DANIEL MONTGOMERY Founder & CEO Leadership Reality
Are you a good storyteller?
Whether it’s a Hollywood blockbuster or a children’s book, nothing has the power to arrest our attention like a well-told story.
Successful leaders know this better than anyone:
- Want to capture an investor’s imagination? Tell a story.
- Need to motivate your employees to take action? Tell a story.
- Eager to sell your new product? Tell a story.
PowerPoints and position papers don’t move people; stories do. Why? Because human beings are storied creatures. Like it or not, we’re all surrounded by narrative.
What’s Your Story?
The stories we tell ourselves can’t help but influence the stories we tell others.
You can use a lot of words to describe me: Christian, husband, father, leader, Kentuckian. Each label draws out a different aspect of my personal story, even as it places me within a larger narrative: God’s story, my family, my business, etc.
For the most part, stories like these give positive meaning to our lives:
- God’s story gives me worth.
- My family’s story gives me purpose.
- My business story gives me a place.
But what about the negative stories we tell ourselves? What happens when the stories that dominate our lives lead us into the darkness rather than the light?
If the story you tell about your life is one of hope and progress, then every bump along the road becomes just another dramatic moment in the unfolding of that narrative.
In contrast, if the story you tell yourself is one of failure and despair, then every hiccup you experience in life will be the universe’s way of telling you to give up and go home.
A Story About Telling Better Stories
We all want to tell a better story. But how do we do that?
Not long ago, I ran across a Native American story that pretty well summarizes the way mindfulness is supposed to work. Here it is in animated form:
Summary: In each of us, there are two wolves. One is angry, bitter, and mean. The other is gentle, kind, and affirming. Our attempts to belittle the angry wolf only make him stronger. So, mindfulness teaches us a better way: befriend the kind wolf.
Learning to Befriend Our Stories
When it comes to our stories, each one of us has a choice to make. Will we go to war with the negative stories that define us—indirectly granting them new life with every belittling missile lobbed? Or, will we choose the better way?
To help us learn to befriend our stories, here’s a short exercise I’ve adapted from Grace Bullock’s Mindful Relationships.
Begin by identifying a significant story you tell yourself—positive or negative.
Here are a few examples to help you get started:
- I’m the kind of person who needs things to be a certain way.
- I never drop the ball.
- I’m always the last one to the party.
- I thrive in stressful situations.
- I’m just an angry person.
Now, interrogate the story:
- Where did this story come from?
- Who wrote the story? Me or someone else?
- Is the story true?
- Does this story help me or hurt me?
- Is it time to write a new story?
The key is to notice the little stories we tell ourselves and learn how they define our daily lives. When we move to evaluation, we don’t do it to belittle and tear these stories down so much as to build up and befriend what is true rather than what is false.
It may seem simple, but this sort of concentrated self-work can be life-changing.
Can we Find a Friend so Faithful?
Christians have our own two wolves. Only, our story is about a war between the part of us that wants to please God (spirit) and the part that doesn’t (flesh).
Like the angry wolf, all our battles against the flesh leave us crying out in despair: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).
Belittle it all we want; that darker nature will have its way unless and until Someone like us comes to make war with it on our behalf.
Jesus not only won that battle against the flesh on the cross, but He gave us the Spirit to testify with our own that we’ve become children of God (Rom 8:16).
In Christ, God doesn’t just befriend us; He makes us family. We get our very own place in His story. Every other narrative we tell ourselves falls into line with that one.
Winner, loser, leader, follower, Black, White, Chinese, American—every label takes a backseat to that one defininite identity marker we have in Christ: Son or Daughter.
The stories we tell ourselves and others have more power than we could ever imagine. This post and the several that came before it have shared one common goal: to use the tools of mindfulness to help you live and lead a better story.
- Time – Ditch your fixation on the past or the future and embrace the present.
- Place – Make a place where others can genuinely engage with you and the world.
- Body – Reconnect with your body and listen to what it says.
- Social Structure – Reconnect with the people who matter most.
- Story – Reframe and leverage the stories that drive you.
In the end, mindfulness is a tool. It can do a lot to help leaders grow in awareness, attunement, and action. Still, the story mindfulness helps us tell always seems to come up short. I’ve offered my perspective on why that is. What’s yours?
What’s your story? Has mindfulness helped you learn and grow as a leader? Share your experience by leaving a comment below or over on our Instagram.
If you’d like to know how to apply mindful leadership to your business, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our team.
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