One of my favorite sayings is “When your story stops working, make up a new one.” I honestly don’t remember whose wisdom I am repeating, but it is so powerful on many levels. First, it implies that we are constantly making up stories to explain the people and the world around us.
Second, it puts you in the driver’s seat as the chief storyteller. The world does not happen to you. Rather, you get to create the world around you.
The book Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow talks about how our brains are continuously taking in stimuli and filling in the gaps to make meaning and constructs. Everything we observe is literally made up in our minds. So, what is real?
When I listened to the recording of last month’s book discussion on Sapiens by Yuval Harari, the facilitator of the session (and good friend), Tommy Zarembka really got us thinking. Tommy introduced the concept of “imagined order.” Yuval describes imagined order as “based neither on ingrained instincts nor on personal acquaintances but rather on belief in shared myths.” A few coaches on the call commented that they help their clients step away from being in the myth and notice the myths in a different light. This approach helps clients change their mindsets and achieve new results. For example, if someone believes a myth that they’re not good enough and will never succeed, they may begin to focus on the times when they were successful and begin to disrupt this myth about themselves. As the coaches were explaining this concept of disrupting a myth, Tommy asked, “So coaches, let me ask you, are you saying that you’re helping your clients reimagine another imagined myth?” Brilliant question! To which I say, “Yes!” It’s all made up in our minds anyway, so why not choose the story or myth that is going to bring you the most joy, calm, and happiness?
How do you change your story?
This notion of being able to create a new story is so simple, yet extremely powerful. This can change someone from feeling helpless to hopeful. This technique, if you can call it that, not only works to help you change your own view but can also work when dealing with ‘difficult’ people around you. Many years ago, I was co-facilitating training for a group of 20 people, including one woman who had a very negative disposition. From the moment she walked in the training classroom, the coffee was too cold, the room was too hot, she had to take the bus home because of car troubles, etc. It was an endless complaint session, and we still had 20 minutes before the workshop even started!
I turned to my colleague and said sarcastically, “This is going to be a fun day.”
To which my colleague replied, “Must be hard to live that way.”
My story about this person is that she was a complete grouch and poor me was going to have to manage her negativity all day while trying not to drain my energy in the process. My colleague, however, choose a different story. One of empathy, to think how much energy the woman must spend worrying and noticing and absorbing all the negative things happening to her. Hearing my colleague’s story, my entire attitude towards this ‘difficult’ person changed. Suddenly, she wasn’t my problem to own, manage or try to fix. Instead, I felt bad for her, but allowed her to own her own negativity. I was able to let it go and focused on the other 19 people who were very engaged and ready to get the day started.
The best part of our imagined order or myths, as Yuva Harari labels it, is that it is just that, imagined.
What stories are you holding onto that no longer serve you?
What new story are you ready to make up?