Attaching a Story
Ep. 288
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In this episode, I dive into the transformative and core concept that the majority of our suffering comes not from life events but from the stories we attach to them. I provide a question to help you relieve negative emotions and explain how dirty pain, the stories we create, burdens us. By separating clean and dirty pain, you can gain control and redesign a life you love or find the courage to quit. The episode explores the impact of childhood traumas, fear of failure, and the liberating shift that occurs when we detach our worth from external outcomes. Listen to learn how reframing your stories can transform your perspective and empower you to pursue your dreams without fear.

Show Transcript
Hey! Welcome to Lessons from a Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you've spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.
Hello my friends and welcome to another episode. I'm so excited to have you here. How's your new year? Happy New Year. If you're listening to this kind of live ish, we're just kind of entering January of 2024. If you're listening later, welcome. But I hope you've had a good transition into the new year. I have. It takes me a couple weeks to get into the swing of things. I'm not someone that like jumps right back in and I'm okay with that. I'm still doing all the things, but I'm sort of letting myself kind of ease into this new year and get over the craziness of the holidays. I'm so excited about it. I'm so excited about what is to come this year for the Quitter Club. We are doing all of these goal setting workshops and accountability pods, and I'm really focused on getting people as many results as I can within the club and the other programs that I'm gonna do this year.
So I'm super excited about what 2024 has in store, and I wanted to start off this month. I mean, I did my year in review last week, but
I wanted to start off with a concept that I think is transformational and I think it puts things really quickly in perspective. One of the things I've realized with that causes so much suffering for a lot of us is our inability to understand our thoughts and feelings, our inability to understand what's happening in our own brain. And I think oftentimes just having a couple of reframes or really seeing a pattern makes it easier for you to spot, makes it easier for you to see that your brain is lying to you or doing the same thing, or this is shame talking, or whatever it is. And I think sometimes having those frameworks, it's like scaffolding, right? It helps you kind of get your bearings.
Whereas I think when I know before I had found thought work, a lot of times it just felt very like unmoored. Like every day I was just like, well, let's see what emotions are gonna hit me today. And I think, um, I've loved finding these little things where it allows me to sort of put my thoughts and feelings into a framework or to into like a pattern and be like, oh, this is what's happening. It instantly gives me control. And this is one of, I think, the easiest and most effective framings reframes questions that you can ask yourself. And it's one of the things when I realize every, everything that I coach on and I realized even like really what all of therapy is about is this concept.
And now that I see it, I see it obviously everywhere. Like every time I'm coaching people, I can spot the fact that this is the issue that we need to work on. And so I wanted to give it to you here so that you can start seeing it for yourself in your own thoughts. And the issue is that all of our suffering comes, well, not all, but the vast majority of our suffering comes from not the events that happen in our lives, but the story that we attach to those events. And I wanna explain that in this podcast.
And I'm gonna give you a question that you can ask yourself to quickly turn around or relieve a lot of the dirty pain, the negative emotions that you feel when something negative happens. Okay?
So here's what I mean about like really getting clear on what story you're attaching when, let's say some, you do something or something happens in your world, okay?
You decide to apply for a job or it's time for annual reviews at your job, or you start dating somebody and you're falling in love, right? Something is happening outside of you and it doesn't go the way you want. Something happens. Let's say you don't get that job, you get a rejection letter, um, you get a bad review, it's annual review, and there's some criticisms in there. Or the person that you're really into decides that they're not into this relationship and they break up with you. Okay? All of these things, of course, will cause negative emotion. They should, like, we don't want toxic positivity. We're not walking around trying to be like, everything is fine. Everything is rainbows and butterflies. It is not, it does not feel good to be rejected. It does not feel good to be criticized. It does not feel good to, you know, not get the thing that you desired if it was just that we could process those emotions, right?
In therapy, there's a concept of a clean and dirty pain. This is what we'd call clean pain, where it's like something happened outside of me that was something that I didn't want and that is gonna cause me to have a negative emotion. It's gonna make me disappointed or feel rejected or sad, okay? Usually if I process that emotion, it can kind of go away. The problem and the reason it doesn't go away is because not only do we have that clean pain, we then attach a story to what that means, right? And we make that story means something terrible about ourselves nine times outta 10, right? The story we just decide to come up with is the most horrific story about us, about who we are. And that dirty pain, this completely made up story that we decide to attach and carry with us is all of the baggage that causes these events to not be able to pass that causes us to keep carrying it with us over and over and over again.
So for instance, I apply for a job and I don't get the job, I can be disappointed in that. What happens is then I attach a story of, see, I never, I knew that I wasn't good enough. And I start thinking about all the ways that I'm not good enough, that I'm not smart enough, that nobody will ever give me a chance, that everyone's gonna know I'm a fraud, whatever that kind of deep seated story is. And a lot of us have these stories from childhood and we keep collecting evidence to make that story even stronger, right? We keep looking for all of the ways that I wasn't good enough and here's one more piece of evidence for my evidence bank, and I'm just gonna like lug this super heavy baggage suitcase with me everywhere I go. And of course that feels terrible right now.
Who's to say why you didn't get that job? Maybe you were, it wasn't even, you know, somebody else was a s shoe-in like there was, they had to post it for, you know, what, you know, like for instance, um, this is totally random that it just came up to me. But like, if you want to get a green card for this country through work, uh, one of the requirements that you have to do the company has to do is they have to put out an ad for that job. And if there's nobody that fits the requirements, um, that is, you know, a resident of America like a citizen, then they can qualify. Like having an Amer, you know, somebody from outside of America, they can qualify to sponsor them for, um, a green card. I say this to say like, let's say that's what's happening where a lot of times they already have a candidate that they wanna bring from overseas, but they have to post this posting.
So they post it with the intention. Like it's not legal to do this, but a lot of people do where it's like they're gonna reject most people that apply because they already, they're gonna come up with a reason why that person isn't qualified or whatnot. It could have nothing to do with you. Like there, you know, it's unfortunate that you applied and you didn't know what's going on in the background. Or let's say the person's, you know, that business owner's, nephew, they wanted to give them the job anyways, but they like wanted to look to see if there was anyone that was gonna be stellar and they didn't see anybody that has any more than their nephew. So they were gonna go with their nephew Anyways, I'm just coming up with random scenarios, but you get what I mean. It had nothing to do with you, but you decided that that just means that you're just not good enough and you're gonna carry that around with you forever, right?
Or let's say, like I said, you have, you're dating someone and they decide they wanna break up with you. Where do we all go? Our brain is not like, oh yeah, this sucks. This is just rejection. We go to see, I'm not lovable. There's something wrong with me. If I was lovable, this person wouldn't leave, right? Which is like, again, could be furthest the first this thing from the truth. So many people have their own commitment issues, have their own traumatic childhood, like everyone's in their own head worrying about themselves. And we've seen this happen time and time again. Like you've seen your friends with people where they break up with them. It has nothing to do with your friend. That person has their own issues and they're not ready for a relationship or not. But then the person that gets broken up with has created this whole story that's like, of course it has to mean that I'm not good enough.
And even when, let's say it is something about your performance, let's say like the annual review, you have an annual review and the feedback is like, Hey, you're not doing this part well. Like you need to improve on this. Maybe, I don't know, you're not leading as well as you should, or your presentations need some work or whatever. It's now you can even take that if we didn't attach a story and we could take it as like, okay, how could this be true? These are just some tasks I need to be better at. Or maybe I'm not, maybe this isn't where my skillset lies, you know, what can I do? Can I brush up on things? Do I need to get a different job? But we don't do that. We take that criticism and we turn it into a story of like, again, I'm not good enough.
They hate me here. They think I'm a terrible employee. I knew, you know, I was a fraud or whatever it is. And we make it so much bigger than what it has to be. And then we carry around that story. So like when I go to my next job, I'm constantly terrified of like, what if I'm really not good enough? What if I really am a terrible employee? What if all my bosses hate me? Instead of realizing like that was one specific scenario and maybe I wasn't good at that task, or maybe I didn't put enough effort in, or whatever, a million other scenarios, I'm gonna go straight to the most painful. And it's like, you know what? I just suck. And I see this every single day in the people I coach. And 'cause what's funny is the actual like negative, you know, emotion, the actual like event, it's not that hard to deal with those issues.
Like, that sucks. I wanted this, it didn't happen, or I really was into this relationship and it ended. Those all suck. Not as much as the story that I see people come up with where it's constantly something about how terrible they are, how they're not good enough, not lovable enough, not smart enough. It's like, well, yeah, that's way more painful than just thinking this didn't work out the way that I wanted it to.

I, I don't remember where I, I saw this, I believe it was Gabo mate, but it was some psychologist was doing an interview talking about something similar to this. And he was saying like, he was asking the other person, you know, like, let's, I'm gonna give you a scenario. Let's say you have like a lunch set up with your friend and then your friend stands you up. Why do you think they did?
And that person said like, oh, 'cause I wasn't important enough for them to like show up or something, or they didn't care enough about, 'cause if I was important enough, they would've showed up. And the psychologist was talking about like how fascinating it is, is that there are millions of reasons of why that person could have not shown up. But what we all do because of our traumas is that we always, the first thing goes to, like, it's something about me and every one of us says this. What's fascinating is like if you have two people in a scenario, each person is battling their own demons about why they're not good enough, right? And they're turning what the other person is doing in that relationship into something about them. And when you see that, like when you can start spotting that, it becomes easier to question, right? It becomes easier to deal with. Like, can I deal with the actual scenario without attaching a story to it? What is the actual scenario? Can I separate it first and figure out like, what is the clean pain here and what is the dirty pain? What am I adding onto this that I don't need to?

I've heard, um, some psychologists, uh, I I'd heard that it was a practice in therapy too, that to when you have a lot of negative emotion about something and you think, you know, there's a, the reason is something about you come up with five different reasons just to show your brain that there are other reasons. Like come up with five other reasons why your friend stood you up. Maybe their car died and their phone died, or maybe they got sick or maybe they completely forgot about it, or maybe they're dealing with their own thing and they're in a depression and they didn't, they couldn't get outta bed. I don't know. You know, there's like a million other things we can think of.
Why do I immediately go to like, it has to be that I'm not important enough. You can easily see this kind of, I was just talking about the relationship, but it's fascinating when we look at people and like the traumas that we have from when we are children, and a lot of us do have these traumas because our little brains don't know how to make sense of the world. And especially with little kids' brains because, um, when you're a child, like your whole world is very self-centered as it should be. You just don't have the capacity. Your brain isn't formed enough to be able to like think of other people's perspectives. And so you see this a lot, let's say like somebody's father leaves them, leaves the family and doesn't stay stick around. And the kid creates the story of like, I'm not lovable. If I was lovable, my father would stay.
And that becomes a lifelong amount of baggage to take on. Now, seeing that from the outside, it's absurd, right? It has nothing to do with that child. It's not that like if that child was more lovable, that father would stay clearly, that father has their own traumas and problems and whatever decision that father made has nothing to do with what the chil the child did or didn't do. And yet that child is going to carry around that baggage and carry around that trauma for the rest of their life unless they get help, right? Unless they get therapy, unless they work on these thoughts, unless they decide like, it had nothing to do with me and I'm not gonna carry this around anymore. Like, does it suck that my father wasn't there, that I didn't get to have that relationship that a lot of people get to have? Of course it did. Is that gonna create some issues in my life? Of course it is, but I don't have to keep adding to it, right?
And so, again, like I think in, in certain situations it's easier to see that it's like it could be somebody, it could have nothing to do with you. But again, like I said with the review, um, too, it, even if it is something to do with you, even if it is something that is like a res uh, a consequence of your actions, you still don't have to attach a story to make it mean something about you as a person.

So what I see for a lot of people that are so unwilling to even take any step towards their dream, any step towards taking quote unquote a risk, and it's this idea, we have these things of like my fear of failure. I'm so afraid of failing. I want you to ask yourself why you think that is. What is the actual worst thing that's gonna happen when you fail?
'cause a lot of us, it's not the actual fear of failing, right? Let's say you tried to start that business and it doesn't work, or you put out a post on Instagram and nobody likes it, okay? If we didn't attach a story to it, it wouldn't mean anything. It would be like, Hey, I tried this. I tried writing that book and you know, I wasn't consistent with it, okay? That's just like data. I can be like, why wasn't I, what was coming up? Do I really even wanna do this? Or it could even be like, okay, I failed at that. I tried and it didn't work and I didn't know a lot of things and now I know more, but like, who caress, right? At the end of the day, like I could be disappointed that it didn't work. I can decide how I'm gonna reevaluate and what I'm gonna do moving forward, but that's not what we do.
The reason so many of us are afraid of failing is because we are afraid of the story that will come after that failure. We are afraid that that failure will confirm our worst insecurities about ourselves. Because what if I try this and it doesn't work? Then I have to grapple with this thought that I already have that, see, I knew I wasn't good enough. I knew I wasn't smart enough. I knew I wasn't organized enough. I knew I didn't have the persistence. Whatever your version of this is, every one of us has some version of not good enoughness and it stems from your childhood. So it could be that you don't think you're smart enough. It could be that you're not organized enough, you don't have enough energy. You are, um, not bold enough, you don't take enough risks, whatever it might be, you're scared of everything.
I don't, you know, there's just so many flavors to it, but it comes down to not good enough. And for a lot of us, we then make our lives so small because it's like, I don't want to, like, we don't deal with these thoughts and they're running in the background as like a low hum constantly. We don't know that it's there, it's kind of subconscious at this point, but it's like constant bullying of like, see, you're not good enough. Like, see, you can't even do this, right? See, your house isn't even organized. Like we keep finding whatever evidence in our world every single day to keep confirming this belief. And so of course when we wanna take a bigger risk underlying it, that fear is still there. But what if, what if I try this and it doesn't work? What if I try this and everybody judges me, right?
Think about why we're so scared about everybody judging us because we judge ourselves. Because then it confirms, because then maybe they're right, then maybe they'll see who the hell did I think I was, I knew I wasn't good enough for this, right? Better for me to not try and confirm it, right? At least now there's a chance that I succeeded at my other job or that I got this degree and I can just keep doing this thing. Or I can just sit with this good enoughness because then I don't have to grapple with the fact of like whether or not that insecurity about myself is true. And the reality is that it's not true. Even if you fail, even if you fail at it, it could just be about that act, right? You could start the business and fail and know, oh, I didn't have all the information.
Like this is how I learn, right? For any of us, anything that you start new, you're gonna fail at, you're not starting something and being a professional or an expert at it. And so actually failing at something doesn't mean anything about you other than you tried something other than you were willing to give it a risk. Like other than the fact that you're learning. And so for so many of us, the fear of failure is actually not that scary when you don't attach a story to it. It's like, oh yeah, I, I'm gonna fail in 10 different ways as I go for this goal. But if I attach a story to it, then it becomes the stakes are much higher, then it's like, I can't fail, then I have to be a perfectionist. Then I have to be perfect to wear that as an armor to protect myself from these feelings I have within me that maybe I'm not perfect, that maybe there's a part of me that is not good enough.
And because I wanna push that down so deeply 'cause it doesn't feel good. I keep trying to be perfect at anything that I do so I can feel good about myself. But that only lasts for like a split second. If being a perfectionist made you feel good, you'd feel good all the time right now, like so many of you have done everything perfectly in your life, you know, like you try to constantly be the perfect spouse and the perfect parent and the perfect employee. And how's that working out besides a bunch of completely burned out, exhausted, angry, bitter, resentful people that we all are? Because society keeps demanding that we prove that we have no faults. And I can't express to you how liberating it is to put that down to know that like, of course I fail constantly every single day and it still doesn't mean that I'm not good enough.
It still doesn't mean that I'm not lovable, right? And I'm a whole lovable worthy human regardless of the actions I take. And the thing is, is that I think a lot of times, like for a lot of us, we think that in order to kind of be onto ourselves in order to be a better person, we have to constantly have this sort of like surveillance of ourselves. We have to make sure we're doing things the right way. We have to try to strive to be perfect. And it's the exact opposite because the thing is, is that having this story about how you're not good enough, or how there might be something inherently wrong with you as a human being, or that something is just down to your core or whatever, whatever the, the story is that all that does is create shame. And shame has been proven in like every study ever conducted to be the most terrible motivator for actual change.
So when you look at something as like a task, I can try to change a task, like I said, like if I'm not good at something at my job, I can decide like, where's the gap in my knowledge? What skills do I have to learn? Maybe I should get another job because I'm not good at these skills, okay? But when that is coupled with, because I know I'm not smart enough or I know I'm not good enough or whatever, there's so much shame around that that I don't even wanna look at those tasks, right? That's why a negative review is so triggering to me because if it confirms that maybe I am not smart enough or maybe I am not good enough, then I completely shut down.
When you really accept, like regardless of the tasks or the actions or whatever happens in my life, I'm lovable and I'm whole and I'm worthy, it becomes so much less threatening to look at feedback about yourself. It becomes so much less threatening to decide to change something, to, to decide to look at like criticism and be like, how could that be right?
You know, no, they are right. Like I do get defensive really quickly, or I do need to work on my leadership skills or whatnot. Like when I realize like me not having leadership skills does not mean something inherently about me as a person. It means it's a skillset I haven't learned yet. It becomes a lot easier for me to actually work on that.
And so it's funny because I think for a lot of us, we think we have to be our own bully. We have to be mean to ourselves or otherwise we're gonna become this egotistical, you know, um, selfish human being that only does things for themselves. But I'm telling you, I feel like I've become so much of a better person after I started loving myself because then it started allowing me to look at like, there's no threat of me not loving myself regardless.
Like I know I'm a flawed human that's gonna make mistakes and I'll still love myself through it all. I'll still have my own back. And so it's not as threatening for me to look at those flaws. It's not as threatening for me to say like, yeah, I really do suck in that area. Like, I don't do this well, or I am really short tempered about this. How do I change that without threatening the fact that like there's something broken inside of me? And so as you go through your day or your life, I want you to just ask yourself very quickly, whenever you're having a lot of negative emotion about something, I want you to ask yourself like, what is the story I'm attaching to what happened? Just parse out where is the facts? Where is the event? And what is the story that is optional?
Another way of asking this is simply, what am I making this mean about me? So it's not like, yeah, I'm sad that my boyfriend broke up with me, but what am I making that mean about me? I'm sad that my, uh, manager gave me a negative review. What am I making that mean about me? When you ask that question, it becomes very clear. Like, take some time to like get that out. A lot of us don't wanna look at it because it's really painful, but honestly, you can't fix it unless you look at it. So write it out like, like brain dump. Just let whatever is in your brain come out. What do I make it mean about me that my friends don't call me and make plans as much as I would like? Right? See what your thoughts are because you'll start seeing how painful they are and they'll start becoming really clear.
Like, of course I am depressed or sad or defensive or whatever the emotion is when I'm thinking nobody likes me, I wasn't good enough, whatever it is. And when I start thinking like, what are some other stories that I could think about this, right? I could think maybe my friends just aren't the type to initiate. Maybe they're the ones that are waiting for me to initiate. Maybe, um, they don't realize that I wanna hang out more. Maybe for them it's sufficient to hang out once a month, but I wanna hang out more than once a month. You know, there's so many other ways to kind of cut what's happening, but I think for so many of us, we're so quick to be like, no, it clearly has to mean something about me. And you have to start reframing that story. And I'm telling you, I mean, I haven't sat and looked at this, but like I would say 90% of what I coach people on is just the story.
That's it. It's not even like what has actually happened that is giving them negative emotion. It's not, um, you know, the the event itself. It's simply what they make you mean about themselves. And if you can learn to catch that and you can learn to stop that to just be like, I refuse to make it a story like this happened, I'll deal with it. I'll process those emotions. I'll let myself be sad, but it doesn't ever have to mean anything about my worth. God, the amount of negative emotion you'll instantly release from your life is astounding. And the amount that you'll open yourself up to try things because negative, you know, um, events aren't as scary anymore. When it doesn't hinge on whether you get to love yourself or not becomes amazing. It opens up your future, it opens up what you go after. It opens up the goals that you can pursue. So ask yourself what story you're attaching to it and change that story.
All right, my friends, I hope this was helpful and I'll be back next week with another episode.
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