Energize your job by changing your stories

heart story

Your life is full of stories. In fact, you’re probably telling one right now. Maybe it’s a story about how much you need to make a change in your work. Maybe it’s a story of feeling like this is probably just another self-help technique that won’t work for you. Maybe it’s a story of interest and curiosity as you look at another possible tool to add to your life’s toolkit.

You can’t NOT tell stories. It’s how the human mind works, and how we make sense of the world around us. Those stories might be affirming and supportive of the life you want to create, or they might have a limiting effect.

The stories you tell create the lens through which you see the world. That in turn dictates how you interpret events and experience your life.

Those two things – that our minds are non-stop story machines, and that those stories shape how we experience the world – makes this post in my series about how to add juice to your job especially powerful.

Types of stories

Broadly speaking, your stories fall into three types. Limiting, constricting stories, enhancing stories, and neutral stories.

Limiting stories limit your potential and paint the world with a negative, pessimistic brush. They’re stories about what you can or can’t do, expectations of what is and isn’t possible, negative assumptions about others, or any one of a bazillion other ways we contract our view of the world and isolate ourselves.

Enhancing stories are the opposite. They open possibilities. They open the heart. The open the door to connection. They’re stories about what’s possible, positive assumptions, supportive perspectives on both yourself and others, etc.

Neutral stories have no particular effect one way or the other.

In this post, we’ll be focusing mainly reducing the limiting stories and building up the enhancing stories.

How to recognize your stories

Once you start looking for them, your limiting stories are pretty easy to spot. Often, it’s as simple as noticing how you feel. If you notice you feel tight, constricted, stressed, etc., pause and ask, “What’s causing this? What story am I responding to?”

Limiting stories are often recognizeable by the way the start. Some common telltale signs include:

  • I can’t
  • I’m not
  • They won’t
  • I should
  • I shouldn’t
  • They should
  • They shouldn’t
  • I always
  • I never
  • They always
  • They never.
  • I’m such a
  • Why can’t I

.
And on and on it goes.

Another way to look for limiting stories is asking, “And what does that mean about ______ (me, others, the world, my career, etc.)?” When you notice yourself having a negative response – say you’re feeling frustrated with your job – whip that question out. Often you’ll find that it’s not just the immediate source of that response (in this example, a frustrating experience), but multiple layers of story that get slathered onto it.

Say you ask, “And what does that mean about me?” in response to feeling stuck in your career. Some common answers that might come up are, “It means I’m trapped in a situation I don’t like, and I’ll be stuck here forever. It means I’m too stupid to figure out how to fix it. It means I’m too lazy to make the changes I need to make.”

So what you experience isn’t just the immediate frustration, but the cumulative weight of all those stories.

Building your awareness muscle

If you’re new to it, developing a consistent awareness of your limiting stories can take time (and you will always be discovering new ones you didn’t realize were there). It can be helpful to look at it as an ongoing process, rather than a flip-of-the-switch change.

A great way to start building that awareness muscle is to do an end-of-day review. Look back at the end of your day and look for times where you felt that constriction, or where you got caught up in a negative story. You’re not looking to change anything at first. You’re just developing your noticing skills.

As you do that over time, you’ll find that your awareness naturally starts to filter into your days. It also has the benefit of helping you see some of the common storylines you habitually follow.

There are an infinite number of limiting stories we tell ourselves, and often we don’t notice them. They just seem like the reality we have no choice but to muddle through.

The good news is that, the more adept you get at noticing the stories and recognizing them for what they are, the more opportunity you create to escape their clutches and shift into a more positive, enhancing story.

How to change your stories

Great, so you’ve started noticing your limiting stories. Now what? Keeping in mind that this is more of a sculpting process than an immediate change, here are some ways to start shifting your stories toward the positive and enhancing.

Question them

When you notice a negative story, question it. Is it really true? Is it always true? Might there be other valid ways of looking at it?

Often, our negative stories wilt under the light of scrutiny. “I can’t do anything right!” Really? I mean, come on. You could be the world’s biggest screw-up, and that story still wouldn’t be true.

 Replace them

A simple way to change your negative stories is to simply replace them with more beneficial ones. I often do this when frustration or irritation comes up with someone in traffic. For example, if someone is clearly in a hurry and cuts me off, my irritated, angry story might be, “What an asshole!”

But if I look at other ways of seeing it, I might see possibilities like, “He’s late for something really important. Or maybe he’s on the way to the hospital where his wife is having a baby. Or maybe he just didn’t realize he cut me off – I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past.”

All those alternatives feel less toxic to my state of mind than my original story.

Crowd them out

Finally, you can bit by bit take away their space. Fill your noggin with so much positive that the limiting stories run out of room to maneuver. Just like the marble jar analogy I talked about in my last post, when you fill your mind with the positive, there is less space for limiting stories to take root.

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Could your rush hour commute be a blessing in disguise?

traffic jam

The average commute in the US is 25.4 minutes. In many areas, it is significantly longer.

For most people, the time spent “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes” (as that song by The Police describes it) is a colossal waste of time.

But what if that commute is actually a potential blessing in disguise? I know, I know. That seems like a stretch, but hear me out.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have some interest in personal development. You might already be investing money into buying books, going to workshops, even working with someone like me.

But if you have a daily commute, you might be ignoring a fantastic personal growth opportunity, one that comes completely free, and that takes no extra investment in time.

Traffic as a personal growth practice

I’m firmly convinced that the time we spend in our shiny metal boxes is one of the most concentrated, focused, and ubiquitous opportunities for growth we have.

Think about it. Time in traffic takes some of our biggest obstacles to peace-of-mind and distills them into a four-wheeled, rolling learning laboratory. Impatience. A desire to control life (and frustration when we can’t). Anger. Disconnection from others. And that’s just for starters.

Sounds a bit like a living hell, doesn’t it? It does to me. And that’s exactly why it can be one of your biggest gifts.

Here’s the thing. Life is never going to cooperate 100% with what you want. And the more gracefully you learn to navigate that, the less unnecessary pain you inflict on yourself, and the more space you have to experience the full vitality of it, whether at work or elsewhere.

Driving in traffic can be like going to the gym for equinimity. It’s a chance to practice the mental muscles for dealing with the setbacks and irritations that life delivers, and do it on a regular basis. The more you train those muscles, the better equipped you are to stay grounded and not add fuel to life’s challenges.

Personal growth opportunities. 

I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, but I can share where the growth opportunities are for me when it comes to traffic. I suspect they’re similar for most people.

Resisting what is

This is probably the biggest and most destructive source of disturbance to my peace-of-mind. As Byron Katie so brilliantly puts it, “When I argue with reality, I lose – but only 100% of the time.”

Traffic – especially rush hour traffic – is the perfect opportunity to practice finding peace with what is.

“What is” doesn’t care if you resist or not. It’s still going to be what is. So the better you get at letting go of your perceived need for something to be different than it is, the more peace you’ll be able to feel.

Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. And your commute is set up to give you that practice, day after day after day. What luck!

Control

Here’s another biggie, one that marches in lockstep with resisting what is.

If you run your life under the illusion that you are in control, a single day stuck in traffic should shine a light on just how wrong you are. Can you influence? Sure. But there is precious little in the outside world you have out-and-out control over.

Time in traffic often brings this up for me. It’s a superb opportunity to take a deep breath, let go of that desire to control, and allow what is to be, without resistance.

Challenging emotions

It’s not enough to read about how to manage difficult emotions when things are bright and sunny. To make real change, you have to actually engage them as they happen. 

For most of us, time in traffic is going to bring out challenging emotions at some point. Frustration and anger are two big ones. (Ever flipped off some other “idiot driver?” Yeah, me neither. Ha!)

Watching those emotions as they come up offers a great opportunity to both get to know why and how they come up, and explore ways to both head them off before they come up and minimize their impact when they do.

Your stories

There’s a spot near where I live where two lanes coming from two different directions merge into a main artial. The first merges into the second, and then that merges into the main. It happens often that the person in the first lane I have to merge into doesn’t allow me to merge. This is all the more maddening to me because they then have to merge into the main arterial. So they won’t let me merge, but then expect someone to let them merge.

It kicks up my story big-time about how people “should” be. And if I’m particularly susceptible to a foul mood, it can set me off. More than one bird has been flipped in response, I’m sorry to say.

Over the years, I’ve used it as an opportunity to both recognize and change the negative story I add to the situation. The objective picture is that one person didn’t let another person merge. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. I have no idea.

If I can shift out of my story about how they should be and just let it go, I experience a lot more peace. That one little irritating spot in the road has been the source of a lot of practice in changing my story to something more constructive.

Disconnection

Most of us have responded to people in our cars in ways that we never would if we were face-to-face.

Part of the reason for that is how anonymized others are in traffic. We don’t relate to them as individuals trying to get to their destination and feeling the same things we are. Our traffic experience becomes about “me,” rather than “we.”

In a lot of ways, that’s a micro-view of something that most of us experience to some degree in the bigger picture.

There’s a Buddhist compassion practice that starts out, “Just like me, this person…” (fill in the blank with “wants to be happy,” “wants to get home to her kids,” “sometimes feels overwhelmed by the challenges he’s facing,” etc.). It’s a way to get us out of an exclusively self-focus and recognize the commonalities we share with those around us.

Driving in traffic offers an excellent opportunity to practice “just like me…”

Wash, rinse, repeat

The great thing about traffic from a personal development perspective is that it offers an opportunity to work with these things over, and over, and over again.

So the choice is yours. Treat your commute (or any time you spend in traffic) as a necessary but irritating evil, or use it as a way to learn, grow, and open. 

Which would you rather do?

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

What NOT to do when you fail

broken window

Like most people, the biggest challenges I face in life happen right between my ears. One of the biggest obstacles I create for myself is taking a failure (even just a small screw-up), and making it about every. single. way. I. suck.

It’s like cracks radiating out in a broken window. A stone hits the window and in a flash the cracks spiderweb throughout the whole window. In this case, I screw up and all of a sudden the story grows far beyond what actually happened.

Let’s say I miss out on an opportunity because an e-mail falls through the cracks. The immediate fact-based story is that I didn’t reply to an e-mail, probably because of a lack of organization, so I missed an opportunity. That’s maybe a little chip in the window, but nothing major.

But from there it’s all too easy – especially for the self-critical among us – for that story to take on epic proportions, as layer after layer of negative story gets added to it.

Now all of a sudden it’s not just about the one way I screwed up. Now the story line starts to sound like this. “Damn! I screwed up again! I’m so disorganized. Who am I kidding? I don’t have the ability to make this happen. This is just like ________, and _________, and _________, all those other times I have let things fall through the cracks. Why can’t I just get better at organization? I’m so unfocused!  I don’t have what it takes. I’m just going to keep falling on my face like this. I. just. suck.”

It takes the frustration, and self-judgment, and whatever else happens to be up, and pours it all on this one event, magnifying the meaning I give it in my mind. And it can happen in a flash.

The shattered window effect isn’t just this dysfunctional thing I do. Pretty much everybody I know does it to some degree. Something negative happens, and all of a sudden the meaning of the event goes far beyond the actual facts.

And here’s the thing. If you’re going to step out beyond the mundane little zone of safety and comfort into the possibilities where the full potential of your career lie, you’re going to experience your share of belly flops in the pool of life. They can be painful enough by themselves without adding to them unnecessarily.

Next time you find yourself responding to something you have botched, check yourself and ask, is this a glass chip or a shattered window?  If you find yourself telling a story that begins with, “I always…” or “I never…,” the odds are good you’re in shattered window territory. 

When you recognize that, step back and ask, “OK, what am I adding to the facts of this scenario? How am I making this about more than what actually happened? Where am I bringing a remembered past and an imagined future and slopping them onto the present?”

Sure, whatever happened isn’t ideal, but you don’t need to give it more energy than it inherently has. Recognizing the layered on stories gives you a chance to dial down the negative meaning you give any given failure or screw-up. It creates an opportunity to fix that shattered window.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
Time for a career change? Start with The Occupational Adventure Guide

Why you should stop comparing yourself to others

blooper reel vs. highlight reel

Want a high-octane, super-charged, 99.999% guaranteed way to make yourself feel bad? Want to take the fast track to feeling unhappy about yourself?

Compare yourself to others. Simple as that. Compare yourself to others’ success, to their abilities, to their looks, to their charm, to their ________.

It doesn’t matter what the subject is. You will always, Always, ALWAYS be able to find someone who is better than you.

Let’s be honest for a minute here. Let’s take off the mask most of us wear so we’ll look good out in the world and be a little authentic and vulnerable.

On some level, most of us feel like we don’t  measure up. And one of the big reasons for that is because we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others.

Now, if we compared ourselves to the full picture, that would be one thing. But that’s not how we tend to do it. Instead, as I’ve heard it described before, we come out on the losing end because we compare our blooper reel with other people’s highlight reels.

Comparison isn’t an inherently destructive thing. It can actually be used as fuel for growth and achievement, if we use it right. But the kind most of us do – the kind that looks at other people, then at ourselves and says, “See? You suck!” – isn’t it.

Here are some questions to help you break out of that destructive comparison loop.

  • Am I seeing the whole picture? (Think bloopers vs. highlights)
  • OK, so they’re better than me (at _____). Why? What can I learn from that?
  • How can I use them as a model to aspire to, rather than as proof that I’m not enough?
  • What characteristics do they have that I can authentically emulate?
  • OK, enough about them – what’s good about me?

 

That last one may actually be the most important of all. Because ultimately, your career, and your life, isn’t about anybody else. It’s about aspiring to be the best you possible.

And quite honestly, none of us are anywhere near the limits of our potential. We all of amazing amounts of possibility we can grow into.

What anybody else is able to do, or who or how they are has absolutely nothing to do with your potential. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Unless you’re using it as a positive source of growth, comparing yourself to other people is nothing but a distraction from the main event: Making the most of your own life!

So the next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, ask yourself, “Is this really relevant? Does this really have anything to do with what I’m doing here? Or am I distracting myself from the main event?”

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

How to stop stress from killing career passion

reduce stressImagine sitting down to a sumptuous gourmet meal. Everything is amazing. The food makes your eyeballs roll back in your head. The atmosphere is perfect. It’s the ideal meal.

Now imagine someone is standing behind you, whacking you on the head with a stick. He keeps at it the whole meal, over and over and over.

How likely are you to be able to truly enjoy the meal? Not very, I’d wager.

It’s a bit like that with stress and career passion. You can have the perfect job, but if stress is continually whacking you on the head, your ability to truly get the most out of it is limited.

And it’s not just job stress that’s the problem. It’s any stress. As I have mentioned before, getting Wild About Work isn’t just about what happens on the job.

The Wild About Work ecosystem happens in 360 degrees in your life.

Don’t believe me? Imagine having a huge quarrel with your spouse or partner right before you head out the door for work. Something really big. How likely are you to be at your best that day? What happens at home follows you to work. Why? Because you’re the same person!

How big is your juice container?

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine you have the perfect job, and the juice from that job, the flow of potential energy, is cascading down like a waterfall, or a fire hydrant wide open.

All you need to do is go to work and step into that flow, right? Ummmm, no.

To experience that energy, you have to catch it in your own container, your own ability to feel energized. And if all you have is a little juice cup, because stress is reducing your ability to fully experience the positive, then you’re limited in how much groove you will actually feel.

Managing stress in 360 degrees in your life is one way to create a bigger container, moving from a juice cup to a big bottle, or a bucket. When you reduce stress, you have more space to feel the juice in your job.

Whole-life stress management

I have a blog I started last year as a public service aimed at helping job seekers manage the stress of the search. In the process of blogging, a whole-life stress management model popped into my head (click on that link for more details, as well as a free 10-page e-booklet doing a deep dive into the model).

Here’s a distillation of that page. The model has four layers:

I – The Core: This consists of the basics that lend themselves to a solid foundation. Think of it as the foundation you pour for a house before that provides a stable ground to build on. Making sure you have a solid core is the first part of a whole life stress management approach  (note the similarity to the foundation in the Wild About Work ecosystem model).

The Core consists of what I call the Five Fundamentals:

  • A healthy diet
  • Staying hydrated
  • Exercise
  • Grounding practice
  • Sleep

II – Internal: This layer focuses on what is happening in your internal world. This is probably the area of whole-life stress management that has the most powerful stress busting potential, because it’s the one area in your life you can reliably control. It looks at:

  • Your Stories: How you interpret the world.
  • Your Self-talk: The conversations all of us continually have, whether constructive or critical.
  • Your Focus: Where you’re directing your attention, both internally and externally.
  • Your Now-ness: Being in the present moment.

III – External: You can’t control everything in the world around you, but you can exert some influence on it. This layer takes a look at the choices and changes you can make, and how you can shape your surroundings (physical, community, etc.) in a way that supports you.

IV – Tools & Techniques: These are the on-the-fly techniques you can apply to reduce stress in the moment, like breathing techniques, short guided meditations, etc.

You can find a collection of all the stress busting quick tips I have posted over on the Job Search Stress Busters blog (things that take ten minutes or less) on the Stress relief quick tips page.

Whatever your situation at work, whether you love your job or are bursting with the desire to make a change yesterday, incorporating a whole-life stress management approach into the picture can improve it.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Stretch yourself into passion with a four-chord approach

A few months ago I bought a guitar with the intention of teaching myself to play it. I promptly did nothing with it, primarily because I felt like a heaping pile of suck any time I picked it up. My fingers just wouldn’t cooperate with me.

Recently, inspired by the video below, I decided I would drop the idea of learning to play the guitar (with its attendant visions of being able to hang out and jam with my friends) and just focus on playing four simple chords, over and over (and over) again.

I’ve been at it about a week now and I have to admit, it’s tedious. Boring even. And my fingers still won’t completely cooperate. But I can see some small improvement. Better yet, I can see a door opening to the path to learning to play.

What exactly does my awkward efforts to learn a new instrument have to do with getting Wild About Work in your career? A lot!

Part of staying energized and engaged by the work you do is stretching outside your comfort zone. When you stay in the same tired loop of what you know, stagnation can set in. What once made your heart sing can start to go out of tune.

Stretching beyond your current knowledge, skills, and abilities keeps you fresh. It keeps you challenged. And it keeps you growing.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to look beyond the comfort zone and have the same reaction as me with my guitar. We get a first taste of how not in the groove we are as we take those first tentative steps, how clumsy and awkward we feel, and say, “Ah screw it. Never mind.”

What if, instead of retreating from your discomfort zone, you stepped back and asked, “OK, what are my four chords here? What can small thing can I focus on mastering? What can I do over and over and over until I’m comfortable?

Let’s say you want to stretch yourself by being able to get up in front of people and speak. If you’re at the stage where even thinking about it makes your knees knock, maybe your four chords would be to give an impromptu five-minute speech to your dog every day on some subject that interests you. Your goal would be to get comfortable with hearing yourself speak and build belief that you can actually string two intelligent thoughts together.

If you’re slightly more comfortable with it, maybe your four chords are looking for any opportunity to get up in front of people and talk. Could be in a meeting at work, or introducing a speaker at a dinner meeting, or sharing your expertise at a brown bag lunch. Your goal here would be to get more comfortable in front of people.

If you’re comfortable speaking in front of people, your push past your comfort zone might be to turn up the volume on what you deliver, speaking to bigger crowds, with greater expectations of you. Your four chords here might be getting back to the basics. For example, you might practice the same talk over and over in the mirror, recording it, working on the timing and flow.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be said for the dive-in-and-flail version of stretching yourself. But if the prospect of diving in and flailing keeps you from even dipping your toe in the water, taking a four-chords approach is a good way to create some positive momentum.

While my fingers are still less cooperative than I would like, I have been finding myself able to explore and play around just a bit more. The four chords are opening the door to a possibility of diving in deeper. And that’s the beauty of taking four chord approach. It both builds a foundation and opens the door to more.

What about you? Where do you want to stretch yourself? What could your four chords be?

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

How to maximize your Failure ROI

trailerfail

Let’s face it. At some point, despite your best efforts, you’re going to go splat. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to flop and fall on your face. That’s especially true if you aim high and reach beyond your comfort zone.

The occasional failure is an inevitable part of the road to success. And unpleasant as it is, failure is also – potentially, at least – one of our best teachers. So if you’re going to fail anyway, doesn’t it make sense to squeeze all the value out of that investment that you can?

Here are some questions to help you maximize your “Failure ROI.” (ROI = Return On Investment)

What role did I play in this failure? What role did circumstances beyond my control play?

Taking ownership for your own part in the process and letting go of responsibility for what you had no control over lets you focus on what you actually had the power to impact.

What were the causes of this failure?

Trace the failure back. What were the pieces of the puzzle that contributed to your belly flop? See if you can find the root causes, the underlying sources that contributed to that failure. Challenge yourself to go deeper than your initial assessment. Keep asking, “and why did that happen?” as you peel back the layers.

What might have prevented this failure?

Can you identify specific steps, preparations, support, etc. that would have led to a more favorable outcome?

What would I do differently if I did this again?

Trace the whole process from beginning to end. What would you do differently? Why?

Was the cause of the failure a flawed idea, or flawed execution? A bad concept, or a poorly planned process?

They both might lead to failure, but the reasons behind each of them are vastly different. Make sure you’re focusing on the right thing.

What did I need to know that I didn’t know I needed to know?

Looking at your attempt from beginning to end, where did it begin to go wrong? How? Was there more than one point where it deviated from the path to success? For each of those points, what could have been done differently to stay on track?

What support did I need that I didn’t have? Where could I get that support in the future?

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. It’s a lot easier to see where you didn’t have a clue or were woefully underprepared when you look back than it was along the way. What support did you need that would have contributed to your success (e.g., a subject matter expert with more knowledge than you, a partner whose gifts and talents complement yours, etc.)?

What knowledge did I need that I didn’t have? Where could I find that knowledge in the future?

Sometimes failure comes because you don’t know what you don’t know. With the benefit of hindsight, what knowledge were you lacking that contributed to the lack of success?

What action should I have taken that I didn’t?

Can you see steps left undone, initiatives left uninitiated?

What action shouldn’t I have taken that I did?

On the flipside, are there things you set in motion that contributed to your failure?

What do I understand now as a result of this failure that I can put to use in the future?

Odds are good you have a better understanding – of the obstacles, of the system as a whole, of what works and what doesn’t, etc. – than before you started down the path you failed on. What do you understand better?

What are the key learnings I can take away from this failure?

Distilling what you have learned into these key nuggets turns your learning into easily applicable insights for the future.

Parting thought: Keep a failure journal

You might want to get on friendly enough terms with failure that you keep a failure journal. Make it a habit to debrief and learn from the bits of your career (and your life) where things go sideways. You could wind up creating one of the most valuable resources you’ll ever have.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Download my FREE audio course and let the adventure begin!]

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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

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