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We are governed by stories in our lives. What makes up our experience of the world is partially the stories we attach to it, and that also applies to our businesses (and it doesn’t matter, incidentally, if you are an official company owner or not – you still have a “business”). Whether that means turning up on time and working in an office and/or running a team or site, you are still running a business, and are also being run by your story. All of the things that you deem possible, or not, are based on it. You may say, “That’s the truth, based on my experience,” and that’s fair enough, but it’s not the full picture. Your experience is not, in and of itself, doing anything: it’s your interpretation of that experience that forms your story, and that story is what you’re basing decision-making on.
“So how do I change my story?” might be the next and logical question. But what if it’s not really about changing it as much as choosing it?
(I had a fantastic chat with president and “chief storytelling officer” at Steller Collective, Kindra Hall, on a recent episode of my podcast. She is an expert in this area and has been recognized as such in many respected publications, and we wound up discussing storytelling in depth.)
When we are frustrated by the current state of our lives, we can often fall into a space of judgement, blame and a resulting desire to make drastic changes. This has a tendency to happen as we approach “middle age” in the form of a “mid-life crisis.”
The reason why I put those terms in quotes is because they are simply labels placed on what I think can be defined much more specifically. A mid-life crisis, to me, is really just the sudden awareness that we’ve been living our lives on someone else’s terms. It tends to happen around middle age because the stark reality of our lives having (in theory) less time left in them turns sharply into view. All of our “mañana” thinking suddenly throws us into a panic that our own terms might never materialize.
Related: Why You Are the Heart of Your Business, and What That (Really) Means
We might also look back and take account of all the wasted time we’ve spent worrying about what someone else told us to. A mistake often made in response, though, is thinking that the results were all bad or that we didn’t want any of them. The truth is that we did, on some level, desire much of what has shown up in our lives. For example, if we’ve coasted and left ourselves on subconscious autopilot, we’ve chosen to disengage. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that what showed up for us wasn’t what we consciously wanted and instead appeared to be a chaotic chain of events.
Now, before you start beating yourself up about all those times you played video games instead of studying in school, or stayed an extra half hour in bed, recognize that there is equally little utility in inviting judgement into this situation. In judging your past self, you are simply attaching negative energy to people, places, scenarios and things that don’t exist anymore. There is only the present in which to make new choices from, so why charge that with negative energy from the past?
The point of all of this is to awaken you to the need to choose your story, not change it, because being different from what you’ve had so far might not be inherently better.
“But how on Earth do I get control of my story,” you might then ask, “when I’ve been out of the driver’s seat for so long?”
Remember that this is all a story. How you perceive reality is filtered through both you and the narrative you’re running on. If you have a nihilistic outlook and see every human endeavor as futile, well guess what… you’ll struggle to find fulfillment in any of it.
Related: 15 Ways to Drown Out the Destructive Voices in Your Head
A strong enough “Why” can withstand any “How”
Your business is no different than any other part of your life. If you seek to change it, you need to start with your story. What you tell yourself informs your belief system, which is the gateway to what’s possible. You can’t just fling the gate open and expect wonders to come to you, but you can do the work of unlocking it. If you can get yourself to a point of “Why not?” you will already be running on a very different narrative.
We are often surrounded by people in business who opine that something can’t be done. They seem to exist to do this, and that’s ok; you might benefit occasionally from hearing them out, because blind, untampered ambition can be detrimental to outcomes (and very often health). But if you’re running on the right story — that your desired outcome is absolutely possible and that you don’t need to dictate exactly how it comes to fruition — then solutions to the “no” will present themselves.
This, by the way, is not the product of magic or life coach mumbo jumbo, it’s literally how your mind works. The reticular activating system (RAS) may be a relatively small part of the brain, but it is literally the gatekeeper by which information reaches the conscious mind. It rank-orders the millions of bits of data being thrown at it every second by the various senses, so that you can process the important stuff. And it’s what you really want on your side when it comes to goal-setting
Here’s the thing about the RAS though: it can’t be reasoned with on an intellectual level… not really. It has been programmed by years of emotional input, which is why you react instinctively when someone calls your name in a noisy crowd, or notice a pair of eyes looking at you in a sea of people. In order to train your RAS to start noticing the solutions and opportunities that will get you to your goal, you have to feed it info that such things are out there waiting for you. And you need to convince it that these things are desirable and safe.
This is, again, why story is so important and why getting your ego out of the equation is so vital. Why? Well think about it: If you wander around complaining all day about how unfair the world is (and we’ve all been guilty of that at one time or another), that becomes your story, and your ego won’t want it to be challenged because it quite nicely gets you off the hook for all perceived failures. Thus, your story becomes one of victimhood.
Is it our environment?
We see confirmation bias in lots of areas of life: People are often used to planting their flag and committing to dying on a belief hill — egos get in the way and they allow the RAS to simply hunt for evidence that they’re right. But just imagine what you could achieve if you harnessed that power to instead find a path to your dream life. What could you do? Where could your business go?
This increasing proclivity for ego-led narratives could at least partially be attributed to social media. We tend to lay a lot at the feet of the ‘tech-opoly’ these days, and perhaps with good reason. By bombarding us with curated images and other information, it’s no wonder that our subconscious programming has shifted. We are also seeing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety on the rise, and this could be explained by an increasing feeling that we are not in control of our subconscious.
Related: Eight Ways Entrepreneurs Can Master Negative Internal Dialogue
The first step back to a consciously chosen life is simply to bring our awareness to the present. Not to judge or to try and seize control, but to become aware. From there, we can start to build a new story from an informed, wholistic place. If you can start to engage with your life and consciously choose more for yourself, you will begin to see more desirable outcomes in your business.