Confusing Story with Reality: Repetition, Belief, and Truth

In real life, don’t confuse story with reality.


Story can be based in reality, and reality in story, but when the lines get crossed the track leads back to you.


We’ve all spent time with people who alter minor facts and details in a way that simple bad memory doesn’t explain. These seemingly harmless embellishments slowly convert reality to fiction.


For example:

A friend told someone how his and my first conversation lasted one hour. This was true.

Later, I listened to him mention to another how that same conversation lasted an hour and a half. Still later, it became two hours.

A gathering of three people grew to five. The original manuscript was 130 pages, then 180. And so on.

Though I corrected him the first time or two, I stopped upon realizing that my corrections were being taken as minor affronts to his reality. He’d come to believe what he said.

This person is an example of many. Innocuous “adjustments” made because in the excitement of retelling the story, they simply sound better.

Who doesn’t want a better story?

looking through a barbed wire fence

If we make life’s events into “a better story,” we lose touch with the true story. It slips out of our grasp like a fistfull of sand, held tightly and in vain.

Though we may first embellish deliberately, it often morphs into an unconscious adjustment. We begin—almost accidentally—to believe the fudged details. And we believe them honestly.

Repetition breeds belief.

A strange phenomenon. It’s evidenced large-scale in things like brainwashing (scientology, anyone?), but it’s in little things, too …

One Monday, I thought, “It’s too bad I missed Amber’s show on Friday, but I really needed to catch up with Jeff.” Then, I remembered: Jeff had cancelled last-minute. I could have gone to Amber’s show, but I decided to stay in. Since I’d spent days saying that Jeff was the reason I couldn’t go to Amber’s show, I recalled that as reality.

Or, when I tell myself I’m too tired or too unfocused to get something done. This is a story, not a reality. If a knife was to my throat, I would find a way.

Or, when we think we’re a certain type of person, like an introvert, but then something happens to make us realize we may have simply been lying to ourself all along.

(Sidebar: A positive effect of the repetition phenomenon can be seen with mantras, so this article isn’t to bash self-affirming “lies.” For example, I often tell myself “I’m having such a great time” at get-togethers as a way to quell shyness and engage.)

In the realm of Roadwritten, we speak of the creative quest.

Creation comes from sharing one’s personal brand of truth, be it through writing, painting, music, etc. If your creative output is built upon lies (however crimeless) the foundation cannot be strong. It’s too falsifiable.

That’s why it’s important to seek and to know yourself, because sometimes the lies lie uncovered. Sometimes they hide beneath a glistening, lovely veneer—a story masquerading as reality.

peeling veneer paint on a wall

How can you draw on and create from your experience if you let haze fall upon the truth of it?

If you can’t reach your truth, how can you share it? Yes, it can be painful. It can hurt to look at yourself. But you are who we want, and you are all you have to give us.

Besides, white lies are just a bad habit. Bad habits grow terribly well without water. You may be worried that if you don’t adjust minor details to make them more interesting, then what you have won’t be worthy of other people’s time . . .

But: You Are Enough.

You’re already fabulously interesting because there is literally nothing else like youyour immigrant father, the way you eat three peanut butter sandwiches a day, the insane dog that governs your life, the cache of snacks you travel with, the annoying way you pulse your foot on the gas pedal.

A religious housewife in Iowa at home all day with the kids might get wide-eyed upon hearing how, this year, I’ve slept in something like 28 beds/couches in over 10 different states or countries.

But I think of my life as pretty boring. It’s her inner world, her truth I want to understand. Does she question her faith? What does she think when the baby cries for the fifth time that morning? Why does she resent her husband?

The inner experience of one person is as foreign as it gets. On a personal level, we forget that. We’re so accustomed to our own thoughts and routines that they seem normal, ho-hum.

But they’re not. So, share them—the bona fide version. The vigilant and impeccable truth.


Because it’s enough.

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love. 

Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

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