It can be extremely tempting to fall in love with your own story. Reviewing the past, our egos construct narratives to explain successful, failure, or why you are poised for an ultimate triumph. Author and economist Nassim Taleb coveys how this line of thinking is problematic through the Narrative Fallacy or Narrativity.
“The fallacy is associated with our vulnerability to over-interpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representations of the world.” Nassim Taleb
In his book, Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday warns that the habit of “crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It’s also dangerous and untrue. Writing our own narrative leads to arrogance. It turns our life into a story – and turns us into caricatures – while we still have to live it.”
When we live in a story of our own making, we are invariably the hero of the tale, setting everyone else up as straw men, windmills and underdeveloped supporting characters. It magnifies our own influence in our lives and marginalizes the importance of God and randomness.
Albert Hesketh, the antagonist of Louis L’Amour’s Comstock Lode, is a prime example of the Narrativity victim. “He returned to his room and ordered a pot of tea. He hated the stuff, but to him there was something cool and elegant about it. When the story was told, it would sound very good. ‘What did Mr. Hesketh do? He simply returned to his room and ordered a pot of tea. You know how he is. Nothing disturbs Mr. Hesketh.’ That was what they’d say, or something like it.”
L’Amour shows a foolish man who’s full of his own story, oblivious to the fact that even as he choreographs his life, no one is paying the slightest attention to it.
Do you fall prey to Narrative Fallacy?
3 Practical Steps to Overcome Ego Inflation through Narrative Fallacy
Remember the facts
Part of the danger of being the author of your own story is distorting the past with your own revisionist history. An accidental success may tweak his past to reflect the future glories he would achieve. Many of the stories of a youthful Andrew Carnegie suffer from this malady, featuring a young Andrew showing pluck and ingenuity above those of most boys.
Keeping the truth in mind you will keep your feet grounded and your story honest.
Focus on the job
If our attention is placed where it should be, on doing the right things, living a good life or even just doing our job the best that we can, we are less likely to waste time crafting the narrative of our success. Ryan Holiday advises, “Instead of pretending we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution – and on executing with excellence.”
Leave your story to others
Many of our best biographies about fascinating people have a common thread: They are not autobiographical. The stories of great men and women are best told by the unbiased, who are willing to explore faults and mistakes that the subject might object to revealing himself. This is significant when you consider that the mistakes are frequently the most important part of a life story. Revealing mistakes can help the reader from making the same ones in the future.
Remember, your deeds will always sound greater from the lips of another. If your story is truly worth telling, wait for another to tell it.
To hear more from Terrance, check out the Intellectual Agrarian Podcast.