The Stories We Tell Ourselves


Last week I talked about the stories we live … then I saw this Monday Morning Memo written by my friend Roy Williams, which was worth sharing.


I am, by profession, an ad writer. I tell stories about people and products and services.

You do, too.

But because I get paid for it, I spend a lot of time considering — and measuring ­— the impact of stories.

Some of the stories I’ve told have made people an enormous amount of money.

But the most important stories I tell, by far, are the stories I tell about myself, to myself. Those stories are the source of my identity and the foundation of my purpose in life.

But we’ve talked enough about me.

I see something good in you and I’m calling it out.

Is it okay for me to do that?

Let us stare together into the eyes of the truth:

Whether good or bad, your current circumstances are temporary.
Success is temporary.
Failure is temporary.
Your future depends on your choices.
Your choices depend on what you believe.
What you believe is not determined by what you see and hear, but by how you interpret what you see and hear.
How you interpret what you see and hear is determined by the stories you tell yourself, about yourself.
Who do you believe yourself to be?
What do you believe about this world we live in?
What does the future hold?

Your mood, your attitude, and what happens to you next will be greatly impacted by your answers to those questions.

“If you want your baby to die with a name, you need to pick one now.”

The newborn had inhaled meconium during birth, the most the doctors had ever seen. His lungs were 95% full of it. The father and the baby rode with lights and sirens to Dell Children’s Hospital 30 minutes away, with the grandmother riding the back bumper.

The doctors at Dell looked at the x-rays and slowly shook their heads in disappointment.

The grandmother stayed with the newborn while the father went back to see his wife.

The mother was puzzled when the nurse showed her the baby’s birth certificate. She and her husband had been torn between two names for their new son and had agreed to choose the name after they met him.

The husband walked into the room.

She said, “I thought we agreed to talk about it before we chose the name.”

“Honey, Lincoln died. But Gideon overcame impossible odds. When they asked me his name, I said: ‘This boy isn’t Lincoln. This boy is Gideon.’”

When the specialist at Dell met with the parents the following day, he was holding two sets of x-rays. Holding up a film in his left hand, he said, “I have no explanation for it, but this baby…” Then he lowered that film as he raised the one in his right, “isn’t this baby.”

Gideon will be 8 years old on March 15 and he suffers no after-effects at all.

You may believe that what happened was going to happen anyway, and that belief in the power of a name is superstitious nonsense. That would be the logical, scientific belief, to be sure.

But do you really believe that beliefs have no power?

Beliefs are what separate Democrats from Republicans, Hindus from Muslims, stock market Bulls from stock market Bears, and scientists from storytellers.

Your beliefs are what make you who you are.
And your beliefs are determined
by the stories you tell yourself
about yourself.

You are not responsible for the beliefs of others.
You are responsible only for your own.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And I agree with him.

I also agree with Jack Kerouac. “But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”

Did you experience 5 years of life during the past 5 years?
Or did you experience 1 year of life 5 times?
Don’t let 2018 be the 6th straight year of 1 years’ experience.

Do something new.
Tell yourself a different story
about yourself.

And believe it.


  1. Susan Loeb January 7, 2018 at 5:03 am - Reply

    What great thoughts to begin a new year with! Inspirational! Thanks for the send-off!

  2. Nancy January 7, 2018 at 5:07 am - Reply

    Wow. The truth yes. Always good to be reminded we are responsible for our lives and our choices. So easy to get caught up in our minds and lose our perspective. Have a great day.

  3. Kim Sebrey January 7, 2018 at 5:18 am - Reply

    Thank you for this one and thank you friend that sent it to you.. the words I read are so spot on.. and spreading that message out to the masses will in no doubt help our collective energies to feel a positive wave.. oh that sounds so new agey but it works Thanks again I look forward to these writing every week..

    Happy NEW year

    Kim Sebrey

  4. Jan January 7, 2018 at 5:22 am - Reply

    February will be five years since a cab driver, taking my husband and me to O’hare for a vacation in Hawaii, had an accident; I lived my husband did not. It feels like it happened yesterday or a life time ago depending on the day. I left me back there and I need to choose a future for myself. Choose happiness at being able to see each day for both of us.
    Thank you for this story; It came at the perfect time for me.

  5. Vimala Arunachalam January 7, 2018 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Great Article. Inspired me much. Thanks.

  6. Cyndi Menton January 7, 2018 at 6:38 am - Reply

    A lot of wisdom! Thank you.

  7. Janet Bickham January 7, 2018 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this! I also shared it with my husband and grandson….very clear explanation!

  8. Barbara Andolsek January 7, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Best Sunday Morning Coffee ever…

  9. Schlesier Grace January 7, 2018 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Wow, Eric, another powerful message. Dawn Harrison, my new friend I met at Fall Color Week this fall, and I have decided to challenge one another with a painting a day through the month of January. It’s more about painting every day even if it’s just an hour.
    I’m learning, this is my joy, a fulfillment and this is me and happiness. Your Sunday Coffee is something I look forward to. I’m passing some along to family. They make a difference. Please keep them coming.

  10. Diane Appler January 7, 2018 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Great post. I’d love to forward it on to my readers in my newsletter- may I?

  11. Ana Maria Heit January 7, 2018 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Thank you so much. So true!!! We are what we believe and the stories we tell ourselves!!!

  12. Clark L Gussin January 7, 2018 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Right on!!!

  13. Julie Schultz January 7, 2018 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    That internal conversation is powerful and can steal the joy of living and being in the moment. It’s a mental fog that can prevent a person from tackling the dreams we have!

  14. D.A.. Davis January 7, 2018 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I have been enjoying your Sunday Coffee Emails. Thanks for the uplifting insights. I have been sharing them with family and friends!
    Keep up the good work!

  15. Andre Salzmann January 7, 2018 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Good Morning Eric,
    I am writing to you from South Africa again. The previous time I wrote, it was to warn you on being a vegetarian, to attempt making you
    aware of the pit falls of that styles of diet. Because of that letter of yours an idea developed in my head.

    I am of course an oil painter and also run my own business, trading in antiques and am in the manufacturing of wooden furniture, But the reason for writing you is that I suffer from serious kidney stone attacks and for that reason have been reading ( in my usual painting time,very early in the mornings and weekends) very seriously on Natural Health, every single day for the last 3 and 1/2 years to attempt finding and answer for these stone, as the normal medical profession seems to be at a total loss as to how to resolve this problem of mine.

    In this searching of the net, I came across an extremely good site on natural health run by a man called Dr Mercola at http://www.mercola.com. This site is interactive as it has a section for comments. The comments in themselves are often as valuable as daily articles. It is a very successful format and Dr. Mercola is obviously a very capable and intelligent guy.

    A huge part of the origin of today’s societies ill health seems in all honesty to be the rubbish we eat and the serious lack of effective
    quality control, when it comes to the development of modern medications because of the monetary incentives behind all of it.. Mercola
    has 3 to 4 articles a day, even on natural pet health, which are all archived and which one can access at any time and among’st which you will find substance for what I have said now. The natural health, organic movements etc., are very seriously in opposition to these
    genetically engineered, “big pharma” and health damaging industries on earth today, But, excepting for spreading the word, they are
    really impotent at managing anything effective in reducing the effects of these health damaging practices and industries.

    I studied mostly the US artists to be able to get my work to a level where I can compete with some success in the international competitions ( will be entering your competitions soon) and thus have a good background in what is transpiring art wise in the US. This is what has lead me to writing you this letter. The art competitions in the US, if they included a section on something like ‘Damage to the
    Environments and Health” could help carry the Natural Health theme a million miles farther than the health/organic organisations can on their own? I understand there are 2 million painters in the US today. An inter relationship between two such movements could be of huge benefit to the whole world ? I want to implore you to think on it and give the idea some thought. The Mercola site alone will already give you good guidance, that is why I approach you from that angle.

    Very Best Regards,
    Andre Salzmann,
    South Africa.

  16. Connie Luechtefeld January 8, 2018 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Terrific! This may just be the push we need to go live in Italy for a few months…. or one of the other many things we talk about doing but never seem to quite get them done.

    Thanks, Eric! I’m going to go look for some plane tickets!!!

  17. Carol January 10, 2018 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Your friend’s comments are so well stated and very much in line with my thinking since I was teen. Thank you so much for sharing this, Eric…your own life experiences have given you insights/stories that artists can read which provide excellent thoughts to ponder. As a typical teen, I was very happy reading and drawing and being with friends; however, there were times when I wasted time comparing myself to friends who were doing amazing activities I felt were beyond my abilities/ finances and I was reasonably sure I would not have the ‘happy life’ they were living…bummer thoughts.
    Fortunately, I heard some very uplifting ‘stories’ about folks just like me who turned their thoughts to gratitude for the little happy things in life (living in a free country, sunshine, the glimpse of a nice view, breathing and walking easily) and began to realize their ‘dreams, wants, etc,’ began to come true in small ways. Making a decision to begin every day with pleasant thoughts of gratitude is great…smile, think of some good person or thing in your life.
    Two year later at eighteen I began to internalize how brief our time here really is…why give circumstances outside your control (rude people, traffic, burned toast, etc.) power over your thoughts…ignore it and move on to good thoughts. Pursue your passion, try to be kind to the negative people who float your way and you are in charge of a happy life…to test this theory, the next time you’re in a line waiting your turn for something and a person next to you complains or seems agitated, think of a comment to lessen their angst…I get amazing reactions by saying…wow, you’re right, if we had gone to store X (where prices are much higher) they pay enough people to keep us speeding through this process! They act like they haven’t figured this out which amazes me. Then I say something unrelated like,”what do you think of this…?” While showing a product or referring to something on display? Faces relax and the anger subsides as they ‘get into a positive product thought’. Then I remark along the lines of, “isn’t is awesome to,live where we have so much to choose?” Time in lines speeds by as I try to get them sharing their favorite local businesses and why they like them. End result…new acquaintances become volunteers at our local art center they didn’t even know about and some end up buying art or taking lessons. All the sudden their turn in line arrives to pay…I’ve had people wait for me to check out so they can hear more about art activities in our town. They walk away looking quite pleasant.
    From age seventeen on I have realized very single positive goal that I have definitively stated and pursued. Wow, to this day, I feel abundantly blessed and quite frankly, amazed…there have been times of failure or deep sorrow, but I know the pain lessens with time as I enjoy the good art I see and produce, the great friends and family in my life, and daily recognition that my God is in control and wants me to have happiness as I follow His precepts. I can’t control others, only myself and the thoughts I tell myself each day.
    I’m so grateful to Eric for the fine art magazines and these letters he shares and to all the people who’ve mentored me to make positive choices daily!

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