Who wants a little story about how our brains cannot be trusted?
We've all heard tales of unreliable witnesses and watched friends mix and match two stories, but this one shocked me.
Last year I went on a really intensive coaching course with some of the most incredible thoughtwork leaders from around the world . There were many revelations and golden eggs lying around all over the place - and what was especially brilliant was we have all the videos to keep going back to do continue doing the work as the layers go deeper (we do this at SelfCareSchool too, but this is not about that)
I want to share a wonderful / agonising little experience which is a great example of how our brains lie as a reminder that maybe you should question some of the stories it is telling you are facts…
My small break out group was wonderful, full of inspiring, vulnerable open humans trying their best. One person in the group shared a story in which she was viciously brutal to and about herself. She was so unkind about her being it hurt to hear. Later on in the day, she shared another experience, and she mentioned something really beautiful, which she felt really reflected herself… and my brain went wild. I was like “That’s your key! You said you hate yourself and now you found beauty and you related it to yourself and you saw it AND LOOK - it is the first step to everything right there that you need…” and was so excited I broke all of the rules and I sent her a little DM and said “Hey I just noticed something in something you said, would you like me to share it?”. I KNOW I should not have, but that is what I did… and she did not respond. And then she turned her camera off. And then when we went back to the break out groups later on in the day, she had gone.
She left the group. And she never came back. And I felt awful. So bad. To the pit of my stomach sick that I had overstepped someone’s boundary so much that they needed to leave the group. That I had made someone feel unsafe. I was relieved to see her back in the main group, so realised she must have just asked to switch group, rather than leave, but it was still really out of order of me, and I did not know how to make it right without making it even more of an issue.
And it bugged me. It bugged me long after the course and even though I got lots of good things out of the course, this thing continued to make me feel sick to my stomach - that I had caused another woman to feel unsafe.
So a month or so goes past and the videos of the course are released and I begin to go through them over a period of time, and of course there are lots of things I want to go back over and lots of things I need to revisit for myself, but of course, this pain point it also in the back of my mind. Could I see something which would teach me how to not do the same thing again? Could I pick up on a facial expression, a moment a should have known or turned back, or could I spot the moment I overstepped and torture myself with that maybe?
And as I watched back though the videos I was absolutely stunned. She was not in my group. She had never been in my group. She was not there at the beginning and the reason she did not return is because she was in a completely different breakout group. I can see it, on the videos - she was somewhere completely different.
Now I have no idea how my brain jigsawed these “facts’ together at the time, maybe there was something said that I thought about responding to, or linked it to a difference face, or a different story, or heard something in a main group chat and pieced things together in the wrong order - but quite simply - it did not happen. This thing I had been really beating myself up about for weeks did not occur.
And of course this is not the first time it has happened, but it is rare that you have hard evidence to catch your brain out.
I thought I would share it here, as a little reminder to to people that your brain always pretends like it is the neutral fact recaller, when actually, it is as unreliable as the British weather.