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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

How "Stories" Derail Your Potential

People are fascinating. We are complicated and layered, and show of ourselves only what feels safe. Yet, we are quick to make judgments about others from merely one interaction or comment.

Developing stories and drawing conclusions often set a marred stage for how a person is cataloged in our mind. I hate to tell you, but most times the story that you allow yourself to believe is not an accurate reflection of the depth of the person.

I often have my clients think about a stage performance where the actor, standing before the curtain, creates an experience that helps you engage and relate to the story. The actors' words and actions morph to create only what they want you to see. However, what we never see is what’s behind the curtain - the 80% of what made the show a success. The thousands of decisions that were being made, the challenges the actor encountered off stage, the transformation they undertook to create the illusion, and ultimately the act. Theater is complex and beautifully choreographed, similar to our lives. We see what is presented in front of the curtain and so often forget that the majority of the truth is hidden.

The stories we conjure up are typically self-protecting. They unconsciously fill in the blanks regarding what we don’t know. They spin the truth, creating confirmation bias and shifting the focus to align with our needs. We unconsciously create a neat, little box of safety.

I would challenge you to become a bit more comfortable with what is messy. Stay open and curious to the various perspectives and conclusions that may not necessarily align with your expectations. Lean into curiosity rather than the lure to be right. Assume positive intent and grace. Trust others. Yes, you may experience disappointment and pain, but you also may experience insight, joy, and ease.

How stories distract

When your friend quickly walks by you without even a glance in your direction, what tends to be your gut reaction? You likely ask yourself, “What is their problem?”, “What did I do wrong?”, or “Is he mad at me?”... 

Come to find out, your friend just received a phone call that his daughter had an asthma attack and is headed to the hospital. That makes perfect sense now that you have some context as to why he was so focused on the issue and not acknowledging you.

Before you came to understand the reason for being ignored, you likely spent a lot of energy inventing stories which were not only wrong, but distracting you from focusing your attention on your work. Can you catch yourself in these moments and redirect your thoughts? Try reframing the assumption into the positive, or better yet, let the whole thing go. Disengage from ANY story, good or bad.

Try applying the following: “I hope John is OK.” Or better yet, “I should check in with John in an hour to see if he needs something.”

This shift in mindset will take a concerted effort. Know that you may have developed a habit over many years and will need to understand that change does not always come quickly, however it is certainly worth your attention.

How to change your thinking.

In James Clear’s phenomenal book, Atomic Habits, he breaks down the process of how to recognize unconscious and conscious habits and steps to take in order to redirect behavior and thoughts.

If only we can slow down, and: 

  • Stay present and open to what another person is saying.

  • Listen in order to learn versus giving in to the impulse to respond.

  • Prioritize curiosity over being right.

  • Lead with grace and detach from the outcome in an effort to really connect.

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