You want change? Change your story.

You want change in your life, in your career, in your behaviour. But it is hard and every time when you think you are ready for the change, something pulls you back. Triggers such as a situation, certain circumstances, old habits, feelings. I am sure you have said it yourself: Oh, it’s the story of my life…

Thoroughly asking yourself why you actually end up not doing what you really want and stand for, but remaining stuck in old habits, can change the story of your life.

So how do you change the story of your life?

-reading time: 5 minutes- / -audience: people who want change in their lives-

YOU WANT CHANGE? CHANGE YOUR STORY.

You want change in your life, in your career, in your behaviour. But it is hard and every time when you think you are ready for the change, something pulls you back. Triggers such as a situation, certain circumstances, old habits, feelings. I am sure you have said it yourself: Oh, it’s the story of my life…

It happens to all of us. I want to write more inspirational articles on change and leadership, but… Drive to Survive is on Netflix, which is a great warm-up lap for the F1 race on Sunday. I want to eat healthier, but I forgot to buy broccoli and chicken, because I ‘accidentally’ binge-watched all Drive to Survive episodes on Saturday and need to rush off to the petrol station for a frozen pizza hawaii. I wanted to go for a run on Sunday morning, but that bottle of wine last night really accentuated the pineapple on the plastic mozzarella – you should try it. So let’s watch the race and play Call of Duty on the PS4 afterwards.

Debatable though, but writing more inspirational articles on change and leadership is perhaps not a life story-changer.

Thoroughly asking yourself why you actually end up not doing what you really want and stand for, but remaining stuck in old habits, but also a boring job, an unfulfilling life – can change the story of your life.

So how do you change the story of your life?

THE RED PILL

A few weeks ago, I attended a great seminar by Dr. Geoff Mead on narrative leadership. It was the last session of quite an intensive week with Berliner startups working on change management, but it felt like the missing piece of the puzzle. The missing piece that connects all I have learned, experienced and have changed in my professional life, was the answer to Geoff Mead’s following question:

What is my story in the present, in the preferred future and in the future perfect? 

Not an easy question and it needed a bit of digging in the past to remember how my story changed in the last years. You see, when I was younger and my career was sort of the only thing I really cared about, I’d walk into a party like I was walking onto a yacht*, and when people would ask me what I do in life, I would sum up the following:

  • I work for [COMPANY]
  • we produce [PRODUCTS]
  • and I am [JOB TITLE]
  • great projects, all international
  • and I fly [NUMBER OF FLIGHTS] per year

Not the most inspirational story. Not at parties and neither inspiring for my colleagues at work. And as a matter of fact, it did not really inspire me as well anymore. I liked other people’s stories, but gradually my ‘list’ was totally beyond the expiration date in terms of fulfillment and excitement.

So in 2016 I did ‘a Neo’ and took the red pill to find out what my story really is and set myself to change to my future story. I entered the Matrix.

(*the yacht part is not true – You’re so Vain just happens to be one of my favourite songs)

BREAKOUT

The seminar by Geoff Mead was about Narrative Leadership and how companies, groups, and individuals can use story telling to inspire others, move them, hook the audience, let them participate in the story. I will not go into narrative leadership at company level, but will focus in the article on how we can shape our own narrative and get that change going.

Before we enter the Matrix, I want to tell you a bit more about the importance of a story along a simple but effective breakout exercise that we did. We were asked to team up in pairs and run two rounds in which we:

  1. Listed all the benefits of traveling by train
  2. Told a story about the greatest train trip you ever did

After our 2 rounds, we were asked which of the two rounds we could fully remember and what sensations we felt. Not to anyone’s surprise, we all remembered the greatest train trip story (I still do remember what my counterpart told me) and we could barely remember the benefits (I have forgotten what my counterpart said).

The sensations that were mentioned, related mostly to feelings as if we were actually taking part in the story: the scenery became visible, the sun warmed us up, the smell of hot coffee in our noses, the squeaking of the brakes in our ears, the stress of almost missing the connection, the relieve of making it and the joy of happiness upon arrival.

And this is what a story can lead to. A story moves, hooks, engages, touches, inspires and invites people. When it’s real and authentic, when it’s relevant and suits the situation.

ENTER THE MATRIX

Back in 2016, when I decided to take the red pill, I felt a lot of tension between my present situation then and the preferred future I imagined. I wanted the attraction of the preferred future to move the present state toward it, but the pull of the present was too strong and sometimes it felt that the preferred future would collapse back toward the status quo.

I was apparently too attached to old patterns: thinking in my old ‘list of benefits’ and expecting that change would come from the outside.

I still had my anchors out and could not get the needed lift to my preferred future: my new story, with the change coming from inside of me.

My notes from Geoff Mead’s seminar illustrates how this looks like:

STRATZR.com - present vs preferrd future
Lose the anchors and lift

I had to reduce the influence of stories that were anchoring the present to the status quo and had to imagine the future stories (not just information and arguments) to give the preferred future some substance and pull.

My anchors let me refer to my past when people asked me what my profession was. Another anchor was the attachment to the routines and benefits of my old work environment. But also from time to time regret and the need for extrinsic motivation and acknowledgement.

It took me some time to let it go and build intrinsic motivation, develop new routines and relying on myself instead of external factors and others. Often I would ask myself the question whether it was the right decision to change. And often my answer was that eventually my job lacked meaning and stagnated my development.

Slowly but surely, I could let go of the anchors and I started to imagine how my preferred future could or should look like. How I could transform myself from the inside and in what I could put my heart and soul into.

During our seminar with Geoff Mead, in retrospective it became clear how such a process works:

Grow your green shoots, GO OVER THE RAINBOW AND YOU’LL FIND YOUR FUTURE PERFECT
GREEN SHOOTS

Green shoots are signs of how the future might be.

To construct my preferred future story, I used stories of my past that intrinsically motivated me: on how I used a coaching approach, rather than a managing approach, and how much I enjoyed personal development programs. Former colleagues and some of my friends would come to me to ask for career advise and it gave me a good feeling that I could help them. It became clear to me that I have always had a passion for people’s behaviour and motivation.

The small shoots were already there. I wanted to imagine how the future would be like if these shoots were to take root and grow.

OVER THE RAINBOW

Your preferred future is already someone else’s present.

When I started to imagine how my preferred future could be like, and how I could make this change happen, I started talking to people who are well-experienced in the profession of executive and team coaching. I talked to my leadership program director of IMD in Lausanne and asked what I needed to do to realise my preferred future. He advised me to enroll in the Consulting & Coaching for Change Master at Oxford University & HEC Paris. Once on the program, I received even more insights in what training and additional education is required to professionally support people who would need coaching for growth. And my passion only grew greater.

FUTURE PERFECT

A robust vision that is both aspirational and grounded.

From the creative exploration in phase 2, over the rainbow, I created a vibrant and engaging vision and identified who needs to be involved in its creation.

A vision that is my story. A real story to tell when people ask me what I do and why I do it. And people are interested and feel inspired. People see the passion in my eyes and hear the excitement in my voice.

I know what I want in life. I want to have a connection between others and myself. And I stand for something, my values and my aspiration.

The list is gone, the change has happened and there is a story to engage and inspire others.

YOUR STORY, YOUR CHANGE

In the recent years, I have spoken to many people who want to change their career. I tell them my story and there is engagement and inspiration. People feel that the process has not been easy and that my passion is real. Some tell me their arguments why they cannot change, such as financial commitments, some tell me that they are in the process but find it hard to pull through. Some tell me that they will do it later and just need another year or so.

Find out what you really want and what you stand for. What makes you connect with other people. Ask yourself what makes you smile, excites you. What do you answer when people ask what you do for a living? Is it a list or a story? 

If it’s not a story yet, or it is a story which doesn’t inspire you anymore; then dig deep to think of your preferred future story and your future perfect story and work backwards to identify the grass roots you need to grow. 

Find out which anchors stop you from taking off and how you lose them. Identify who and what can help you to find lift.

You want change, start changing the story. Make the difference between knowing the path and walking the path. As Neo did.