Good morning from the front porch swing of the sweet little home where we are staying in St. Augustine, our nation’s oldest city. The sun is rising, the birds are singing, and I am currently looking out at a row of friendly houses, their yards framed with ivy-covered picket fences and their rich history of stories ripe for our imaginations as we walk the neighborhood numerous times a day, taking in every little detail in the architecture of these charming streets.
“I bet there are ghosts in that one,” Lainey suggests for every other house.
“That one looks like something you’d love,” Brett points out as we pass one with a particularly lovely front porch. “Old and decrepit,” he adds laughing.
It’s been a little while since our family has taken a vacation together, and while it is my most favorite thing in the world to adventure together away from home with this crew, it is also a great opportunity to observe the make-up of our family under the microscope without the distractions of daily routines that smooth out our edges.
I am fascinated by the power of the mind–or maybe it’s just mine–that so quickly wants to write narratives and even more quickly finds evidence for those narratives. Vacation is the perfect time for my brain to write narratives, and here are some examples of how simple observations can turn into dangerous stories if I let them (I don’t).
Observation: I said yes to all the glorious local treats on Day 1 of vacation, and my pants are consequently a little tight.
Story brain immediately tries to write: You are out of control, nothing fits; this is the downward spiral of your body.
Evidence Collecting Process if I buy the story: Brain is on high alert and notices everything–the way things fit, the way I feel, that glance in the mirror, etc.–as evidence for its story. “Ughhh, I shouldn’t have eaten that” is repeated multiple times a day to keep the story going. Everything is usable evidence, and I’ll be reminded multiple times a day that the story my brain is trying to tell me is true. Major damper on happy vacation vibes.
Observation: Dash looks so old! He’s changed so much since last year.
Story brain immediately tries to write: Time is going by too quickly, we’re all getting old, the kids will be moving out of the house tomorrow, and the window to this phase of motherhood you’ve loved is closing so fast.
Evidence Collecting Process if I buy into the story: Stare at kids all day, imagining this time gone. Every look they give, every phrase they say, every move they make is evidence for “see-they are changing too fast.” Happy moments suddenly become sad because they are fading. Scarcity mind grips tightly to everything, scared of losing it. Major damper on happy vacation vibes.
Observation: Brett is sleeping in on vacation while the kids and I are already ready, have eaten breakfast and are anxious to start our first adventure.
Story brain immediately tries to write: He’s always like this. You do everything. He does nothing. You’re too different. You have passion for life, he doesn’t.
Evidence Collecting Process if I buy into the story: Every thing he says and every move he makes suggests that yes, I do everything and am more passionate about life. We carry on throughout the day while I simultaneously (and exhaustingly!) gather evidence for my case. Silence treatment involved. Conclusion: we are doomed. Major damper on happy vacation vibes.
Do you see how this works? If you tell yourself that no one likes you before you walk into a room of people, you will see nothing but proof of your story. Every mannerism, every whisper, every comment will be noticed as hostile and suggestive that yes, you are definitely despised. If you enter that exact same situation with the mindset that you are loved and accepted, you will give everyone the benefit of the doubt–of course that comment was not meant to hurt you because that person is not out to get you, and you are loved!
I find the antidote for not buying these dangerous narratives isn’t just shutting them down. It’s replacing them with powerful narratives that make me feel grateful and happy–ones that keep my brain busy collecting evidence with the same ferocity it attempts with the negative stories.
When I look at my family on vacation–flaws and all–and tell myself, “We are so lucky to make these memories together–this is so much fun!,” everything that follows becomes evidence, solidifying my story. The coffee I enjoy on the front porch. The way we hold hands on our walk. The way Lainey tips her head back when she laughs at Dash. The satisfaction in the observation that we all can fit on one bed to watch a movie at night. The delight on Dash’s face on our carriage ride throughout the city. The feeling of Nella curled up, sleeping next to me ten minutes into Despicable Me 3. Gratitude for Brett’s relaxation and the fact that he feels comfortable enough in this cozy little house to sleep in.
One of my favorite things about vacation is choosing my narrative and having a long stretch of time and space together to collect evidence. There’s a walk to breakfast now begging for delightful details to be noticed…more from St. Augustine soon!