No Information? I’ll Make Up A Story

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Sometimes the most reasonable answer is not the one I consider first, when faced with a problem. I like to tell myself stories first. This just leads me to jump to conclusions that are not helpful and don’t solve the problem. The other day, I wrongly blamed a neighbour for a chemical smell. But today, a story almost lead to being crushed by a falling branch!

I Believe My Stories

Why do I believe the story first? When I smelled a strong chemical the other morning, I was sure that my neighbour must be varnishing something in his garage. Even though my windows were closed and I hadn’t seen my neighbour, that was the story I went with. As the morning progressed, I realized that the smell was coming from inside the house, closer to me. Then I blamed the decal on the new t-shirt that I was wearing to go hiking. Wrong again. The answer was even closer to me: the sunblock that I had applied my face to protect me on our sunny walk. Yup!  The answer was a plain as the nose on my face. But I had created two false stories about it first. 

Why do I tell myself stories?

In the absence of information, we tell ourselves stories.

… When we don’t understand what is happening or why someone behaved in a certain way, our brains fill in the details and we tell ourselves a story that helps us interpret the events around us.*

Bethany Klynn, from Ohio State University

But being lazy and failing to look for accurate information can have negative consequences. Before identifying the sunblock culprit, I was thinking about returning that t-shirt with a strongly worded review about the smell. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Stories Can Have Harmful Effects

However, returning a t-shirt, is not as injurious as being crushed by a tree branch. Today, as I was walking the dog , she was drawn to a large old tree. (Sniffing around trees is a normal part of her walk.) But then we both paused and listened to the unusual sounds coming from the tree, like marbles rolling down inside. I’d never heard anything like it. I told myself it was squirrels rolling acorns inside the hollow branches. I didn’t see any squirrels. This was just a story.

Luckily for us, the dog startled as though something was falling. I didn’t see anything fall, but I called her to move along. Crash! The branch fell behind us. We escaped unharmed because of the dog’s intuition and not because of my story.

Get Curious

It’s a reminder to me to not believe all the stories I tell myself. Klynn, suggests staying curious as the best way to avoid falling for your own fairytales. When something unusual happens, pause and ask questions. Look for evidence. But if you’re standing under a big tree, I suggest you move first, just to be safe.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: