Filters: Every Story Is Incomplete… & What To Do About It

“The wise man knows that he knows nothing.” ~ Socrates

Filters Everywhere... and What To Do About It

Strange title, I know.

It’s inspired by some feedback I’ve been getting recently. From two people in particular. Two particular misunderstandings.

Inspired by people who’ve been inspired.

People who’ve been inspired by me – or more particularly by my story.

I’m flattered that both people were inspired in some way, but actually, they weren’t inspired by my story.

They were inspired by part of my story.

That part of my story that they saw, heard or read about.

and that’s the problem with all stories

All of these things are subjected to heavy filtering.

Worth bearing in mind when we make decisions based on the stories we hear – whether it’s advice from a friend (who has a different situation than you do), a TV program, a book, a philosophy, an ideal or a conversation.

My Incomplete Story

To give you the first of my two specific examples (the second one is almost identical) it goes something like this:

“Alan, I was so touched and inspired by your story… I have 5 properties and a business and I’m going to give it all up and rent a little cottage in the countryside…”

I said pretty much the same thing in both cases:

“Whoaooah… hold your horses…”

She didn’t explicitly write ‘just like you’ but that’s what she meant, as I found out when I followed up with her. For the record what ensued was a skype call about property investment.

We both finished the call feeling better.

  • Her – that she could have a simpler life but keep some (pretty awesome) investments she already had but wasn’t using really efficiently.
  • Me – because I got the chance to clarify some of those assumptions.

Some Clarifications About My Incomplete Story

We didn’t sell up.

… and we don’t rent a cottage, I bought it.

In terms of business, somehow I’ve ended up creating one and making more business investments along the way too.

When we hear a story (or part of a story) it’s easy to draw conclusions and fill in the blanks. In my case, a couple of people have assumed that giving up life in London means we also gave up our London house. Nope. The fast paced life yes, the job, yes. The house, no.

We do have a simpler life in the countryside but I haven’t given up any assets, business interests or investments – I’ve just designed them to fit the lifestyle I want.

Anyone who’s read our book will know much more about our journey to the countryside and all of the considerations and decisions we made along the way.

For anyone else, in case you read something about my story (or anyone elses) then I’m afraid you’re going to be getting the very edited version – edited to whatever the requirements, perspective or limits of that post, email, interview or article.

All Stories Are Filtered Stories

Ever watch a documentary on TV?

Did it tell you everything you needed to know about the given subject?

Was it comprehensive, in-depth?

The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t really a documentary at all, that program would have been the subject of many edits, many reviews, many re-cuts and changes. The story wasn’t the full story at all – it had to be cut down to fit into it’s allocated time slot.

Books too are of course edited stories, they can never be complete – they are filtered by the authors experience, then by their editing, perhaps they are then further edited, by an editor – then you filter the story further yourself when you receive it with your own filters (which form your own unique view of the world).

So to simplify the point a little – there are two sets of filters

  1. those external to you, applied to the information before it’s presented to you – (they’re always there, guaranteed – they have to be)
  2. those you apply yourself (via your pre-conceptions, assumptions and limited attention span – you have to apply those filters too, you can’t help it)

They all make for an incomplete story.

But that’s OK.

What We Can Do About It

I’ll keep this brief.

This is the part you can take away, write on the back of a beer-mat and remind yourself about.

We can do 3 things.

  1. Remember that it’s all filtered – that we live in a world of incomplete information and uncertainty
  2. Get comfortable making decisions anyway – making decisions moves us forward, the worst thing you can do is wait until you have complete information, because you will never have complete information. Procrastination is the worst thing you can do. Get comfortable making decisions based on the (incomplete) information you have. Even better, make tiny decisions.
  3. Fill in the gaps – When you know that you have incomplete information but you feel it’s not enough, you can always seek more information, i.e. the fact that you know the story is incomplete empowers you. Empowers you to ask questions & find out more. In the example I gave above, more information was given, quite hastily, from me, to give a little more context to ‘my story’

I love it when things come in 3’s (actually we all do, it’s been proven by research, but let’s not go galloping off on that tangent right now – this is enough for today…)

Punchy, incomplete, but hopefully useful.


Filters: Every Story Is Incomplete… & What To Do About It — 4 Comments

  1. I totally know what you are talking about. On several occasionas i have been accused of either faking that i live in France or that I am some millionaire living in France because the readers made some assumptions about my story. The best one was that my husband fully supports me and i’m some arm candy. If only and I wish.

    I’ve felt compelled to write a financial post about how we can afford to do it just so the hate email will stop. I digress. πŸ™‚ Now i’m all worked up..

    • I’m still finding it really weird ‘being’ online. I’m getting used to it though. The combination of
      1. the missing ‘rapport’ you have in face-to-face communication,
      2. the fact I pointed out in this article that even if you told ALL of your story (from your point of view) it would still be incomplete and then subject to being filtered by the reader and
      3. the fact that the online world is full of people who deliberately are not being entirely honest
      makes for a very interesting concoction.

      I’ve seen plenty of interesting examples in comment sections around the web where readers are getting angry with the author for being something other than they expected or wanted them to be. People saying things like ‘you don’t understand because you’ve never been in my situation…’ – then (wrongly in my opinion) the author trying to find a way to explain how they have been or have had similar experiences – this explanation is unnecessary – of course they haven’t been in your situation because everyone’s situation is different! This is my story – take it or leave it!

      The mix up I often get is either between:
      1. having money/being ‘successful’ and saying money is over-rated (or I value wealth more) – people will say that’s easy to say when you’ve got it (though the fact is I gave up a successful career, regular income and worked hard to replace that – without using any savings – if I didn’t do that then the savings would be all gone & I wouldn’t have any!!)
      2. having money but living a very simple, modest life – some seem to associate a simple, modest life with being poor – like you’re doing it because you have to – whereas it’s a choice I think everyone should make because we all (rich or poor) tend to waste far too much these days, including spending time or energy on things that are not really important

      mini rant over πŸ˜‰

  2. 2 words – Misunderstanding and bias πŸ˜‰ The biggest disadvantage of having these filters.

    The stories are always incomplete, aren’t they? Because, like the post that someone else wrote earlier on your blog mentioned, our memories are not accurate (they can be changed, without our conscious consent). Like you mentioned, our expectations, beliefs and perceptions change our memories – they act as filters πŸ˜‰

    Same goes for telling a story (and absorbing the content from listening/reading a story). We aren’t getting the whole situation here πŸ˜‰

    It has its own advantages and disadvantages (we wouldn’t want to know too much about anyone and of course, not knowing the whole situation can encourage us to make a silly mistake).

    But, all in all, it’s all good πŸ˜‰

    As long as we keep in mind that what our memories tell us isn’t always true (And what we see/hear/listen/taste or smell too :D).

    • Hey Jeevan,

      you’re right! Both of those things are what come from our filters – whether consciously or sub-consciously, we can’t actually cope with all of the information we’re bombarded with every day, so we have to filter it. This is why we each have our own filtered view of the world (our own unique reality) and often see and interpret things differently.

      Yes! Here is the (very interesting) article that Isabelle wrote about our memories not always being accurate: How Your Memories Can Trick You – and What To Do About It…

      take care & thanks for the comment!


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