You’ve heard the saying that everyone has a story. I’ve come to believe that everyone is a story. There is a difference. We are a sum total of all our experiences (with a little genetics thrown in). From those experiences, we construct the “story” of our life. Because human beings crave meaning and are born storytellers, we construct the story of our life in a way that makes sense to us, and it becomes such a part of us that it doesn’t seem special – it just is.
When I begin a coaching engagement, I have clients take The Leadership Circle Profile ® which tracks core behavior patterns, underlying beliefs, established assumptions, and habits of thoughts. We begin the engagement by discussing key milestones and events that the client feels has shaped who they are today. People tell me the most amazing life stories as though they are nothing special.
We all have experiences that shape us negatively and positively. Maybe our parents divorced; maybe we moved frequently; maybe we were the oldest child; maybe there was alcoholism or abuse; maybe we were bullied or maybe we were homecoming queen. Everything we experience affects us and we internalize assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors based on what we’ve experienced. The problem is that sometimes these beliefs and behaviors harden into armor, and they no longer serve us but hold us back. Watch Brene Brown explain this phenomenon here.
When I was small, I had an older brother who was always getting into trouble, and I soon learned that behavior came with unpleasant consequences, so I became the good kid. I was amply rewarded for this behavior. My parents, teachers liked me; I learned that being nice came with friends and other benefits. There’s nothing wrong with being the good kid – except I became overly reliant on making sure people liked me and didn’t get mad. Eventually, this kept me from asking for what I wanted and needed, and I avoided conflict. The Leadership Circle refers to this over reliance on certain behaviors and beliefs as reactive tendencies.
What we do in coaching is increase self-awareness so we can begin to observe our beliefs and behaviors, determine where they came from and are they still serving us, and then learn to challenge those beliefs that are holding us back from who we want to be. We can “edit” our life stories by challenging the narrator, changing the perspective and practicing new stories.