I began to think about the Narrator, and its influence on our ability to lead, interact with others, or achieve our goals. During this time of reflection, a few events stuck in my mind.
The first was a program on the History Channel called “the Brain.” While discussing fear, and our brain’s reaction to fear, the show depicted Navy Seal training. The show highlighted one of its hardest aspects: Pool Comp. Pool Comp is a series of underwater exercises when a candidate is pushed to the limit while an instructor is systematically disrupting their air supply. These candidates need to override what is happening in their brains.
In developing an approach that would lead to greater success the Navy realized that candidates had to tackle “self-talk”…that inner Narrator. The difference between “Can do” and “Can’t” from the Narrator impacted a candidate’s ability to override the fear associated with the activity (trying to function while not drowning) and succeed.
The study also concluded that a person’s inner voice or Narrator can speak somewhere between 300 and 1,000 words per minute. I have been told that I speak quickly, but even I can’t compete with that.
The second event happened closer to home. When my youngest was five, I heard her say something that I will never forget.
“I am just a bad girl.”
She was five!!! Where did she hear this? How did she come to this conclusion? What was going on? Who told her this?
I replayed the past few weeks and months in my mind. I searched for what could cause her to reach this conclusion…and there it was.
To provide a little context, for about the six or eight weeks prior to this statement, she was trying to make her own breakfast each morning. She was five. She was trying to be more independent. Each day started off the same: get a bowl, a box of cereal, and a gallon of milk and pour them together. The result was a huge mess. Every morning the ratio between what ended up on the floor and what landed into the bowl was about 90/10. I also pictured my dialogue during this time.
“Why are you doing it that way.”
“Just let me do it.”
“Why don’t you pour it this way.”
Unintentionally, I sided with and encouraged her Narrator. Apparently, my daughter, potential Navy Seals and all of us have something in common: the Narrator. How we deal with and silence the bad Narrator, while encouraging the good Narrator may make the difference between success and failure. We will tackle some of that next.
Sorry for the many parts, but there is a lot of ground to cover. Hang on it will be totally worth it.
Lately when talking with various leaders and individuals, the concept of story comes up a lot. I seem to hear or read people using it more often or maybe I am just more inclined to hear it. One day I was describing the notion of “story” or the “hero’s journey” in our lives. (See Joseph Campbell’s book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces.)
Essentially, the idea is that classic stories follow a pretty consistent pattern. The protagonist lives a simple life, is called into something larger than themselves, faces hardship, doubts themselves, makes hard choices to push forward (while longing for their old life – one that no longer exists), succeed despite the odds, and become the hero that causes our hearts to stir and cheer for them.
I was describing this in the context of leadership. How everyday choices we make, how we interact with others, the risks we take, either add to our role as the protagonist, or because of our words and actions, we may switch roles in the story. We sometimes become the sort of character that would even stop us from cheering for ourselves.
But I had a revelation, but as soon as I said it I had to take it back.
“The trouble in our lives versus a Story is there is one major difference. Great stories have a Narrator. Our lives do not.”
I could feel how wrong I was the minute the words left my mouth. All of a sudden, my past failures, mistakes, and poor choices seemed to flash before me. And I heard a Narrator, both then and now. An inner voice. It wasn’t good.
Think back when you failed. Think about a mistake, a failure. What did you hear? What do you still hear?
“Why did you even try?”
“You should just give up.”
“You are not [insert word here] enough.”
For some of us, the words we hear are even worse. I had to modify my statement about our stories.
“I guess there is a Narrator, but unfortunately, it is a Bad Narrator.”
What does your Narrator say when your story becomes dark? Are you continually reminded of mistakes and failures? Reminded how you don’t measure up? Does this inner dialogue disrupt your interaction with others, your ability to manage well? If so, you are not alone.
Over the next few weeks, we will tackle some of the ways to Silence the Narrator but for now, just recognizing that it exists is a good first step. As a good friend of mine reminded me recently, “your narrator sucks!”
If so, why are we listening to it?
Are you tired? If you are anything like anyone I know, you are tired. You are not alone. Everyone is Tired. I was recently listening to a podcast by Ruth Haley Barton and she mentioned a “tired continuum” as a way to measure how tired we are. While explaining this to my graphics friend she came up with this illustration.
(I like that it looks like a gas gauge.)
In describing this continuum, Ruth mentioned that we should be operating somewhere between “healthy tired” (after a job well done) and being replenished and refreshed from real rest.
Unfortunately, most of us operate somewhere below “healthy tired” and a lot closer to “dangerously tired.”
Being in a continual state of exhaustion impacts our work, our lives, and those around us. It has become too easy to tough it out, have that fourth cup of coffee, and ignore how tired we really feel.
When we are exhausted, our ability to regulate our own emotional state becomes next to impossible. Someone called me out on this recently.
“Your emotional buffer is almost non-existent today.”
“What do you mean?”
“You appear to be overreacting to just about everything.”
So, my question to you today is a simple one. How tired are you? Are you masking or ignoring the signs of being beyond healthy tired and running on empty? Are those around you, at work or home, or elsewhere getting you at your best? Or just the burned out shell of yourself?
Do yourself and those around you a favor: REST!
Seriously. Go take a nap or something.
There is nothing better than working with people. I mean it. Either in a team, or individually it makes for fun stories (and I have permission to share this one).
A large aspect of what I do is helping people understand themselves in a behavioral sense. One measure is how much a person interacts with or the influence they have over people. Someone who scores high by this measure tends to be optimistic, interactive (loud) and can move the crowd. A lower score is somewhat pessimistic, introverted (quite) and withdrawn. Neither is right or wrong, they are just different and interesting.
While working with a couple, one of them measured extremely high and the one was extremely low. It was almost impossible for them to be any more different in this category. They say “opposites attract” and I have seen this play out in behaviors with couples. It is magnetic and exciting while dating, but after a few years…well you know.
This particular difference plays out when delivering or receiving compliments. (One of the hardest aspect of leading, either in your work or life…but that is for another day.) And this is how it played out.
The Optimist (high score): “You’re Awesome!!!”
The Pessimist (low score): “What?”
The Optimist (high score): “You’re Awesome!!!”
The Pessimist (low score): “Let me get this straight. So far this morning you said the coffee was awesome, the dog was awesome, and I am awesome. What does that even mean?”
The Optimist (high score): “You’re Awesome!!!”
The Pessimist (low score): “So in your world, I am somewhere between coffee and dog.”
Optimism can be a great thing. Inspiring others, acknowledging who they are and what they contribute is a great attribute, but taken to the extreme can be seen as superficial and meaningless. Everything cannot be awesome, or the word losing its meaning.
If you are optimistic, don’t stop…the world needs some hope these days. You may need to be a little more careful with the words you choose. Sincerity is the key. If you are on the other spectrum, remember that you see the world in a more grounded way, to you the coffee is adequate or okay. But when you get that great cup of coffee…tell someone (don’t just point out how it could have been better).
For the next week, let’s try a little experiment. Listen to yourself and 3 people who are in your circle, your life. Determine where they fall in the optimism/pessimism continuum and let’s try to meet them there. For the optimists a pat on the back and a “nice job” will go a long way. For the others, being sincere and providing details will take the “nice job” from empty words to real meaning. We can all use a little encouragement, and why not apply it this week. Let me know how it turns out.
Recently while talking to a friend about work/life balance and trying to make small changes in our lives, we talked about writing. I asked how the writing was going and this friend described the traditional process.
“In the past, I would typically write every few months or so, and attempt to write a novel in a weekend.”
“How did that work out?”
“It was crap.”
As we talked, I thought about how most of my life mirrors this process. Life is busy. There are things I would like to do, they build up, and then I try to do it all in a weekend.
The result: crap.
My friend described a new process. Write each day for 5 minutes. Don’t try to write a novel. Just write. If you skip a day, the next day is not 10 minutes, each day the clock resets: just 5 minutes. This small decision each day is not overwhelming, but begins to create a regular outlet. A pattern. A new way of living.
I began to think about how simple yet effective this approach can be, especially when trying to manage our busy lives. Do you need to spend more time with someone, spend time quietly reflecting, or [insert your particular thing here]? Why not start with 5 minutes a day.
Recently I got an update.
“I am up to 18 minutes a day. Some days I skip, but now I look forward to writing.”
“How is the writing going?
“Still mostly crap, but sometimes there is some good stuff in there.”
The result: only mostly crap, with some good stuff. Now that is progress! When we talked the other week, the 18 minutes has grown to 23 minutes. You could start today, take your 5 minutes and do something you have been meaning to do. Tomorrow try it again, and the next day, and the next day. You may just find some good stuff in there.
P.S. It was this friend and this process that got me to stop dreaming about it and actually write this blog. Thanks.
I recently had the privilege of hearing Rebecca Ryan speak at a conference. She started her talk with this video and it gave me hope, and I had to share it. You can check out her work at her website.
Rebecca if you ever read this, Thank You for making such an impact in our lives, and our communities.
A few months ago, I was meeting with my team. This is a team of very dedicated and amazing individuals who somehow are able to keep up with me, and my drive for results.
On this occasion, the meeting was long and there was a lot to cover. They were tired, partly because of the meeting and the rest was the result of my continual pushing them to be better, achieve more, and produce results. At the end of the meeting, I said,
“I know I have been driving you hard, and you have risen to the occasion. I know you are tired, and have spent a lot of time on the road, so…”
What do you think they expected to hear next?
A. Thank you for the dedication…
B. Take a day off…
C. Make sure you are spending some time with your families, your life…
D. All of the above
Any of these would have worked, but that is not what came out of my mouth.
“So, make sure you don’t drive so fast when you come in the parking lot, it doesn’t look good and we got some complaints.”
First of all, whoever came up with the notion of sharing good news and bad news at the same time was crazy. When you share a positive remark followed by anything negative, what do people remember?
But more than mixing good news with bad, I missed it. As I talked to them afterwards, I realized that when they heard that first part, they thought I was sincerely acknowledging their sacrifice, their hard work, and their dedication. It created an expectation from them, and an opportunity for me, and I couldn’t see it.
What expectations are blindly hovering around you? Where is the opportunity to do something about it today?
You can recover from mistakes like this, but it takes time.
Even now, whenever I start to compliment the team, they jokingly say…“do you want us to slow down again?”