The Story of “Mine”

Last week I was on an airplane next to a woman eating Pringles. Though they smelled delicious, I did not reach over and take one.

Illustration: can of pringles

Why? Because they were “hers.”

I never even considered having one. The only thought I had about the Pringles was that I wished she’d put the lid on the can; smelling made me want one and I couldn’t have one.
Why? They were “hers.

Makes sense, right? …Until you consider the chocolate chip cookie I bought this afternoon. I ate half the cookie and then put the other half down, asking myself, nicely, not to finish it because I wasn’t hungry anymore.

But what does HUNGER have to do with chocolate chip cookies?? Please. Do you know the last time you ate half a cookie? Because I sure don’t. In my case, I’m not sure it’s ever happened.

What I found striking was that when the chocolate chip cookie was “mine” I could barely resist it. But when the Pringles were “hers” it would have taken near famine for me to reach over and grab one. That’s crazy! In both cases, I’m sitting two feet from a delicious snack food seductively calling my name. In one case, I need all the self-control I can muster, and in the other, I need none. It must be then, that I believe the cost of taking the woman’s Pringles, even asking for one, so far outweighs the delight, that I never even consider it.

But is the cost so much less for eating a cookie I’m not hungry for? For one thing, I’m stealing my future self’s cookie, by eating it now. So in some sense, it’s the same thing. I’m also stealing my present self’s truth; she knows she doesn’t really want the cookie, she just believes she can’t resist it.

Comic: Parent reading their child a story

Why is the story of “mine” so powerful as to trick me into doing something I don’t want to do? And why is the story of “hers” so powerful as to give me the self-control I so often wish I had? As my housemate, Joanna, often says, “The world is not made up of atoms. It’s made up of stories.” In this case, she’s exactly right, because the atoms are nearly identical: a woman (me) within arms reach of a tasty snack. But the stories the woman is telling herself about what’s happening are completely different and result in completely different inner experiences.

The moral of all this could simply be: Whoa, stories are like, crazy powerful. But there’s another moral, because in the end, I did NOT finish the cookie.

I had had a belief that I couldn’t resist it. But when I remembered the Pringles on the plane, I realized that I absolutely could, if I connected with the right reasons. In the case of the Pringles, the reason was that they weren’t “mine,” they were “hers.” In the case of the cookie, it wasn’t really mine either, in that moment, because I didn’t want it to be. It belonged to my past self, who bought the cookie when she was hungry for it, and my future self who might want it again. Or maybe to Joanna, who magically said, hours later, “I wish I had a cookie right now.” And I actually, stunningly, had (some of) one to offer.

Photo: A Cookie