What the hell is beeping?

and how do I turn it off?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

... are usually bullshit.

We tell ourselves stories in our mind - about ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues - and those stories are rarely complete, accurate, or even well thought out.

EMBA Admissions

With an amazing admissions coach, Farrell Dyan Farrell’s website , I’m preparing applications for Executive MBA programs. Part of Farrell’s process is that I write stories that demonstrate a characteristic or a theme about me. I struggle with writing about myself in general; and most of the stories I have are a quagmire of details. So as I write, I get hopeless bogged down in the details, complexities, challenges, and viewpoints of the story. That leads me to either writing pages of every insignificant detail; or writing a story “Everything was on fire. I threw a bucket on my head. The firefighters put out the fire. Everything is awesome again. The End.”

Each time Farrell reads these stories, she sighs; pats me on the head (virtually); and starts walking me through the story again. She starts to ask questions as I explain the nuances of the story. The trivia, she dismisses. The parts I gloss over, she digs deeper into. From this process, we re-form the story into something that gets to the essence of a tough situation I handled gracefully, a team I helped grow, or a mistake I made that I learned from. Slowly but surely, my application for business school is becoming much more coherent in my mind and much more coherent on paper.

Through this process, I’ve realized that many of the stories that I tell myself are an incoherent mess. Often, I’ve never carefully thought about the story; or challenged the narrative in my mind. Writing stories down and having Farrell challenge them has made the stories much more consistent and clear.

Managers at work

Likewise, at work, when a manager comes to me for advice, they usually give me a very long story with lots of convoluted details about what the customer did or did not do; what the staff did or did not do right; what they had for breakfast; and why I need to go kick somebody in the butt immediately. This information is all good, but often, there is a story or narrative that the manager has bought into the colors their thinking. When they are coming to me, the story they are operating has reached its limit - otherwise they would know what action to take. Most often, I simply listen quietly, understand the manager’s story, and start to ask questions. When asking questions, I usually confirm my own understanding, but then start to push the manager out of the story they are telling themself.

I’ve found three ways to re-examine the story that they’re telling themself:

  • One might be to ask questions about the situation and the customer’s or staff’s experience. Questions like “what is the customer feeling right now?”, “What experiences does the customer have that would lead them to this approach?”, “What pressures are the customer feeling?” all lead to stepping out of one’s shoes and into other party’s.
  • Second, I’ll talk about my experiences in the role of a customer so that the manager understands the customer’s thinking more clearly.
  • Third, I try to construct different stories that are equally plausible. That helps the manager reframe their own story and break the story that they are in. Shifting the story that the manager tells themself enables them to see new paths forward in a challenging situation.

I’ve realized that the story I tell myself is almost always incomplete, since it really only has my own point of view, and almost always fails to include everyone elses'.

Seeing the emptiness

I’ve been reading Seeing that Frees by Rob Burbea Book here. . Much of the book focuses on becoming aware of the emptiness of our everyday experience. If examined closely, there is an element of emptiness in the body sensations, the mental processes ongoing, and yes, the stories that we tell ourselves. I’ve been paying more attention to the stories I tell about myself. With that, I note that many of the stories aren’t simply facts and logic - but rather some facts glued together with a mixture of half baked logic, emotion, unhandled childhood crap, and old detritus that is no longer needed.

Seeing the emptiness in the story that I’ve told myself gives more room to better understand a situation and construct a more exact - and often times much shorter story - or more room to not construct a story. Constructing better stories or not constructing a story at all gives more room for an authentic self, less emotional detritus to stir, and a more peaceful existence.

The stories being told by my mind are usually not worth paying attention to.


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