“The mind has a job. And that’s to give us all the stories that prove that what it thinks is true.”
The world comes at us with a seemingly infinite amount of data every day. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is more than we can possibly take in and analyze in real time. So our brains perform some wonderful services for us.
The amygdala, located in the limbic part of our brain, scans our world for threats. It has no self-conscious awareness to slow it down, so it is very very fast (think startle reflex). It has libraries of threatening patterns and when it senses a pattern match in our environment, it reacts very quickly. I was jogging in the woods some time ago and found myself leaping sideways to the other side of the fire road. I was on a collision course with a rattlesnake. Without conscious thought, my body reacted quickly.
The brain also takes complex tasks and automates them so we don’t have to consciously direct every detail. By combining patterns of neural activity into larger complexes of neural structures, we can drive a car and while having a conversation with a passenger.
The brain also filters out huge amounts of information that isn’t judged to be relevant.
Additionally, it identifies, defines and codes raw data into simple concepts. When the wake-up alarm goes off in the morning, our brain doesn’t have to create all the logic to identify the raw decibels, pitch and tone as an alarm…it already has a “table” that simply says “alarm.” If we didn’t have these functions, the amount of data coming to us would be overwhelming. We couldn’t even get out of bed.
But all this pre-processing also shapes the information that we receive in our conscious brain, giving us a distorted sense of reality. And one of the most powerful distortions our brain creates is “stories.” In addition to the pre-conscious information organizing process where our brain filters, deletes, automates and structures our information, the way we remember it and give it meaning is by creating stories around related parts of data.
During the height of the Japanese nuclear reactor scare, I was at a training that included a number of new age therapists. They were eating seaweed to help protect them from potential radiation. I called my daughter who works as a project manager at NASA and asked her about the risk. She sent me a link to a published article which stated that the risk is insignificant. I relayed that to the “seaweed munchers” and the response from one person between mouthfuls was, “Oh, the government just doesn’t want us to know.”
It is easy to chuckle and see this as a story fabricated by someone who is fearful of technology and filters their world to support their story. However, it is much harder to see these fabricated stories in ourselves because they don’t feel like stories, they feel like reality.
As Byron Katie stated in the opening quote, stories are created after the fact, after our beliefs are in place to give us comfort that they are true.
As business people, professional money managers, traders and investors, a costly bias is taking our own stories at face value. But if our stories are necessary, and we can’t help but create them to give us meaning and memories, how can we deal with them in our business lives? The answer is to see our stories as simply stories that we create. This awareness, without judgment or criticism allows us to reframe them and use them positively.
Once we see our stories as self-created, then we can observe them and learn from them. One of our jobs is to continually “Shred our Stories.” This of course is a lot easier said than done because the closer our “stories” are as part of our survival mechanisms and beliefs, the more we become attached to them. However, when we frame our stories as models that simply help us navigate the current world, the easier it is to “shred” them when they no longer become useful.
You can create the “Story Shredder” Mind Muscle which will help you shred stories that are no longer useful. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
The first step however, is NOT to create stories we are attached to in the first place. One way to do this is to watch or read the news as if it were a series of “fairy tales.” Look at these fairy tales as a bucket of emotional content created to support what we want to believe. Pay attention to the emotional content and how it will shape the stories of others and their investing behaviors. Look at all other information sources in your life that feed the creation of stories and re-frame them in a way that allows you to be aware of them without allowing them to feed your beliefs.
The “Story Shredder” Mind Muscle will help us put fewer and fewer “stories” between us and reality.
The second step is to practice “shredding.” This original format was created by Byron Katie (TheWork.org) and I have adapted it for you. First, find a story that you depend on and believe to be true. To make this first one easy, find a story that isn’t that critical to your life. Now ask yourself the following questions.
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
- Next, find a story that contradicts the story you are shredding. Tell yourself THAT story. Embellish it. Create all the details you can. Notice resistance to the new story. But do it anyway!
- Let yourself fully experience the new stories. Find three examples in your life where the new story is true. This is not about making you wrong, just about discovering alternatives that give you “story freedom.”
The Mind Muscle homework is to “Shred a Story a Day” using the four questions. You can start with non-critical stories and work your way up to the ones that are connected to your survival. As you do this, you will start to notice the “stories” others tell themselves and recognize them as stories. You will see the news, not as fact, but as interesting fairy tales that have an impact on the world. You will look at the market and notice the stories you bring to the interpretation.
Mind Muscles are like physical muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they get. However, just like muscles, you may notice some “fatigue and soreness” when you first start to exercise them, but keep it up! Soon you will be shredding stories as easily as a piece of paper.
As you build this Mind Muscle you will see more information with less bias and see new market patterns emerging early and faster.