Personal Mythology: Using The Narrative Fallacy To Your Advantage
After a short discussion with Brent over at Healthcare Epistemocrat, I posted this simple quote on my announcement wall at my studio:
“Culture and mythology trump everything: we live by fiction.”
And just above that quote, I added a quote from Shinzen Young that tied in serendipitously:
” To teach is to inevitably mislead people to a certain degree…to fail to teach is to mislead people even worse.”
What do they mean by that and how can it be put to use in our daily lives?
For those unaware, the narrative fallacy:
The narrative fallacy then refers to the propensity to engage in story-telling, summarizations, and simplifications to reduce the dimension of matters.
Take this in for a moment: we’re telling ourselves stories because the truth of the matter is complex and lacking a compelling narrative. Our gray matter can’t fire enough neurons to properly place all of the dimensions of our life accordingly so we narrow our scope and talk about events or situations that move our story along. It makes us feel good in hindsight and organizes things nicely. Point of fact, here’s the narrative of how I ended up in Austin:
When I was 17 I met my boss, who was interning at a gym I happened to be employed. 3 years later I emailed him on sheer chance and he offered me a job. 1 year later I moved to Austin without knowing a soul and have now been managing Efficient Exercise Westlake for over 5 years.
What that nice 3 sentence paragraph leaves out are all of the mundane details and the details that make me look less heroic. It’s basic social psychology: we want to make ourselves look good, better than the rest, as many deviations away from normal as possible. But it leaves out so many good and bad dimensions that would muddy the story.
Our background colors the lens which colors our experience and interpretations of the outside world. So if you’re going to create a mythology, an ideal story for your life, there is a dilemma: You have to attempt to out-wit your tendencies, your prejudices, your deep seeded reactions. Think of your current mythology from where you sit. Is it what you wanted or is it story you’d tell your friends? I’m sure parts of it are and parts of it aren’t. I’d like to help you hedge the bets in your favor so that, especially when it comes to health, fitness, and wellness, your story is not only positive but will hopefully ring true for others around you in an empowering fashion. Engage in this thought experiment:
1. Listen to Seneca
Choose for yourself a moral hero…picture him to yourself at all times as your protector. You can never correct something crooked without a ruler.
Your job is to create this ideal, build a practice around what this ideal self has already done and regress their actions back to your current state. Create a mental linear regression from your ideal and that is the path. How will you do that?
Build your environment around how your ideal self has designed their life. Realistically, you’re not going to achieve a positive outcome for every endeavor but if your practice creates a larger percentage of positive choices over the long haul, you’ll move that much closer to your mythological self. Choice reduction toward a positive architecture is a melding of Barry Schwartz and Art De Vany have discussed. In this experiment, YOU are the evidence from your IDEAL’S past. Your current self is your ideal’s “when I was young and stupid” self. Take this to heart, but how will it be categorized?
3. Build a Eupraxsophy
Once you’ve run your mental regression, you’ll compile the result in a eupraxsophy. Why does an iron-clad set of rules and guidelines help us succeed? Because it eliminates choices that are superfluous and distracting. So from this you’re going to build your own mythic good book, preferably with negative rules toward a positive outcome. It needn’t be that long and you don’t have to believe every morsel of what you write: remember, you’re acting as if, moving toward this ideal who already figured out the bumps in the road. Your practice will change but you’re going to pick a few iron clad rules and some frameworks to follow and follow them because you have no choice but to follow.
This idea wreaks of determinism, I know. That’s also the point. Remember that this is a thought experiment about how your ideal self would guide your actual self if he could come back and give you all the information from his journey. My intent in this is to avoid the negativity of the ought self and to empower choices through an n=1 mythological journey guided by your ideal. Do this and the probability of success goes up dramatically and you’ll emotionally-commit to the very familiar shell you’ve built around the tested principles. Best of luck!