Back to the future: How to increase the bandwidth of the stories we tell ourselves for good?
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
How linear is our past?
How flat is our present?
How high is our future?
We are legion. We have so many discussions. We revive memories. We share experiences. We dare to imagine what the future will look like.
My friend Pascal loves to remind me of everything I did wrong in the past. And, like Priyanka and Foster, we have known each other forever.
Pascal knows how to tell stories of how I messed up. Do you remember that day when we were at the beach? You said: I can swim until the edge of the beach. Then, just after 10 meters, you were exhausted. I remember having to jump and rescue you.
My friend Priyanka is not focused on the past. She doesn’t care. She often comes to my defense when Pascal recalls some past events. Do you know what bothers me about Mad? She once said to Pascal. It is not his past, she replied. He is just not reaching his potential. He can hardly focus on one task and do it until the end. She continued: I asked Mad to help me with my speech two days ago. I am still waiting for his answer. I will have to improvise it this weekend.
Foster is the one I fear the most among those three close friends. Well, I don’t fear him because he is my friend. I am just overwhelmed by his silence. I can see judgment in his eyes each time I come to him with some projects. Oh, come on! he always says. You are grandiose! Well, you wish, Dude! He once told me. I just shared with him one new project to create a short documentary. He is so mysterious that it makes me feel uneasy whenever I am in his presence.
I am sure you have friends or family members like Pascal, Priyanka, and Foster. And you see what I mean.
I am trying to let go of them because they don’t always have the best intentions in helping me navigate this world.
Pascal, Priyanka, and Foster are some extraordinary friends. They live in an exceptional place: my head.
Yes, those are three of my most secretive imaginary friends. I never dared to reveal their existence to anyone, even to my real friends, until now.
I identify myself as a griot or storyteller. And the more I learn about the subject matter, the more I see the power those imaginary friends have had on me. Let me explain.
Pascal is the imaginary friend representing the stories of my past, Priyanka, my present, and Foster, my future.
Each of us has those friends in our heads. And they hold over us the most potent powers we could ever imagine: the power of our stories.
As we go through our day, we tell ourselves many stories. We revive some old events into stories. We interact with people and imagine the stories they tell about us. Finally, we try to imagine ourselves in the future by creating a compelling story of what it will look like.
Most of us are empowered by some of those stories and disempowered by most. Some of us are disempowered by some and find a way to be empowered by the majority of them.
As there is “no one size fits all,” I will share how I am learning to make my stories conspire in my favor.
I use a technique that I call increasing the bandwidth of my stories from the past through the present into the future:
- Past: Writer, selective past successes,
- Present: Painter, vivid pictures of our current stories,
- Future: Be the director of our future self-movies.
I. PAST: WRITER, SELECTIVE PAST SUCCESSES — Past is for reference, not for residence! The best writers use their past to craft the best stories to share with the world.
Indeed the dots can only be connected backward. Often we look into our past and just, like my friend Pascal, see only the bad things. As humans, we often remember the bad apples to make sure to never have that taste again in our mouths.
Yet we can also see the light in the dark. We can be deliberate in seeing all our past “failures” as lessons and challenges that brought us where we are today. We can see the people that harmed us as teachers of how not to behave with others, including ourselves.
We can use the past as a way to connect the dots and write empowering stories of our past. That can be the book of our past that will serve as a stepping stone into our present.
II. PRESENT: PAINTER, VIVID PICTURES OF OUR CURRENT STORIES — Things do not happen as we wish; they happen as they should! We can choose to see the present as doom and gloom. Every frame of our present is a painting. We are the ones who decide which glasses we wear. So, naturally, we use those black and white shades. We curse ourselves with a binary world: either it is light, or it is dark.
We miss a lot not choosing to wear those rainbow glasses. We miss seeing those paintings in entirely bright HD colors. Don’t let Priyanka paint your present. Be your own Monet.
We should contrast every colorless frame of our life with at least ten bright, vivid Monet-like paintings. In that sense, the present is a painting contrasting with the past, a book. We can live in the present like a striking live photo.
III. FUTURE: BE THE DIRECTOR OF OUR FUTURE SELF MOVIES — Be the director of your future movie! The future is like our universe. Yes, it is vast and mainly filled with dark matter. We can imagine our future dark and empty of light. That is one way to imagine our future. Yet there are many other possible ways to direct our future as a movie.
From a picture to a motion picture, we have to imagine our future as worthy of an oscar. Then, because we are that movie director, we can pick the story, choose the locations and the leading actor, and imagine how the story can unfold in a way that will serve us.
That does not mean that everything will play out as we imagined. Yet it means that we imagine a movie where we are the hero and not just a supporting role or, even worse, not being cast in our movie. So we need a Foster to foster more movies worth watching.
That is the power of increasing the bandwidth of the stories we tell ourselves: from a book to a photo album to a motion picture. The more detailed, alive, and vivid we craft the canvas of our life, the more light we cast upon us with all rainbow reflections.
We need more energy to direct a movie than to finish a painting or write a book. Of course, that is not a universal truth. But that is a framework that most of us will fit within.
The main takeaway is to spend less time in the past and as much as possible in the present and be very efficient in devoting the rest of our energy to imagining a future that serves us.
I am not letting go of my friends Pascal, Priyanka, and Foster. I could not do it even if I put all my energy into it. I am just learning to give them the appropriate amount of stage time in my mind so that they can conspire in my favor.
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