Aside

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

When we invite people over at the house, we notice many of our friends have an interesting way of talking about themselves.

“I suck at that”.

“No way can my company grow given these market conditions”

“I’ll never make it”.

“It’s never gonna happen because of (these million, ever changing reasons)”

“Every time I try to change careers, I fail”.  (So I’ll keep doing this thing I hate)

“I botched that up so bad it’s unfixable…”

“I am more stupid than anyone I know”

About 10 years ago, my then-fiancé now-husband put out a rule that at least within the walls of our home, no one can talk about our friends that way, even if it is “just” self-talk. Believe it, or not, people fight us on this point.

They argue, “I’m just being truthful”, or “at least, I’m not narcissistic”. We all understand the need to be real and authentic. I value that, obviously. But it’s hard to believe these statements are “the truth” but more an angled view of what “is” so far. It’s also easy to understand the desire to analyze and evaluate what could have been done differently in the past to learn from for application the future. But a context of judgment rarely leads to real learning. If our goal then is to be truthful, we need to put the situation in context. If we want to learn, we need to understand the lesson without the judgment.

Every dialogue we have with ourselves and with others is part of a larger narrative. The story we tell ourselves forms a context for future decisions. If we tell ourselves we’re going to fail anyways, we’re certainly not going to find the creative solutions to a problem. If we tell ourselves something is never gonna happen, we will mostly likely hold back and not put in our 10,000 hours to get good at something. (We’ll watch television instead!) If we say it’s too hard, then we have a ready excuse to stop when we encounter the first hurdle that could teach us how to do it better.

I just read the book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae. In this book, Gerald, a gangly giraffe, wants to join in at the dance; he doesn’t believe he can, and then all the other animals make fun of him. Luckily, Gerald meets a friendly cricket that helps him tap into his inner-self, and discover his unique talents.  Gerald doesn’t dance like all the other animals but then that isn’t the point…he tries, he shows up, and he does it. When he listened to all the other animals who said he couldn’t, he didn’t. But when he listened to the narrative that said he could, he did. What surrounds us, affects us.


For an innovator to be an innovator, you have to decide you can because only then will you. This is not self-help. This is being who you want to be. If you want to do something then stop telling yourself all the reasons why you won’t do it or why it will never happen. Those are just stories. Just start focusing on doing it, trying it, learning about it, grappling with it and then one day — voila — it’ll happen. Embody the idea and the idea materializes. The narrative precedes the action, which precedes the outcome.

So what story are you telling yourself?

 

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6 Responses:

  1. Robin. October 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm  |  

    Well timed, Nilofer, well timed! Thank you! And lovely to see you last week.

    Reply
  2. Jean Russell. October 25, 2011 at 4:35 am  |  

    Yes! Yes! Yes. Thank you for this. This is precisely why thrivable is such a powerful word for me… it is the marker, for me, of “telling a story I can live into” and a step away from the drivel of “we can’t do it” or “we have been bad” or “we suck” that I hear surrounding the sustainability talk out there.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. October 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm  |  

      Exactly. This isn’t self-talk as in self-help. it’s creating a place for us to grow into…

      Reply
  3. Emily. October 25, 2011 at 5:53 am  |  

    They say “failure loves a witness,” so why say anything at all? I agree, Nilofer, to keep a positive attitude, embody the aspiration, tell yourself you can do it, and work towards your goals until you see some headway…then go public.

    Reply
  4. Khalid. October 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm  |  

    So now i know that i’m not welcome to your house :) Just kidding :p

    Your very well done article reminded me of my bowling always remembered tip.

    I’m not sure if you know bowling but the most difficult pin for me (most of non-professional players I know) to get is pin 10.

    That day we had a very tough match to play and I got pin ten in my second throw maybe 5 times and I missed all 5 of them until my colleague bowler (who happened to be my boss now) gave me an advise. He said the moment you stop telling yourself that you will miss that pin, you will get it! Since then, I didn’t miss that pin for the rest of the match! I was surprise how by just thinking positive made me play better!

    So you are absolutely right sister!

    Thanks again for the great post

    Regards,
    Khalid

    Reply
  5. Paula Neto. November 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm  |  

    Straight to the point so simple and common sense inspiration that we often forget it. This is why I keep reading you, all a way from Portugal!

    Reply

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