Mind the (reality) Gap

Our brilliant storytelling brain loves to make stuff up. It has the ability to take us on fabulous flights of fancy. Our imagination allows us to create, innovate and rehearse our future. But it can also take us to deep, dark places that we honestly don’t need to go.

Neg-heads

We humans have a ‘wonderful’ thing called negativity bias. It seems it’s just easier for us to think negatively. We’re able to recall bad experiences more readily, react more extremely to negative stimuli, and skew toward negative thoughts more than positive. We’re our own Debbie Downer it seems (whaa-whaamp!)

One example, of when we love to steer towards negative thoughts is when we don’t have enough information about a situation. This provides us with a double-whammy in the way we process information. As a starter, the brain wants to make sense of every situation and create some (any!) meaning from it. And the other issue here is it’s a ‘completion machine’. The brain doesn’t want to leave any open loops of information, so it closes them with assumptions. And guess what? Those assumptions can all too often head to Negativetown.

Distant Lives

Working remotely or predominantly in the virtual space creates lots of opportunity for these gaps in information to appear:

  • The email or text message you send and have to wait two days for a response? Your brain dives into a set of dramatic stories about how the recipient is taking their time which must mean they don’t like it. They don’t like me? Why don’t they like me? It’s probably because I’m needy or they think I’m selfish for asking them to… and so on.
  • On a video call and the other person won’t turn their camera on? They’re not concentrating on what I have to say. They’re doing something else at the same time. They don’t think I’m valuable. They’re disrespecting me. They must think I’m… and on it goes.
  • Looking at social media and seeing everyone’s successes? I’m falling behind the rest. They’re all doing so much better than I am. They’re coping so much better than I am. I need to… I should… You get the picture.

The list of situations and stories is pretty long. We have to mind the story gap.

Simple solutions

Knowing that we’re capable of spinning a complex and negative story is a great start. Just this knowledge can help us start to turn the tide. It acts as a disruptor. A moment to question the narrative you’re building. Take that disruption and instead of creating a tragedy, start a little enquiry (a whodunnit!)

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Where’s the evidence for my negative story?
  • What else could be going on for that other person?
  • Is there anything I could have made clearer in my communication?
  • Am I being reasonable in my expectations?
  • What else is going on for me right now that might be making me feel this way?
  • How much the reality I’m seeing through this digital lens is real and how much is manufactured or edited? And does it really matter?
  • What effect do these actions really have on me?

There are many more questions you can ask to help in these situations, these are just a starting point. Why not share your favourites in the comments section below.