As human beings we are storytellers. This has given us a rich world in books, TV and movies. Unfortunately, we also apply this love of storytelling to our own lives.
Often, there is some occurrence that we don’t fully understand. Rather than waiting for things to be explained, or even more simply just asking, we generally prefer to make up some grand and convoluted story.
Let’s look at an example of this. We send a message to someone, see it is marked read. However, they fail to respond for several days. What do we decide is the most likely cause?
- They suddenly hate you because last Tuesday you were late to coffee and didn’t listen to their story about their mother-in-law and now they are purposely ignoring you,
- Despite being friends for years and having a very similar sense of humor, they suddenly think whatever you wrote is in terrible taste and they refuse to respond,
- They saw it, but were too busy to respond and then forgot about it.
All too often, we go with options 1 and 2. By the time the person responds, we’ve decided we are no longer friends and are either angry or heartbroken. All this despite the fact that 9 times out of 10 they will simply say, ‘oh I forgot’.
So how do we stop doing this to ourselves? How can we cut down the storyteller in our head that gets us all worked up?
Occam’s Razor is a philosophical tool stating the simplest explanation is always the most likely.
Thus, when our brain gets off and running, we can use Occam’s Razor to ask ourselves, ‘what is the simplest explanation for this situation?’
In our example above, 3 is clearly the simplest explanation. Using this tool, we would choose 3 as being the most likely cause of our friend’s delayed response until further information is presented.
- Notice you are storytelling and creating an emotional response.
- Stop the thoughts by labeling them as storytelling, and recognizing that they are unfounded and not based on real facts.
- Apply Occam’s Razor to determine the most logical explanation for your situation.
- Notice if your brain starts storytelling again, and label the thoughts and provide your best explanation.
- Use self-soothing mechanisms if needed.
- If you cannot refrain from storytelling, get more information. As humans we are terrible at managing uncertainty. It is okay to seek more information. Just come about it from a place of not knowing rather than from your story (usually about what a terrible person they are). You can say things like ‘I’m making x mean that…’ or ‘I don’t understand why x is happening and I can’t help assuming the worst.’ Sometimes I’ll seek to verify my Occam’s Razor assumption. The next day I may text back, ‘bad timing?’
This tool is incredibly useful in all aspects of life in which the storyteller gets riled up. It can prevent jealousy, anger, heartbreak, suspicion all simply by choosing the simplest explanation rather than the story.
The second piece however is this- we like the story. We like the drama. We like feeling righteous, wronged and morally superior. This is why we all love to watch soap operas and dramas on TV. The emotional roller coaster is one we like.
This piece Occam’s Razor cannot cure. You simply have to choose not to let yourself indulge in the drama.