And it’s not always accurate.
Our brains are really good at either filling in blanks (with little or no evidence to support our supplied missing pieces) or focusing on some aspects of what happened and ignoring others. This is part of the reason why people can have such vastly different versions of the same event.
While we are largely unconscious of this process and therefore don’t have a lot of control over it at the time, we can use this to our advantage in hindsight.
Let’s say we’re looking back on our lives and all we see is bad stuff happening. We can recognise that our brain is missing out some information and look a little more accurately at what happened. More often than not it looks like this:
B= bad thing that happened
All the space in between is either good stuff or at worst, neutral. So it can’t possibly be true that our life has been unbearably bad. If we focus on the good or neutral in between bit, we rewrite our life and experience more positive emotions and resilience.
Let’s look at the ‘making it up’ naughtiness our brain gets up to.
Your partner has a few quiet days, not chatting much and being generally withdrawn. Your naughty brain might make up stories like: she’s not interested in me anymore; he’s probably having an affair; I’ve done something to upset her. Once your brain has a good story for your partner’s behaviour it will likely stick to it and elaborate on it and make it bigger and more scary as time goes on.
If we can recognise that our brain has made up a story that has no evidence to back it up, it gives us freedom to do any number of things. We might soothe ourselves with reminding us that our brain has made up a story that isn’t necessarily true. We might ask our partner what’s up. Or we can even use the strategy of coming up with a number of explanations for their behaviour – e.g. it’s close to the anniversary of his mum’s death; maybe work has been hard lately etc etc. Coming up with a few explanations lets your brain know that you’re not buying it’s first story and that stops you getting caught up in it and making it worse over time.
So if you’re having a hard time or it looks pretty grim when you look back, try to rewrite your story and see how much better the world looks and how much better you feel.