Your Brain is Lying to You

Recently, a friend of mine came to me depressed and downtrodden. He’d lost his best set of friends, all because it wasn’t a good enough gamer… or so he thought.

Mark is a bit of an introvert, but over the years he developed a knack for building really meaningful and deep friendships with people all over the world through online gaming. However, several of these friends had recently moved to a new, more challenging game. So, eventually he decided to follow them.

Mark’s friends had been playing the game for months by this point, and Mark was still a newbie. Even so, they invited him to spend three hours with them, playing the hardest level of the game, called the King’s Fall Raid. The level required a team of players, and included a series of battles to fight and puzzles to solve. Touched that his friends wanted him to tag along and trusted him to be able to handle his own, Mark signed up.

Suffice it to say, Mark was terrible at the King’s Fall Raid. His skill and avatar were just not developed enough to make him relevant member of the team. He lagged behind all the other players, and felt like a burden the whole time. Mark said he went to bed thinking about what a loser he was, and that he would not be the least bit surprised if his friends never wanted to play with him again. It had happened to him before.

The whole next week, no one asked Mark to play with them. To him, that was suspicious. Mark could still see that they were online, playing the game every day. “Before the raid,” he said, “people would always invite me to play with them. But after the King’s Fall fiasco, it was total radio silence.”

Mark messaged several friends through the game and not a single one responded. He requested to play with them and no one accepted his invitations. He had the phone number of one friend who was absent from the game, so he sent that person a text asking if he knew why the others were avoiding him. He got no response to his question, but the friend did contact him a few days later asking for something totally unrelated. “It was completely heartbreaking,” Mark shared, “So I didn’t respond. I remember thinking, here we go again. I’m shut out from the friend circle because no one really likes me.”

Mark had collected a substantial amount of evidence that seemed to support his conclusion. Still, when he described the events to me, something felt off, even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I recommended Mark give people the benefit of the doubt, and wait a bit to see how things played out. But Mark had already seen enough. He felt it was better for him to unfriend everyone in the game, and remove himself from group text messages. He resigned himself to the idea that he would have to start all over with a new group of gaming friends.

When Mark went to begin this process, he discovered his PlayStation was having issues ― even his machine didn’t want to play with him anymore! He ended up having to return it for a new one.

As soon as he set up the new console and logged in, dozens of messages from the past weeks started coming through, of people wanting to play with him. Around the same time, the friend he had texted called and apologized for being inaccessible. He’d been out of town on a family emergency, and also had to get a new phone. The next day, someone re-added Mark to the gaming group, asking, “Why isn’t Mark on this thread anymore?” Mark was relieved, but also felt foolish for having unnecessarily worked himself up so much.

This is an illustration of how a person’s story of who they are seeks to prove itself by only looking at evidence that fits the belief. Mark had a filter that said friends can go away at any time, and he was seeing everything that happened through that filter. From that perspective, his experience of being excluded and ignored had only one possible explanation. In reality, however, the evidence was not truly pointing to him not being worthy of friends. Instead, it was actually pointing to a bad PlayStation.

We all have filters. Without them, we would be unable to process our experiences. One of the remarkable things about life, however, is that we get to choose our own adventures through the perceptions we hold about ourselves and the world around us. We have total freedom in this; the world is big and varied enough to hold a nearly infinite number of possibilities. We can choose filters that hinder us, or we can choose more positive ones that expand and bolster us.

Some clients tell me that it feels like cheating to simply choose a different perspective. “I can’t pretend that I’m successful when I have plenty of evidence that shows I’m not.” Remember though ― our evidence is collected through our filters. If your filter says you’re unsuccessful, you’ll ignore all of your successes and give special attention to anything that feels like a failure. And like Mark, you might even self-sabotage just to prove yourself right. Choosing a new filter doesn’t mean pretending, and it doesn’t mean changing reality. It just means paying attention to a different set of evidence that has been there all along.

Mark had a long-held story that people drop him on the spot, so he immediately assumed that’s what was going on this time, even though the evidence didn’t necessarily point that way. Had he taken a step back to look at the situation logically, instead of emotionally, he might have saved himself some sleepless nights and a lot of stress. And had his personal story been one of friends who value him, he might have looked at the PlayStation right off the bat.

Think of a situation in your life that you’re not happy with. What’s the story you have about it? Now, see if you can take out the emotions, and view the actual facts of the situation without any filters (easier said than done!). What would be the absolute best story through which to view that situation? Hold on to that, and see how things shift with your situation over the coming weeks.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer

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