Change Your Narrative, Change Your World

Author’s note: This article is meant to address what is in our personal locus of control as human beings or what might be called an inside-out approach to change. It in no way is meant to overlook or underrepresent situations where social justice and other systemic responses sometimes called outside-in approaches are absolutely critical to changing the world. 

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

To be a leader requires more than self-awareness; it involves some understanding of how you became who you are, and where you are going. This is your story, your narrative. Your personal narrative influences your possibilities, including many of your experiences at work. Want to change your world? Change the story you tell yourself.

Why Narrative Matters

Our personal narrative is the story we make up about what’s going on from our unique point of view. It’s how we make sense of our situation and the world. Our narrative is shaped by our biology, gifts and strengths, as well as our family, culture and language.

By consciously shifting our narrative, we can open up new possibilities that, when combined with new actions, lead to completely different outcomes. What a huge promise!

Step 1: Get Curious About Your Present Narrative

The thing about narrative is it mostly operates in the background so that we can focus on other things like solving complex problems, communicating with teammates and completing all the pressing activities of the day.

To change your life, take a good look at the story you’re living in.

Take out a journal or a piece of paper and run through these questions:

• How do I see myself right now?
• How do I see others?
• How am I acting?
• How am I relating to my environment?
• How is all of this serving me?
• How is all of this affecting me?

Another thing you can do is have authentic conversations with a diverse set of people (including your constituents and your stakeholders) where you are humble about your perspective. You can ask them: How do you see me? How are you affected by me? What you might be overlooking will come into view, and you will develop honest ways of looking at yourself.

Step 2: Imagine a Different Way of Being

Many people are surprised to learn that their current narrative isn’t really serving them. What to do about it? You can replace it with a more exciting story!

Good stories require a great deal of imagination, and this is the often-dismissed part of the change management process. So, we need to open up our minds. Research shows that spending time with art, nature, relationships, books, all of this — what some people call soft or “woo woo” — actually transforms the pathways in our brain so we can think differently, think bigger, get inspired. To learn more, see this article on the neuroscience of visioning.

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Refer back to your journal and explore a new narrative that is more expansive, more invigorating. You can ask yourself:

• Who do I want to be one year from now?
• How will I be relating to others?
• What will I be doing?
• How will I be engaging with my environment?
• How will this serve me?
• What will it feel like?

Take time to really explore your passions and values and imagine what can be brought forth with compassionate attention.

Leverage Your Creative Tension

By looking at your current narrative and exploring a more exciting future narrative, you will leverage the concept of Creative Tension, which emerged from organizational consultant Robert Fritz and was expanded upon by Peter Senge at MIT Sloan School of Management. See your current state and ideal future state as opposite sides of a rubber band. The clearer you are about your current state and the clearer you become about your ideal future state, the more friction, which will move you from one state to another.

Worth a try? Absolutely. But do this within a community. Get someone to hold you accountable for the future narrative you give yourself. If not one person, get your whole team involved. You’ll be glad you did.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Jill L. Barrett, PCC, is Chief Executive Officer of Evolve, a Washington, D.C.-based coaching and organizational development firm she founded in 2015. Named a top innovator who is shaping the region’s future by “Washington Life Magazine,” Jill is a sought-after coach, speaker and consultant. She has coached executives and emerging leaders at a wide range of organizations including Google, WarnerMedia, D.C. Public Schools, Salesforce, Merrill Lynch, Ball Corporation and other regional, national and multinational organizations. Jill holds an Integral Coach® credential from world-class coaching school New Ventures West and a Professional Certified Coach credential from the International Coach Federation.

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

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Jill Barrett

Thanks for reading, Pearl. I’m so glad the questions are helpful to you. Wishing you a compelling journey through your own narratives.