The stories we tell ourselves can hurt us and impact our performance. Whether you’re a subject matter expert, team manager or business leader, it is important to discover why this happens before attempting to overcome it. The first step is learning to identify what is real and what is not. Only then can you take action to shift that reality and increase your performance.
Stories come in many shapes and forms. A typical example is the voices in our heads that whisper things like, "You are not skilled enough!" or "You don't have enough experience!" This constant inner dialogue leads us to believe we are not good enough and can impact our ability to focus. When these thoughts and dialogues become all-consuming, they can cause us to miss our KPIs or revenue targets.
Once we miss a target, there is always plenty of advice on offer. We receive words of support and encouragement like, “Just keep going”, “Stay positive”, “Work harder!”, “Remove the fear”, “Next time it will be better”, or “Don’t listen to the voice!” Although it might sound like good advice, it does not help to continue down the same path and risk missing targets repeatedly. If not addressed, our sense of not being enough might cause us to work longer hours, constantly worry about our results, or have other undesirable impacts. In the end, our performance and productivity may remain the same or, worse, decline, resulting in our key performance indicators not being fulfilled. If you resonate with this, what can you do about it?
The first question to ask yourself is: what is the dominant narrative lens I am taking?
As Margaret Heffernan says in Willful Blindness, “If we can’t see, we can’t transform and that impacts our performance. As long as it [an issue] remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble”. In other words, you need to inquire into yourself before you can transform whatever is holding you back. So what is the narrative lens, and how can it support you in this situation? The Oxford English Dictionary defines narrative as storytelling, such as the stories we tell, including those we repeatedly tell ourselves and others. Once we have a story and we keep it, it becomes a narrative lens, one through which we view everything, as discussed in BEING, by Ashkan Tashvir.
How does this show up in real life? 10 years ago, my career journey as a sales and account manager started. I remember being very anxious on my first day in the role. Soon after sitting at my new desk, I received a call from a client who demanded, “We want our statement of work tomorrow!” My inner voice immediately created fear and doubt in my mind when it whispered, “What if I don't get it done on time? That client will think I'm not good enough!”, “What will my colleagues, clients and managers think of me if I don't get this worked out?” So, rather than being assertive, I told him I would get it done in his time frame.
While I brought significant experience as a pricing manager, business analyst and proposal manager to the role, I realised my sales competency was low. On a scale of one to ten, I would say it was a four. So what was my narrative lens? It was ‘Not good enough!’ and it impacted everything. I realised that I viewed my entire life through this lens. Most importantly, I saw myself as not good enough, which caused me to worry about my performance and how others perceived me.
Five years later, I was honoured with a sales award for achieving 35 million dollars in revenue over a five-year period as part of a high performing team. While I had achieved all this success and my sales competency had increased to a nine out of ten, I still believed I wasn't good enough. Consequently, I also lacked a sense of fulfilment. Although my sales competency had increased significantly, my narrative lens remained the same. In other words, the story I was telling myself was unchanged despite the reality (award-winning results) indicating otherwise. Reality and my narrative lens were out of alignment. I realised at that point that I had to work on transforming my narrative lens first in order to remain effective in my role, have peace of mind and be fulfilled. To do so required me to raise my awareness of the three layers of reality outlined below.
The second question to ask yourself is: In which layer of reality is the story residing?
The layers of reality are critical because they support us in validating whether something is ACTUALLY real or just a construct of our imaginations. BEING by Ashkan Tashvir identifies the following layers of reality:
Layer 1: The absolutes of the world, like the law of gravity. These are matters and facts that can be proven and re-discovered over and over because there is no denying that they exist.
Layer 2: The ‘Collective Reality’. Things like money, taxes, or the fact that we choose to queue up in lines reside in the second layer. These are not laws but a collective agreement to follow certain practices.
Layer 3: Our own version of reality. This layer is our subjective experience or interpretation of something and includes our opinions and beliefs.
Considering myself as an example, “I am not good enough” resides in the third layer, as a narrative lens and story and is my own version of reality. Ten years ago, when I started as an account manager, my sales competency was low (4/10). This was a fact as I did not invest in any additional training to improve myself. Consequently, this fact resided in the first layer of reality because I actually had low competency, no matter what I told myself.
Once I discovered these layers and how the story shaped my reality, I found peace of mind and happiness. I became more effective in asking for what I wanted and achieving results for the business. It also supported me in finding the courage to leave that company some years later and discover fulfilment in the next step of my career, working for myself and as part of a community as an effectiveness and leadership coach.
If you're in a position where you believe you're not good enough, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions:
1. What story am I telling myself?
2. What is the dominant narrative lens I am taking?
3. In what layer of reality is the story residing? Is it layer 1, 2 or 3?
There is great power in taking the time to inquire into the narrative lens through which you assess a situation and determine where it sits from a reality perspective. If you find you are struggling to consider a situation objectively, I encourage you to seek the guidance of the right coach to support you. As Eric Schmidt, who served as Google’s CEO and Chairman for ten years, once shared, “People are not good at seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps. Everybody needs a coach”.