In our last post we began exploring the details of our roles as the primary story generators in our own lives. Based on a continuing slew of studies we reference in our book Thriving in Business and Life, we suggested that all of us are making up stories all the time about pretty much everything.
In fact, we’re actually living those stories, rather than having a purely objective experience of “facts.”
The bottom line? Life and what we call "reality" is subjective . . . far more so than we may be comfortable acknowledging.
In this post, we’ll progress into more of the mechanics of how our brains translate the stories we generate into the experiences we have. And, we’ll give you a key for making important changes that can put you back in charge of your own story creation.
With that in mind, here’s a question to ponder:
What if you could learn to create stories that enable you to effectively handle challenging situations while consistently engaging your colleagues and family members in shared success and satisfaction?
Does this sound like a tall order?
Or, you may already be doing this.
The question is, are you doing it regularly and intentionally?
What many people don’t realize is that our brains experience the stories we make up as if they were real. How is that possible?
According to psychologist, Pamela B. Rutledge,
“To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, a sense of being somewhere, and behavioral responses.”
What’s equally amazing is that from watching real-time MRIs, researchers can see that even when we imagine ourselves or another person performing some action, our brain lights up just as if we were performing the act ourselves.
This tells us that storytelling is a powerful ability . . . so powerful that top athletes and musical performers utilize visualizations to practice and improve.
Now, having learned how powerful your story-making ability is, pause to ask yourself this question:
“How often am I making up stories throughout the day?”
Follow up with an even more important question:
“What type of stories am I generating?”
To make this real, pick one current situation where you are experiencing regular frustration. All of us can come up with a few of these.
Perhaps a colleague is being difficult; maybe it’s a direct report, or trouble with a family member. Maybe it’s persistent problems with a career situation, a policy, or a system. It could be your car or computer or phone. Pick one.
Now, imagine yourself right in the middle of the frustrating situation, and ask yourself:
“What are my thoughts about this individual or activity?”
Your thoughts about that situation or the people involved are the result of a story running in the background of your mind.
Where did that story come from?
You created it, probably unconsciously.
How did that story impact what happened?
It influenced your attitude, your beliefs, and your behavior about what was going on. And, that story determined the choices you made.
So, if it’s true that the story you generated about what was happening determined the way you experienced what was happening, how do you change your experience?
You create a different story. One that opens the door for more possibilities and for a more producitve outcome.
Easier said than done, you might say, and you’d be right, at least partially.
It’s true that well-entrenched habits are difficult to change. Difficult . . . but not impossible.
It’s simpler than you might think and we can tell you in a single word:
Anyone who works out in the gym knows the power of “reps.” Reps means repetition. You don’t perform a lift just once. Or, occasionally and just when you feel like it. You do it and you repeat it, over and over again. Plus, you increase your reps when you can.
That’s how you change your body.
Your mind changes the same way. You think and rethink, you do your mental “reps.” Successful people know this.
In their autobiographies, regardless of whatever else they attribute their achievements to, they all invariably mention one ingredient: “persistence.”
Of course, to get the results we want we must apply ourselves to the situation we want to change. Back to our gym analogy, you wouldn’t expect changes in your upper body muscles by working your lower body.
Likewise, with increasing your mental fitness and using your mind to create a different experience. Your attention must focus on the exact area of need. That’s why we encourage you to examine your life to discover areas where you are only surviving and, for the sake of this exercise, pick one to work on.
Your next assignment—should you choose to accept it—builds on last week's challenge, where we invited you to select one aspect of your working experience that is challenging you and ask yourself:
“What story am I telling about this situation?”
We invited you to acknowledge that since this situation is problematic, you could experiment with changing your story about it. We suggested that you create a new story to see what might change.
This is one of the unique aspects of the Thriving Leadership Game that we’ll be releasing in the first quarter of 2018. You play it while you live, taking on weekly Game Challenges that you engage in throughout the week, as you go about your day.
Here’s an example. It’s a the follow up from last week and is your thriving challenge for the week ahead:
Having selected an area and created a new story about it,
deliberately repeat the story in your imagination
as often as you remember to.
For instance, every time you see the person
or engage with the situation.
Create some simple catch phrase to jog
your memory and focus your thoughts, like:
“I respect and admire (Maureen).
We’re learning how to work well together.”
Then act from that new state of mind.
And remember . . . not just once.
You have to do your reps!
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding