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Throw Out the Stories That Hold You Back | Spring Cleaning Challenge

We're continuing our focus on spring cleaning this week, but turn our sights on the stories we have that keep us from achieving our goals. In this episode, we talk about where our stories come from, how they impact us, and how we can reprogram our brain by creating new, upgraded stories that are aligned with our goals.

It’s the second week of April, and we’re going to continue our spring-cleaning theme this week. Last week your challenge was to get rid of one task or project that was no longer a priority for you or your department. This week we’re going to do the same thing, but with your stories. We all have stories we tell ourselves that get in the way of our success. We’re going to talk about how to identify those stories and create new, better stories that are aligned with your goals, so stay tuned.

We all have stories about the way the world works, our place in it, and who we are. Those stories guide our thoughts and behaviors every day. Those stories are typically based on our beliefs. Beliefs are so often tied to thinks that seem larger than life, like religion, social norms, our career field, etc., that they seem like truth. When I say our stories are based on our beliefs, you might be thinking, “well what’s wrong with that?”

In order to answer than, we need to go a bit deeper and answer the question what are beliefs? Dr. Nicole LePera defines belief as, “a practiced thought grounded in lived experience.” What does that mean? We have a thought - or more often than not, someone gives us a thought - and we keep thinking it. Then we start to see enough examples of that thought being true out in the world. Then BAM! We believe it to be true.

For example, when you were growing up maybe your parents made all the decisions. If you dared to question them or tried to advocate for yourself, they immediately shut you down or maybe you even got in trouble. You started thinking, “Arguing or challenging others is bad. Don’t do it.”

You may have tried to do challenge your parents or other people you saw as authorities on several occasions and since the same thing kept happening, you came to the conclusion that you don’t get to challenge others, especially those in positions of authority. That’s your belief about your place in the world and whenever you get into a situation where you might disagree with a decision, your brain reminds you, “Too bad, so sad. We can’t speak up or we’ll get in trouble.”

Now can you see how those stories about how the world works and your place in it, might stand in your way of being an effective supervisor?

Your subconscious “knows” that you’re not allowed to speak up and question things – that’s the subconscious programming we’ve talked about in other episodes. So, any time you feel like, “Ooh, I should say something,” your subconscious immediately puts a stop to it. There’s a voice in your head that tells you a story about the situation that keeps you quiet.

This means if you’re in a meeting with your supervisor and they let you know about yet another event administration wants your team to do, you’re unable to advocate for your team…or yourself. You think to yourself, “There’s no way we can keep going at the pace we’re going, much less take on another event.” But what comes out of your mouth is, “Okay.” Or maybe a passive, “I’m not sure how we’re going to get this done with everything else going on, but we’ll see what we can do,” in the hopes that they pick up on the problem. Either way, you and your team just got way more work to do and the stress that comes with it.

Now that’s just one example of a belief we have that might get in your way. There are loads more that are connected to different parts of your life. Here’s a few more examples…

In Higher Ed, there are stories about…

  • Working to exhaustion. If you’re not coming in early, staying late, or taking things home, you don’t really care enough about the students.

  • Doing more with less. These are lean times. We have to continue to provide students with the same level of services even though we don’t have the budget or manpower to do so.

  • If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. AKA - there’s no place for breaks or self-care during work hours, or maybe even after work hours.

In society, there are stories about…

  • I need to give 100% at work and then come home and give 100% as a partner and parent.

  • I’m a wife and mother, so I’m the one who’s responsible for making sure my husband and kids have everything they need.

  • I’m the man of the family, so I’m the one responsible for the financial welfare of my family.

There are also stories we bring from our families, based on how we were raised. These are all stories that came from somewhere in our past, but probably aren’t serving us well now.

Now I do want to say, not all stories are bad. You absolutely have stories that have helped you get where you are. The real question you need to ask when these stories pop up, is does this story help me or get in the way of me achieving my goals. This is very much like how we assess whether our talents are helping us or getting in our way.

In fact, our talents are very much connected to our beliefs. If you have Analytical, you may have stories that you can’t make a good decision unless you see all of the data first. If you have Individualization, you may have stories that any rule that doesn’t allow for individual differences is bad. If you have Strategic, you might have stories that doing anything that isn’t strategic is a waste of time. Stories around our talents can be helpful in certain situations, but when they’re applied too rigidly, they get in our way.

But here’s the thing about stories and beliefs. Our experience of the world is very limited. It’s limited by the family we came from, our society and the organizations we’ve been a part of, and the talents we have. We may feel like a belief or story is true and can even point to some examples that seem to “prove” our point, but we’re most likely omitting tons of information and experiences that would disprove it.

Even more plainly, just because you believe something doesn’t mean it’s true no matter how much you believe it is. The world is filled with folks who believe to their very soul that they’re right about their beliefs, even if the person they’re arguing with believes the opposite point of view just as much. You can locate these people easily on social media. Whether it’s about how the world works, your place in the world, or who you are, these beliefs may be the thing keeping you from growing and succeeding.

If the stories and beliefs you have keep you from being successful, you need to throw them out and get new ones that redefine your relationship about and with the world.

What does that mean? It means coming up with alternative stories that allow you to challenge your old stories. This process allows you to move forward and reprogram your subconscious to stories that are aligned with your goals.

Let’s say you have a belief that you’re not good at confrontation. What are you going to do when a team member isn’t performing up to your expectations? The next time Brad doesn’t get his run down finished by the clear deadline you set, you’re going to be frustrated, if not outright angry. You know you need to say something, but as soon as that thought hits you, your subconscious is going to throw out stories that remind you about that belief in your inability to confront others.

Rationally, you know it’s your job to talk to Brad about his performance. But your brain tells you something like…

  • If I confront him, it’s going to go badly and I’m going to embarrass myself. That’s going to undermine my authority even more.

  • If I confront him, he’s going to get angry and things will get worse.

  • Since I can’t confront him, I’ll just do it myself. That’s an easier way to fix the problem.

No matter which of these stories or related stories pop up, there’s a very good chance you’re not going to confront Brad about his performance in an effective way or possibly at all. Instead, you’ll probably end up doing the work yourself or having someone else do it. That means you’re going to be more stressed or someone else will. And if it’s someone else, they’re also going to question why Brad’s bad performance equals more work for them. In short, you’re not going to be an effective supervisor with those stories getting in your way.

So, what’s the solution? Questioning that belief and creating new stories give you permission achieve your goal. In this situation, your goal is to be able to talk to Brad – and any other employee – about their poor performance. Our beliefs are the sum of the evidence we think we’ve assembled from the world. So, we need to look for evidence that proves something else. That means instead of focusing on times you haven’t confronted folks – or when you tried it went poorly, you need to look for examples of times you did confront someone or a situation and were successful.

The concept of confrontation often seems big and overwhelming. But if we step back a bit, it’s really just about making a request of someone to get a different outcome. Can you think of a time you asked any employee – including one that is performing well – to make a change on a project? Can you think of a time a team member said they were going to do A and you asked them a question or gave them some feedback that helped them decide to do B instead? Those are small victories that prove you CAN talk to people about their performance and that discussion leads to the progress you wanted to see.

Or we can identify the reasons the story felt true. Why do you feel like you can’t confront anyone? Maybe like my earlier example, your parents didn’t allow you to question them, other adults, or even siblings. You just had to suck it up because you weren’t allowed to have a say. Your new, upgraded stories might be, “I was never taught how to challenge or confront others, but I learn things quickly and can learn how to do this now.” Or, “I’m no longer that child. I’ve learned better communication skills that I use on a daily basis to talk to my team about their performance. I just need to apply those skills to situations to situations that seem more complex, like the one with Brad.”

When you have alternate stories ready, you can use them to challenge those negative stories that keep you from growing and achieving your goals. Brad doesn’t do his run down. Your brain tries to tell you how this is YOUR problem because YOU can’t confront Brad. You say, “Wait a minute brain, I can talk to Brad about this. I talked to Becky the other day about moving her event to a bigger venue because the one she chose wasn’t going to be big enough. I can look at this situation the same way.” That’s a story that gives you permission to do what you need to do and be successful.

Your challenge for this week, is to think of one story you have that’s keeping you from being your best self and achieving your goals. Then I want you to come up with at least two alternate stories you can tell yourself when that belief suddenly pops up to block your way forward.

For example, the idea that there’s too much work to take breaks or eat a proper lunch. I think that’s one most of us have that’s definitely not serving us. Why would we need to change this story? Because the literature bears out that our brain needs breaks to be effective. Our brain can only work for 90 minutes at a time. Then it resets. But our brains are not computers. We can’t just hit the reset button and push on immediately. It needs five or ten minutes of mindlessness – or mindfulness. That could mean taking a short walk, doing a guided meditation, chatting with a coworker about that show you’re both into, or even Facebook time.

The research shows that most innovative ideas comes when the brain is doing absolutely nothing. Us sitting at our desk and trying to force a solution does not work. Trying to do more in a day means we’re actually accomplishing less. I’ll get back to the challenge in a second, but if you’re finding it hard to believe me, I recommend two great books on the benefits of doing less, Doing Nothing by Celeste Headlee and Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price, Ph.D. They list study after study that shows us trying to do more and more, really gets us less and less.

Okay, back to the challenge. Again, your story is, “I have too many things to do to take a break or eat lunch.” Let’s break out a few alternate stories that you can use to challenge your brain.

  • Taking a 10-minute break every 90 minutes will actually allow me to get more done.

  • When I don’t give myself breaks, I can’t really focus in meetings with my team or students. Taking a break actually benefits them because I can be more present and supportive.

  • It’s impossible to actually get all of this done anyway. I’m going to be behind whether I take a break or not, so I might as well take care of myself.

  • Pushing myself day after day is going to bring on health issues that will cause me to miss far more work than a few 10-minute breaks each day.

Those are just a few, but the key is you want to find stories that tap into your values and will help motivate you beyond your old beliefs. I’ve given several examples, but if they don’t resonate with you don’t try to use them to switch your thinking. It won’t work. Think about w

hat drives you and what’s important to you as you craft these alternate stories. And remember, this isn’t you lying to yourself or faking it ‘til you make it. These are stories that are just as likely to be true as the ones you currently have. You just didn’t have the ability to question them or the opportunity to look for alternative input when you learned them. Now you do.

Okay, that’s this week’s challenge. Find a story that’s keeping you stuck and/or is getting in the way of your achieving your goals, and find two alternate stories that are as much if not truer than your original story. Then when that story pops into your head, pull out those alternative stories and remind yourself that you’re not going to be limited by those beliefs anymore.

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