We have season tickets to a local theater and love going to the plays with some friends. For years I've called this couple before the run of the play, determined when we could all go together, and then made our reservation. But the other day I got a text from them saying they had made their reservation for the next play and if we wanted to come with them this was the time they were going. Well, the time was a weekday matinee when Mr. J works and so we couldn't go. As I read the message I began to feel the vexation rising in me. "They know Mr. J works and can't go at that time. They shouldn't have done that. They must be trying to get out of going with us. That was rude after all these years that I've taken the time to include and even do the reserving for them. They must not want to be friends with us anymore." (Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! You get the idea!)
As those Should Sharks began to swim through my mind, I realized what I was doing and that it would not accomplish one single good thing. All those Should Sharks would do is cause me pain, and so I changed the story I was telling myself to, "Since they are both retired they must have forgotten that Mr. J is still working. They just didn't think about it. And even if they did think about it and don't want to go to the plays with us anymore, then I don't want to be hanging on to our relationship if they no longer enjoy our company. Everything is fine."
Granted, this is a small, inconsequential problem, but it illustrates how we create meaning out of the things that happen to us. Something happens and we begin to tell ourselves a story. The simple Truth is that they reserved tickets at a time we couldn't go. Why? I have no idea, and by making up a negative story I cause myself Unnecessary Pain. All I have to do is deal with the simple Truth. In this case I decided to live with it, and reserved our tickets at a time we could go. No pain. No vexation. No Should Sharks because I invented no story. (Or at least I didn't cling to the story I had begun to tell myself!)