“What happens is of little significance compared to the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.” –Rabih Alameddine
I attended a family business conference in London last year and we went on a field trip to the Thames Flood Barrier. The structure was filled with steep stairs and sharp angles, labeled by signs that read, “Mind Your Head.” While the intent of the signs was to alert us to pay attention as we moved about the structure, so as to not hit our heads, what instantly came to my mind was how little we pay attention to the impact of what is going on inside of our heads.
When was the last time you created the most amazing story in your head (full of characters, drama, and negativity) that was completely untrue? Unmanaged, our thoughts allow us to jump to the wildest of conclusions, often without any real data to support the outcome of the story. We create, design, and evolve the story until we can no longer separate truth from fiction.
The negative self-talk and stories we tell ourselves cause us to lose balance, and we begin to tilt. We become anxious and spiral out of control. And the longer we dwell on it, the deeper the spiral.
We ask ourselves, “What if…” and “If only…” as our insecurities and fears rise to the surface and threaten to derail us and our leadership. These insecurities may cause old behaviors to resurface or lead us to place blame and engage in the drama triangle. These insecurities can compromise relationships with friends, family members, and coworkers, and ultimately, compromise our leadership. We may lose all ability to be present, influence, inspire, and lead ourselves and others.
As leadership expert Tony Robbins says, “We are defined by the stories we tell ourselves.”
As Values Based Leaders, we must lead from our inner core in order to build a sense of healthy and realistic awareness around any given situation. We must “Mind Our Heads” and maintain control of our thoughts.
We must recognize what contradictions are at play. What am I letting myself see, hear or believe? What is the evidence present to support my story? When does this story become “bigger” than me? How do I pull myself out of the current story and rewrite a new one?
The following are steps towards learning to let go of the story and regaining a deeper sense of self:
- Breathe and allow oxygen to flow back into your brain for clearer thinking. Meditate, pray, go for a walk, or get some exercise.
- Assess yours and other’s well-being: Am I well rested? What is my state of mind? What else is going on with me? What else could be going on with them?
- Reflect on the situation, your behaviors and choices, and assess your personal alignment to your core values.
- Create a different ending to your story – move towards positivity and possibility.
- Let go of worry – it steals your joy and inner peace, and sacrifices your capacity to be present for others who may need you.
- Put things into perspective. So often, we lose perspective and hyper-focus on one small interaction or event. Try to think of the “big picture.”
- Run to the fire and face the situation before you get carried away. Do the right things in the right way – make a phone call, check-in, clear the air, and move on.
- Recognize that people have “human” moments, or what I call “fascinating moments.” You don’t own other people’s behaviors or choices and you don’t know what they are thinking. What you do own is your choice. You can take on their anxiety, and likely become anxious yourself. Or, you can reach out in genuine care and concern, but not take ownership of their problem. Help them see solutions and possibilities.
- Serve others – when you are in service to others, your own story becomes smaller.
- Remind yourself that everything is going to be okay.
Final thoughts: If today you realized that yesterday was your last day on Earth, did you own your story or did it own you? Did you live in a way that would produce “no regrets”? Life is short, and it is never too late to rewrite your story.