How Do You Change Your Stories?

Everyone has a story. Sometimes the story we tell becomes an explanation for why we don’t achieve the results that we want. The first challenge is to notice the stories we tell. The second challenge is to change our story so that what we speak about moves us to create what we want. Changing one’s story is not easy because the best stories are true, and they usually describe things for how they currently exist. We become additionally challenged because once we see things in a particular way, we have difficulty seeing them any differently.  For example, if you are looking for the negative, the negative is what you will see. If you are looking for what is positive, then the positive is most obvious.

Years ago when I was working with a chain of hospitals in the western United States, someone recounted this story during a class where we were talking about the stories that people tell and believe.

Jim was an administrative worker in a hospital who worked the day shift, and Eve worked in the same department on the evening shift.  They saw each other only five minutes every day when Jim left and Eve was coming to work.  Because the air circulation in the office was reduced after 5 p.m., Eve brought in a fan to circulate the air and cool the office.  After using the fan for a number of months, the fan broke.  Eve was certain that Jim had broken her fan, so she went to report it to her supervisor. 

“I know Jim broke my fan,” she said.

The supervisor responded, “How do you know that?”

“I just know he doesn’t like me and that he is out to get me,” Eve retorted.

A few days later, a wire was hanging out of the fan, so Eve went to report that to her supervisor.  “Jim has opened up my fan and wired it so that when I turn it on, it will explode or burn down the office,” Eve reported.

Eve’s supervisor, shocked at such an accusation, asked Jim if he indeed had done anything to Eve’s fan.  To which he replied, “No, I don’t know anything about her fan.”

The supervisor reported to Eve that Jim didn’t know anything about her fan. “Of course he’d say that,” Eve replied.

To continue to cool her office, Eve called plant services and had them deliver a fan to cool the office on her shift.  After about two weeks, the fan disappeared.  Again Eve called her supervisor.  “Jim’s taken my second fan.  I just know he’s done it.”

Doubting that Jim was involved, the supervisor called plant services to ask where the fan had gone.  She was told that they had needed the fan for a patient, so they came and got it from Eve’s office.  When the supervisor told Eve that plant services had taken the fan, all she could say was, “I know Jim had them come and take the fan.”

This amusing story makes a wonderful point. Once Eve had decided that Jim was to blame, it didn’t matter what happened or what data was acquired, Jim was always responsible for her fan problems. Like Eve we sometimes decide how things are and then continue to see things a certain way because that is the way we want to see them.

In order to change your stories and achieve different results, there are a number of steps that you might follow:

Notice your stories. When things don’t turn out as planned or when you begin to become emotional, there is usually a story that will shortly follow. You can’t manage what you can’t see. You must start to notice the stories that you tell before you can change them. You might also notice how often you tell the same story over and over again but to different people. Noticing this pattern of behavior will help you to become more aware of the stories you tell.  

Notice your words. Pay attention when you start to use words such as, “what if,” “because,” or “but.” “What if’s” usually signal that you are projecting into the future what may happen when there is no evidence in the present other than what you believe might happen. For example, if someone said, “What if I get fired for giving him feedback?” you could bet that the individual would not speak up because they decided that doing so would cost them their job.

Also, notice when you start to use “because” or “but.” The word “because” is usually the signal that a story will follow. “But” is used to negate everything that came before it. For example, “That is a good idea, but…” really says, "I don’t agree with you and here is why." The “why” is usually a supporting story that follows the use of “but.” If you can notice the words you use, you can also begin to identify when you are telling a story.

Challenge your reality. When you notice that you are telling stories, identify if there is any data or evidence that supports the story. If there is no data, then what you are telling yourself may be incomplete or inaccurate. Remember that the data we observe becomes the basis for what we think. You will want to pinpoint the data that gave rise to your thinking. If there is no evidence to support your thinking, then you know that you are making assumptions.

Control your thoughts. Often it is our thoughts that get us in trouble, especially if our thinking is not accurate. You can assess the accuracy of your thoughts by asking yourself, “Is my thinking absolutely true or accurate?  Do I have complete information?” If you are honest with yourself, then you will likely find you are making assumptions based on incomplete or erroneous data. Also, be sure that you are considering all of the data, including that which doesn’t support your current assumptions.   

Interpret rationally. Our actions are driven by our thoughts. The challenge becomes to try to rationally interpret the acts or motives of others and ourselves. Deliberately stopping to determine your rationale or the possible reasoning of others requires deliberation and contemplation. It will also help you identify what you don’t know and what you need to find out.    

Think positively. Because negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, words and actions, it is important to recognize your own negative thoughts in order to think positively. Looking for the positive instead of the negative will help you to start to see things in a more accurate way. When negative thoughts control the moment, you might ask yourself, “What would explain this person’s behavior in a positive or logical light?” This is an attempt to think rationally and to give yourself the opportunity to select a positive thought.  

Tell a different story. If you take the time to change your thinking, then you can begin to tell stories that are more accurate and positive. Instead of rehearsing what comes most easily, identifying the positive and telling a more authentic story will take a conscious attempt on your part. Shifting the way you describe yourself or the efforts of others has a much greater impact on creating what you really want than wallowing in the negative.

Take a present perspective. Telling your stories as if they are currently happening will help create the results you want. For example, you might say, “I am learning how to treat people more respectfully,” or “I create respect by listening deeply to others to improve my relationships.” Using the presence tense and being specific can have a powerful impact in attracting and creating the results you desire.  

Results show up in the way that we think and speak about them. By recognizing how your current thinking is contributing to the current outcome and making a concerted effort to be more positive, you will find that the energy about you and your behavior will create that which you desire most. Positive thinking, speaking, and behaving has the power to make a real impact on the quality of your life and your results.

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Samantha Hayes | May 22, 2015 | REPLY
Excellent read!!!