Is Your Story Real? How to avoid mental spam 

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Our previous interview with Remco Vrielink, where we discussed the role of integrity in our personal and professional lives, has been one of the most-read posts on the Mash Blog. Remco has influenced not only our readers but even our staff with his advice. So, we invited Remco back to the Mash Blog for another intricate discussion: separating “story” from “reality”.

Remco Vrielink

Remco Vrielink
Personal Development Coach

S.E. SEVER: Remco, you once mentioned the importance of separating your story from reality. How exactly do you define the border between story and reality? When does reality become a story?

Remco Vrielink: Reality is simply the facts. It’s what happens or does not happen, what you do or you don’t do. A Story is the interpretation of those facts, the meaning we give to it, the descriptions, the opinions, justifications and ideas we have about things, people and events.

By Story, I don’t mean a beautiful fiction piece created by a writer. I mean a label, description, projection, explanation or opinion; that’s what Story stands for in this context.

Most people live most of their time in the domain of Story and are often not aware of it. They make their decisions and base their actions on a particular form of story about things, others, themselves, or life in general. They don’t relate to Reality as it is, but they relate to the story they have about it. However, that idea, or Story as we call it, has no power to impact Reality.

S.E.: Interesting. What is the danger of relating ourselves to these stories?

Remco: The danger occurs when we are not aware that we are living in the Story we have created about something, someone or ourselves. Or, when we unconsciously buy into our own stories.

Let me give you an example: imagine a young writer sitting in a cafér. He sees a famous publisher sitting just across from him, having a coffee alone. He thinks about talking to him, but finds himself thinking “I’m not prepared for a pitch, I’ll screw it up, he would never publish someone like me,today is not really my day, I am not at my best, this shirt doesn’t really look that presentable, and so on.”

Now, let’s examine the facts (Reality) here, as they consist of a writer, a publisher, a bar, etc. But still, is this young man likely to approach the publisher? No. Why not? Because—like most people—he is probably not going to relate to the mere facts, but instead relate to his Story about the facts. He literally IS in his Story and not in Reality. And that is how most people live their lives: in their Stories about themselves as well as others. They waste their time with events and issues that are simply Stories.

S.E.: How can we get this young man back to Reality, then?

Remco: He needs to realize that the voice in his head, the voice that is telling him “don’t even dare; if you try, you’ll fail” is just what it is: a voice in his head. It has very little to do with Reality. It is just like spam. If he could see it that way, the voice in his head would not have so much power over him, it would be no more than some noise in the background. While that radio with those nagging voices was playing in the back of his mind, he would be able to walk up to the publisher and start a conversation.

The important point here is: he doesn’t even need to change his Story. He doesn’t need to think positively about himself or create a different Story about the situation. While he is thinking what he is thinking, he can initiate a conversation with the publisher. Because what he thinks—his Story—and what he does—Reality—are two different domains that never cross. His ability to talk to the publisher does not depend on the Story that is running in his mind.

Just like spam emails or emails containing a virus, which cannot infect our computers unless we open them, these Stories we tell ourselves unwillingly—aka our spam thoughts—cannot (and should not) prevent us from getting where we want to be!

S.E.: I like that idea, but I also find it hard to digest, because all of us simply process our thoughts in one ‘folder’. We don’t have sophisticated algorithms like Gmail to filter spam. How can we know when we’re being spammed with Stories?

Remco: There are three questions you can ask yourself to check that. And asking just one of them would give you the answer:

  1. Do I remember having chosen to think this thought I’m thinking right now?
    If not, if you are not the author of the thought; it must be spam. Another alternative is to ask yourself this question:
  2. If I were to choose my thoughts and feelings right now, what would I choose to think or feel?
    If the answer that you come up with is not the same as what you find yourself thinking (or feeling) then it is spam.
  3. Is this the absolute truth or is it a truth that I say or think?
    This question will allow you to strip the Reality from any Story that you may be coming up with.

All these questions will trigger a level of self-awareness that will help you avoid mental spam.

S.E.: I’ve been using an app called Mindfulness Bell; it chimes throughout the day at regular intervals to remind me to scan my posture as I spend an unhealthy amount of time sitting in front of my laptop. Could I use this app to scan my thoughts?

Remco: Yes, self-awareness is a great tool. To become aware of what is happening on the mental, emotional, and physical levels can help us remember that our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations are transient. They come and go, without us having much say in the matter. Like the stories writers create, they cannot have much substance or truth.

Self-awareness can definitely help us to create a detached relationship with the thoughts that we did not initiate.

S.E.: What about if we were dealing with a loved one who was agitated by their mental spam?

Remco: There are couple of things you could do:

  1. Ask them an open question. Let’s say your loved one is being absorbed in a Story that she/he cannot resolve. The Story is: I can’t. A powerful open question here could be: if you were free to choose your next step, what would it be?
  2. Or try reverse psychology. Imagine a friend of yours is being bothered by a Story: I can’t. A possible response could be: that is true, you can’t. And then look at her/him with a smile. :-)

S.E.: Remco, I believe what you’ve just shared with us is a life-changing concept. Realizing that our thoughts are no more than Stories and have no direct power over our Reality can be a very powerful tool. But I think it will require a lot of time and brainpower to change the way we perceive our own thoughts.

I would like to thank you for sharing this eye-opening concept with us. I’m curious what our readers will have to say.

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S.E. is the Founder of Mash Stories. She has had short stories published in fiction magazines across the US and the UK. One of her stories was included in The Subtopian: Selected Stories. Her poetry book, Before Me, is published by Thought Catalog Books, New York. She is currently working on a science fiction novel called Split Watch. You can read some of her short stories and poems at

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