore, no safe way to correctly navigate the world you are in.  If a toddler told you that eating their poop gives you superpowers, you might as well go try it.  Because you’d have no facts to show you it may not the best idea.

Since a fact has to be true in order to be a fact, facts can not be made up.  A fact is created every time something truly exists or happens.

Since stories can be both true and false, they are created differently.  Stories must have an author, someone who comes up with them in their mind.

When you think about “authors” and “stories”, you may associate those terms with J.K. Rowling dreaming up the Harry Potter universe in her tiny apartment. Or how Game of Thrones was an amazing story until one of the writers got a stroke while scripting the final episodes.

But the way we most frequently encounter stories in our lives is when we are the author and the stories are our thoughts about the facts we observe.

What do I mean with that?

When you walk around in the world by yourself, you generally don’t witness a lot of stories (unless you talk to people/consume media).  The only things you can ever physically witness are facts.  But as you may remember, facts have no meaning and therefore no survival value by themselves.  So you need a story to interpret the facts, give them meaning and make them useful for you.

The way you author these stories in your head, is by drawing imaginary lines between facts.  

You know those cliche movie scenes where the police detective has a wall full of pictures, a map of the city and some random notes?  He then stares at them in suspense,  takes a sip of his coffee, slowly twirls his moustache, and with a shocked look on his face, stammers: “Oh my God!  Assistant commissioner Casey Closed!  Would you have a look at this?  It was right in front of us all along!”

In a frantic fashion he proceeds to draw lines between the pictures, maps and notes…and comes to the thrilling conclusion: “The killer must live right in the middle of the area between the crime scenes! Who would have thunk?”

That scene, is exactly how your brain creates stories for you:

It takes in all the cold, neutral facts witnessed by you and then finds ways to connect the dots.  When there are important dots (facts) missing, your brain fills them in based on patterns it has seen before , just like a detective would, to increase the likelihood of making an accurate story.

Here’s an example:

  • Fact: Last night. You saw Mr. Johnson do the nasty with your neighbor’s wife.
  • Fact: Today. You see Mr. Johnson, dead on the dinner table with his face buried in a plate of spaghetti.
  • Fact: Oh look, there’s a bottle on the Johnson’s kitchen counter, labeled “Poison”.
  • Fact: Oh, and look, there is Mrs. Johnson with her apron covered in spaghetti sauce. She’s walking towards your neighbor’s house looking seriously upset.

It seems like there’s an important story here…  

When witnessing facts like this, connecting the dots and filling in the missing ones is what can make you call the cops before something horrible happens to your neighbor’s cheating wife.

Becoming Aware of Alternative Stories

By now we’ve established that creating stories is a good thing.  If we didn’t do this, our lives would be a lot harder.

However, trouble begins to ensue when after creating these stories (often without being aware of it), we save them in our head as “facts”.

Because the truth is that the story, no matter how obvious or realistic it may seem, was still invented by your own mind.

For example, after witnessing the 4 facts about Mr and Mrs Johnson, most people would have a new fact in their head:  

Fact: “Mrs. Johnson murdered her husband.”  

But this is not a fact at all.  It’s a story.

Sure, it’s a story with a high likelihood of being true.  But it’s not verifiable (yet), it’s just something you came up with yourself and immediately concluded was true.

  • What if the bottle of poison in the kitchen was used to treat a rat infestation?
  • What if Mr. Johnson had a random heart attack during dinner?
  • What if his wife, in complete shock, ran over to the house of his mistress to inform her?  After all, she was the other person who loved Mr. Johnson as much as her. She deserved to be informed.

Less likely scenario?  Sure.  But still not impossible. That’s why many countries use the “innocent until proven guilty” principle in court.

The thing is that most people wouldn’t even consider that an alternative story may exist.  Instead, the first story our mind comes up with just enters our thoughts as “fact”.  This is where our talent for creating stories becomes problematic.

If you believe “Mr. Johnson murdered her husband” to be a fact instead of a story you made up, why would you ever question it?

When a story feels true to us from the start, we usually blindly accept it as fact.  Especially if the story was told by a “trusted source” (like a good friend, your favorite YouTuber, or your own mind).

And remember, stories are meant to evoke emotions which in turn lead us towards some kind of action that has a survival benefit.

Just like the story about the apple tree would have helped you find food, the story about Mrs. Johnson could lead you to testify against her.  This would ensure that you wouldn’t have to live across the street from a murderer.  Which increases your chances of survival.

The problem?  

If this story wasn’t true, then innocent Mrs. Johnson has to deal with a whole lot more emotional distress on top of her husband dying.  And you yourself went through plenty of strong emotions which were not appropriate to the situation and therefore unnecessary.

This murder story example is not very relatable (hopefully).  But your mind still makes hundreds of stories like this every week. And when we confuse those stories for facts, they can wreak havoc on both our interactions with others and our own emotional lives.

Below are a bunch of example stories you or someone else might make, and for each of them an example of an alternative story which could’ve been made.

Please note that I’m not saying these alternative stories are more likely to be true.  They are also just stories. So like all stories, they can be true or false.  

The point of this list is simply to illustrate that there are plenty of “negative” stories we tend to see as facts, which could easily be replaced by another story if only you realized you were the author.

FactStoryAlternative Story
Someone read my text but didn’t reply.They’re ignoring me. They’re mad at me.They were in a busy environment (or driving) and prefer to wait with texting until they can give you their full attention. Afterward, they may have forgotten.
My partner is always working and coming home late.(S)he doesn’t care about me / (S)he’s cheating.Maybe (s)he’s saving up for a surprise holiday or present.
I asked my friend to help me with something and he just sent me a YouTube tutorial instead.He doesn’t want to help me.He believes teaching a man how to fish is better than giving him a fish.
The teacher always helps the other kids, but not me.They don’t think I deserve as much attention / don’t support me.They’re confident in my abilities and don’t think I need help.
A security guard took me aside, but ignored the 4 people before me.It’s because of my tattoos / piercings / skin color / sexual orientation.The guy got instructed to take aside every 10th person in the line and feels awkward about it himself.
FactStoryAlternative Interpretation
I forgot to give back the money I borrowed.I’m a bad friend.My memory sometimes fails me, I should write these things down.
Someone rejected me.I’m ugly / unattractive.They already had a partner, or were just not in the mood to meet anybody.
I’m broke.I don’t make enough money.Improving my budgeting skills and/or spending habits could prevent this.
I tried doing something and failed.I’m not good enough.This is part of the process of learning something.
FactStoryAlternative Story
Social media platforms are censoring certain stories so that they can’t get spread through their platform.They’re doing this because the story is true and they don’t want people to know the truth.They’re doing this because the story is proven to be false but can potentially cause harm when believed.
Some people choose not to get a COVID vaccine.Those people are crazy conspiracy theorists who are singlehandedly causing my grandma to catch COVID.Not everyone has to agree with my beliefs. What matters is that we live with integrity. For some people that means getting vaccinated, for others it doesn’t.
(News reports that) Putin Invaded UkrainePutin is evil, and that is the cause of the war.Each war is a complex geopolitical phenomenon. As someone who both lives in a country and is influenced by the culture of that country, I may not be able to actually form an unbiased opinion about this.So instead, I will shift the question from Who is the villain in this story?” to “Which people are suffering and how can I help them in some way?”
(News reports that) an immigrant cold-bloodedly attacked an innocent woman on the streetImmigrants are bad people coming to ruin our country.The woman was Mrs. Johnson and he was stopping her from murdering Mr. Johnson’s mistress.

If you are somebody who currently believes in a story from the middle column, you may get the impression that I’m writing this article to convince you the “alternative stories” are the real truth.  Don’t worry, this is not the case.  So let’s add a little disclaimer here:

  • The stories I’m mentioning are not necessarily my opinion.  They are merely examples of other stories that could also be made.
  • Just because a story is positive, doesn’t mean it’s more likely to be true.
  • Just because a story is negative, doesn’t mean it’s false.  (”Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.“)
  • If you feel triggered by any of the example stories, remind yourself “It’s a random story, nobody saying it’s true.” But do read on, as we’re about to go deeper.

For now, the important thing is to recognise yourself as the author (or person who chose to believe an author) of every story you believe in.  And by virtue of knowing so, to at least be willing to question the validity of each of those stories.  Not because they’re all false, but because negative stories can create the basis for undesirable feelings and destructive action.  So it’s important not to believe them unless they are facts which were physically witnessed by you.

For example:

If you think it’s a fact that someone doesn’t care about you or doesn’t love you, you’ll treat them very differently compared to when you recognize it’s just a story you made up in your head after witnessing a series of facts and connecting them in your mind.

Before we move on, let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways so far:

  1. A lot of what we think are facts are actually stories.
  2. Facts are only verifiable with your direct senses.  Anything else is a story.
  3. We are the ones making the stories.
  4. Negative stories can lead to “negative” emotions, which can lead to destructive action.
  5. You aren’t sure wether these stories are true or not (otherwise, they would be facts 😉 )

Of course, the important question to ask here is: How can we spot which of our stories are likely false?

To do that, let’s have a look at how and why we often create false stories.

How Your Stories Get Hijacked

Why we end up making false stories is another one of those things I could write an entire book about. But to save you some time today, let’s stick with the basics.

When we end up with false stories in our heads, this is usually of one or both of these reasons:

A) There was a problem with our facts

B) There was a problem with the process we used to create the story

Problem with facts are usually easier to spot and resolve. But problems with the creation process of the story have a much bigger impact.

Let’s go over some common issues, working our way from faulty facts to sucky stories.

1. Second Hand Facts

Remember that the only things you can consider facts, are things which are verifiably true.  This is an important distinction to make, because in our day-to-day life we use the word “fact” for many things which have never been verified by us:  For example:

  • A trustworthy source told us something
  • We read something in a book (or on a blog ;-))
  • We heard or saw something on the news

We tend to consider these things as facts too. Because who in the world has time to gather every single fact by themselves?

As imperfect as they are, second hand facts are necessary for our survival.

For example, how will you know which foods are healthy and which ones are unhealthy (or even poisonous)?

If you have to rely on facts, the only way to go about it is to eat random stuff every day and write notes on whether you spent hours on the toilet (and/or died) after eating it or not.

So you simply need to accept that you will be relying on some second-hand facts to help you make some  decisions.

Because of that, we tend to give some people permission to hand us their “facts”:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Teachers
  • Doctors (a white coat and official title do a lot for creating trust)
  • Scientists
  • People who write books that have catchy titles
  • People who we believe can fulfil a deep need we have (sales people, ads, potential lovers)

However, you should never forget that in reality, none of that second hand information is a fact.  No matter how true the information seems, it’s all hearsay until verified.

If your best friend tells you that someone else did or said something, that is a story.  Not a fact.  

The only way it could be a fact is if you heard the other person say it yourself.  I’m sure you can recall plenty of fights which turned out to be miscommunications like this.  This is what happens when you take someone else’s story and turn it into a fact.

This is an important distinction, because your friend’s story actually tells you nothing about the person who is the subject of the story.  It only tells you about the story in your friend’s head.

If a doctor, they may have access to more facts than you, but remember: They’re still a human being making stories.  (I’ve once been told by a doctor I had a disorder which I’d suffer from for the rest of my life.  Within 6 months, it was completely cured. )

The same is true for the media.  It is made by humans. Ad all these humans can make the same storytelling mistakes you make (which you’re about to learn soon).  Especially if those humans haven’t read this article before (so feel free to send it to all your friends and make them more trustworthy sources for your second hand facts 😉 )

It’s next to impossible to truly go through life without ever trusting second hand facts from random folks.

If a stranger tells you jumping off a building will kill you, it’s a good idea to take that for a fact…but beware…only a few decades ago, people in my country used to tell their kids that masturbation makes you blind.  And since you are reading this, they were clearly lying 😉

That means the use of second hand facts is not a big problem per say.   Just be aware that every second hand fact undermines the stability of your story.  So the more second hand facts your stories are based on, the higher the chance your story is not true (especially once those facts start getting connected).

2. Merging Multiple Facts Into One

In the great comedy “The Big Short” , it is explained that one of the things which contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 was the “grouping” of many subprime loans together with good ones. Dishonest agencies would then rate this whole “bundle of loans” highly, based on the fact that a few of them were good.

In our mind, we often do the same with facts.

Some examples:

Some scientific studies suggest that bitter lemon extract may reduce blood sugar, decrease cholesterol levels and help with weight loss.  

Since soft drink “tonic” often has bitter lemon aroma in it, news articles equate this with:

Fact: Gin tonic helps you lose weight.”

But this is grouping one fact with a lot of others and rating it inaccurately:

  • The sugar in the tonic for sure offsets any chances of decreasing your blood sugar
  • The alcohol in the gin raises your cholesterol levels
  • The drink has about 200 calories per glass (more than a glass of whole milk).

The same thing happens with people:

Fact: Mario, my Italian friend, is not a fan of lasagna.” can quickly turn into “Fact: Italians actually don’t like pasta that much.”

On a personal level, this kind of fact merging can have a big impact on how you look at life, as you can see in these examples:

Real FactFact Merged with OthersAlternative Story
In high school P.E., I failed all tests.I’m bad at sports / I’m not a sporty person.This is something I can learn to be good at with practice.
I don’t like cake and I don’t like cookies.I don’t like desserts.I just haven’t explored desserts enough to know which ones I like.
My father was an unpleasant person, and I’ve and all my boyfriends have treated me badly.All men are pigs.Because of the way I related to my father, I have been attracting the kind of men who behave in a similar way. I’ve also been unconsciously creating situations which re-enact that trauma because a part of me keeps hoping that maybe this time, I can make it end differently.

3. Simple vs. Nuanced Stories

One thing you may have noticed in all my examples is that the alternative stories were usually slightly longer, why?

The more “simple” a story is, the easier it is to accept it as a fact.  Your brain favors making simple stories over complex ones. Because simple, catchy stories are much easier for your brain to remember and process.

  • “My partner doesn’t care about me.” , “America is evil” or “Immigrants are bad.”  are all much easier to process mentally than to actually examine the complex mess of interpersonal (let alone international) relationships and how everyone is impacting each other all the time.
  • “Bananas are healthy, chocolate is not.” is an easier rule for most people to live by than “Bananas can be good for you depending on the amount you eat, how much physical activity you had, your insulin sensitivity at that time of day and whether you didn’t just overdose on a potassium supplement 10 minutes before.  Chocolate can also be healthy or unhealthy depending on the portion size, the ingredients with which it was made,  their origins and the processing of the product.  We can also take into account genetic factors, hydration level, PH balance in your body, functioning of your organs…and many more.  It all depends.”

These shorter, simpler explanations satisfy our need for security.  They make us feel like we understand the world.  But they are also more likely to be false, or at least inaccurate.

Of course, you can’t just wait with making decisions until you know the full, nuanced story about everything.

Just know that whenever you are relying on simple, black and white statements (e.g. “Good vs evil”, “Healthy vs unhealthy” or “Which person is to blame?”) that your story is very likely inaccurate.  It’s still okay to have this story.  Just be aware that you may be wrong. So don’t do anything harsh.

4. Propaganda

We all know what propaganda is:

It’s when the people you disagree with are spreading a fake story and trying to brainwash everyone into the wrong opinion 😉

All jokes aside though, a more exact definition of propaganda is: “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

And yes, you most often notice this in the shape of information spread by political parties or activists.  But the most common form of propaganda you fall prey to is the one you create in your own head.

As you know by now, as humans, we constantly create stories to make sense of the reality around us. But the same person that is writing those stories can also have hidden motives.  Everyone has an ego (especially the people who think they don’t have one 😉 ), and it’s good to get to know yours.

What is it that your ego derives satisfaction from?  To answer this, you don’t need to look any further than to find the recurring themes in your stories:

  • Do the “facts” you see around you often make you conclude that you were right and someone else wrong?
  • Do you often encounter situations in which you seem to be the victim of it all?
  • Do you tend to run into people who have it worse than you and need your help?

These are all examples of propaganda coming from your eg to protect you from feeling insecure.  And it does so by creating stories that make you feel “better” than someone else.  It may also want to protect you from feeling guilt or blame by assuming a victim position.  (To learn about this in more depth, read this article.)

Another example of propaganda from your ego is when it makes up stories which conclude a certain person is “just an asshole”. (Or when it makes this story about an entire group of people, e.g.: “All women are liars.”, “All black people are criminals.” or “All cops are racist.”).  This is basically a shortcut to stop you from taking responsibility for your part of the interactions you had with these people.  It turns the other person into a less complex being (see simple vs nuanced stories) which is to blame for your feelings.  (To learn more about this, watch this video.)

Finally, your ego may also spread propoganda stories to protect you from feeling overwhelmed.  

For example:  A few years ago a certain virus broke out which took the world by surprise.  Many people started making stories about how this was all part of a big plan from governments around the world to achieve X Y or Z..  When you look around you, it’s easy to connect the dots for such a story (actually, if you go on the internet, it’s possible to connect dots and create almost any story you want, but that doesn’t mean the story is true).  Then why was/is this such a common story?  Because it’s much less scary to believe that there is a big bad enemy out there planning all these events (which we can beat if only enough people “wake the fuck up”) than to live with the awareness that, yes, at any moment, something random can happen that truly fucks with your life.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the conspiracy story is completely wrong.  But be aware that if you believe in it, your ego has its own interests in you doing so.

With propaganda from your ego, there is always a payoff.  Listen to the recurring themes in the stories you believe, and you’ll find out that they’re all propaganda serving the same goal.  Which is usually protecting you from a certain pain.

One particularly strong sign that this is true, is getting triggered or argumentative, when someone says your story is fake.

Think about it:  If someone else told you that something which you believe is not true.  The normal response would be to sit together in curiosity and figure out what the truth is, so that you both end up knowing it.  If instead, your response is to start arguing, that means you have more interest in continuing to believe your story, than to know if the story is true.  This is only the case when that story serves an important function for you (like protecting you from pain).

Any time you get triggered like this, you can be 100% sure that there’s some ego propaganda going on.  So ask yourself: What is my story protecting me from?

  • If you’re deep into the Andrew Tate rabbit hole, you may not want to consider any opposing opinions. Because taking his word for gospel protects you from your fear of getting hurt by women.
  • If you’re a climate activist and somebody suddenly comes with unexpected proof that climate change isn’t real, you would lose your sense of purpose in life.  So you wouldn’t believe it.
  • If some kid in your class told you that Santa Claus wasn’t real, you’d punch him in the genitals.  Because you want to keep getting presents every year.

5. Meta Stories

Every person has some meta stories going on in their life.  Stories which have repeated since our child hood and for which we continue to add more chapters each year.  Whenever you find yourself saying a certain situation “Is just like all those other things”, you better start paying attention.  Because you are fitting a new situation into a story which already exists.  Which is a sureshot way to end up with faulty stories.

These meta stories can take the shape of beliefs you have which you are unwilling to question (for example: “I am bad at dating.”, “Eggs are unhealthy.” or “God doesn’t exist.”).  They can be created through trauma. Or they can simply be stories which started small but became patterns which grew over time (this can even happen over generations and across entire communities. as beliefs get passed down by parents to their offspring while raising them).

Meta stories can be especially disastrous for your ability to create accurate individual stories.    Here’s some examples of how they can play out:

I’m choosing topics which can be particularly triggering on purpose. Once again, I’m not stating any of these stories as true or false.  I’m simply giving examples of how meta stories can influence a person who believes them.

What to Do With This Concept?

  • If you have a meta story in your head that African-Americans are dangerous or bad, you will see each crime committed by an African-American person as further proof of that story.  You will also ignore any crimes committed by people of other ethnicities, or give them less consideration.  This meta story will hijack your brain so badly, that If an African-American woman walked up to you in a friendly manner, offering you a pile of free money, you would run away and tell your friends that someone tried to scam you in broad daylight.
  • If you believe all cops are racists, you will see any act of racial profiling as proof that that policeman is racist.  However, if this person was operating in a neighborhood where the majority of crimes actually are committed by people of a specific ethnicity, then this person may just be basing their actions on statistically correct thinking, despite not being racist.  While this doesn’t change the negative experience for the person being profiled, this nuance can make a big difference in how we look at the person doing the profiling.
  • If you have a meta  story about people in authority just wanting to control you for the sake of it (the kind of story that may originate with your father or schoolteachers), you will believe that whenever the government implements a measure, the true motivation behind it is that they want more and more control over the population.  When you believe this, you will be completely blind to any alternative explanation (going from “there’s a solid reason for these which I don’t understand” to “the government consists of flawed people who make mistakes, just like me”).
  • If you have a meta story that conspiracy theories are crazy and irrational, you will immediately dismiss any alternative interpretation of your government’s actions as a “crazy theory”.  Because of this, if one of these theories were true, and a threat to you, you would be the last to realize it.

You can not stop yourself from making stories, it’s one of the things you are made to do.

But once you become aware of the fact that you are the one doing it, you can accept your role as the author and curator of them.  And more importantly, you can question whether these stories do serve your happiness and survival or not.  If not, drop the story and learn to be content to stay in a state of not knowing.  There are a lot of things in life, for which it really doesn’t hurt you if you don’t know the answer.

It’s also important to remain aware that other people are creating stories just like you, with all the same flaws, and they’ll usually share them with you as facts.

Once you do these things, your emotional life and your relationships with others will start to improve very quickly.  You’ll notice that there are many things who used to hurt you or bother you, to which you will now be able to respond calmly, and in a way that creates much better results.

Facts are like potatoes – bland, boring, and often unappreciated. Stories are like french fries – crispy, flavorful, and everyone wants a piece.  So when someone hands us tasty a story, we will often gladly take it.  

But remember:  Once you’ve swallowed them, they both start to look like plain old mashed potatoes.  And it’s important to have a process for telling them apart.

So how to get started with this process?

The first thing you can do is to get in the habit of listening to your own thoughts (stories) frequently.  There’s no need to judge your stories.  Just become aware of them by adding more silence in your life.

Then, whenever you find yourself upset about anything that’s going on in your life, your interactions with others, or the world at large, do the following.

  1. Sit down and write it all out:  All your thoughts about the situation and why they upset you.
  2. Calmly go through everything you wrote, and make 2 columns.  One for facts and one for stories.
  3. Go through your story and put every sentence either in the “fact” or “story” column based on whether it is verifiably true or not. (As a general guideline “person said or did X or Y while I was looking” is a fact, but any interpretation of what that event meant is a story.”
  4. Once you’re done, go through the column with facts. And question them, are they really facts?  Or your interpretation of the facts?  Are they reliable facts?  Or second hands?  Remove any facts which you discover to be
  5. Cut the “story” column off of your paper, and throw that side in the trashcan. You don’t ned it.
  6. You’ll usually find that if you’re honest, there are only a few facts left.  These facts are the only thing that matters.  Yes, it’s possible that some of your stories were true.  But they are possibilities, not facts.  Guide your decision makings based on facts
  7. Look at the facts and ask yourself: “What do I feel about these facts now that the stories are gone?” Quite often, you’ll notice that by asking that question the problem is already solved.  Other times, you’ll notice that the facts still upset you.  But now at least you know that what upset you is the truth, and you can make a decision on how to handle the situation based on that.

Simply using this framework every single time you feel upset about something will improve your life tremendously.  (And don’t worry, you’ll quickly progress to doing this in a matter of seconds without actual paper 😉 )

Some additional tips:

  1. Sometimes you may notice that you have a story which contains zero facts.  In that case, the facts likely exist, but are not included in the story.  You can uncover these facts by asking yourself to give examples in support of your story.  For example, if your story is “Brian doesn’t care about me”, write down as many examples as you can about factual situations which led you to come to that story.
  2. In the heat of the moment, when you are having a discussion with someone, you won’t always have time to separate your facts from your stories.  In that case, you can just tell them “The story I’m currently making in my head is … (fill in), and it makes me feel … (fill in)”
  3. Sometimes you’ll find that you have a story which you have no facts for, but following it will still be good for you.  In that case, you can continue to use the story while just remaining aware that you’re the creator.
  4. If you share this article with everyone you know, they’ll all learn to separate facts from stories…which means they’ll be making less drama… win-win 😉

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