“So how are things?” I asked James. He’s a Marketing Director in a big corporate organisation. “You know, same old, same old,” came his terse reply. He quickly rubbed his hand across his face and looked drawn. “Well if I’m honest, I just feel like I’m going around in circles,” he confided. “Tell me more about these circles?” I enquired.
“So how are things?” I asked James. He’s a Marketing Director in a big corporate organisation.
“You know, same old, same old,” came his terse reply.
He quickly rubbed his hand across his face and looked drawn.
“Well if I’m honest, I just feel like I’m going around in circles,” he confided.
“Tell me more about these circles?” I enquired.
“Well we’re delivering our sales targets which is good, but folk always seem to be whinging about something. I spend half my time justifying what we’re doing here in the marketing department.”
“What’s that like?” I asked
He explained that he was working in a complex organisational structure with brand teams reporting directly to him. He also had multiple interactions with other functional heads, across a matrix structure and he was reporting into the CEO.
However James had a nested loop of stories running amok in his head. In these narratives he was being attacked and persecuted by people, despite his hard graft. He was the protagonist – an exhausted hero with more than his fair share of villans and demons and too few guardians.
I was less concerned with the content of the stories than the way that James was constructing them. His beliefs about himself and other people where evident from the stories he was telling himself.
“James, you know these stories are not true,” I said.
“Huh, I can tell you – they are,” he urged. “Let me show you the email I got from our Sales Director this morning…….”
“Let me explain,” I said
“There are always undisputed facts, such as people sending certain emails or taking certain actions. But the only meaning that things have is the meaning that we give them. When we add negative meanings to what we observe we can quickly end-up with a whole book of disempowering stories.
Fortunately or unfortunately – the stories we tell ourselves are the stories that we live by. We create our own experiences of life – it’s an inside job!
We talked about how these stories were keeping James stuck.
The more he tells them to himself the more he reinforces his beliefs about the way things are and the more stuck he feels. His thinking is creating his experience because that’s the way our minds work. James’s perspective has become narrowed, contracted and focused on things that create tension for him. He’s spinning the cogs of his mind in a mire of muddy thoughts.
Then James pauses and breaks into a smile. He has an insight. The penny drops that these stories are not true – they’re a reflection of his subjective thinking. That’s what stories are positive or negative. And for James they were the source of his suffering.
Then, he leans back in his chair, folds his arms behind his head, stretches out his legs into a more relaxed position and starts to laugh. “Bloody hell!“– he says, “I’ve been telling myself problem stories and then trying to think my way out of them. How nuts is that? No wonder I’ve been feeling like I’m on a merry-go-round.”
Once he sees the flimsiness of these old stories and the mind chatter that was making him feel bad, James’s perspective shifts. He gets new thoughts and feelings about the events at work.
We talk together about how he might be able to better understand the positive intentions behind what he had previously considered to be ‘folk complaining.’
“Maybe they’re just passionate about success?”
“Maybe they’re afraid of failure?”
“Maybe they just want to be included more?”
Soon James is coming up with new ways of seeing the same events and he feels better about his relationships with people in other business functions. With fresh-thinking what looked like demons seems more like calls for help. James’s leadership revs-up a gear and now he’s ready to be even more responsive.
Now, the notion that “the stories we tell ourselves are the stories that we live by,” is working in a positive way for James. He’s already thinking and acting differently.
As James constructs new and more empowering narratives about his colleagues, his energy increases, his eyes light-up and he lets go of his tales of attack and persecution.
Instead he sees himself as the hero of the piece. He overcomes his stuck stories and becomes a more empathetic and confident leader with a more uplifting collection of narratives.
Image copyright NorGal – Shutterstock