Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we’d prefer to escape. And we know that we will meet unsavory tasks and painful scenes in the future. While we can’t avoid this, we can change our response.
In any situation, the internal story we tell ourselves about what is happening can make things worse (think: “Ugh, this is too difficult.”) or better (think: “Yay, this is a new challenge.”) As authors of these narratives, we have the opportunity to eliminate story lines that don’t serve us well and create ones that do.
We create stories everyday. It’s part of how we find meaning in the world around us. When negative stories prevail, they rob us of strength and agency. That’s what happened to Gary.
Gary was frustrated. His hands gripped the air as he described a recent meeting with his boss.
“She thinks I don’t know what I’m doing, so she gives me all of the boring work. Whenever she does give me a challenging project, she constantly checks on me, waiting for me to fail. Then, when I do need help, she doesn’t return my messages. She just wants me to screw up so she can say ‘I told you so’.”
Challenged by his coach to separate what was in fact happening from what he thought was happening, Gary was able identify that:
- Gary was assigned both simple and challenging projects.
- His boss offered assistance when Gary was doing something difficult.
- Sometimes his boss did not immediately return his phone calls.
With this awareness, Gary created a new narrative: “I get to work on simple projects as well as challenging ones. When I work on challenging ones, help is available. Sometimes I don’t get a response from my boss as quickly as I would like, so I will let her know that and ask what I can do to improve her response rate.”
Of course, creating a helpful story doesn’t necessarily mean it will displace the familiar narratives that don’t serve us well. Like all skills, owning our stories takes practice. But, it gets easier with each new chapter.
How to thrive: Challenge negative thinking by discerning what is fact and what is fiction. Create a narrative that elicits desirable thoughts and feelings.