I’m just as obsessed with “leverage” as the next entrepreneur.
We all want to work smart, not hard. Pareto principal and all that. You get it.
My job is to apply leverage principals to therapy and personal development. If there are high leverage business actions that yield disproportionately huge and awesome results, then what are the magic switches of the mind?
I spend my time answering such questions, so you don’t have to.
Imagine a single psychological lever you can hit that’ll result in a rapid and radical transformation. One thing that causes everything to change.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Productivity, Sales Activity, Marketing know-how, Leadership or Financial habits. It could be your health, your relationships… anything!
This article will give you the single psychotherapeutic concept that I believe comes closest to being a magic bullet. You can use it to transform any part of yourself, to dramatically optimize your behavioral habits – and results – as a business owner.
It’s a 1800 word, 9 minute (average) read, so buckle up. It’s gonna be worth it.
The magical Jedi powers of Narrative
Stories. They’re super important. In fact, they’re the ultimate levers of the brain and the key to unlocking fast and lasting behavior change. Here’s why:
The collaborative works of Robert Dilts and Gregory Bateson suggest an elegant model for understanding what drives real behavior change in humans. The former is a renowned author and leader in the NLP world, the later a renowned linguist, social scientist and cyberneticist. These cats know what’s up.
The 20% you need to know to get 80% of the results? These gentlemen figured out that if you want to create real growth in humans – not just the cathartic illusion of it – then you have to make change happen at the right level of this psychological hierarchy:
Environment -> Behavior -> Capabilities -> Beliefs -> Identity
If you want to change something in your life, you must to go to the level above the place you’re having a problem.
Meditate on that a second.
Transformation happens when you figure out how to move the mental levers further up the hierarchy than where your problems are.
Let me respectfully spoon feed you – here-comes-the-airplane style – some insights right here:
- Changing things in your external environment is basically never going to do much.
- Changing things at the level of your identity is going to change everything.
Your identity is the magic bullet you’ve been looking for
If you want to understand how identity works, who better to turn to than Mr Joseph Campbell – Mythologist genius and all-round psychology/philosophy/literature hero.
Campbell’s contribution to psychology is legendary. Not only was he massively influenced by Freud, Jung and Maslow – his “Function of Myth” model is now a lens through which all serious therapists view their work.
The 20% you need to know is this: The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and our place in (and relationship with) the world, are the psychological “stuff” our identity is made out of.
Campbell suggests that the narrative arc a person faces as they go through life – consisting of overcoming many challenges – can have both it’s trajectory improved and it’s progression accelerated.
The secret is improving both the narratives (stories) you tell yourself internally and those you relate to externally.
Your identity story is your own epic saga. Quite literally the tale of who you are and where you are going. It’s the way you make meaning out of the ocean of chaos we call life.
Stories are the subatomic particles of the self. They are the keys to changing everything.
How to instantly identify toxic narratives
First, as with most self development and therapy, radical honesty is a huge shortcut.
Start getting very real with yourself, about the stories you’re telling yourself. Here’s a huge hint: They are also the stories you tell others to explain yourself.
Especially pay attention to when, regardless of topic, you receive a gratifying rush of positive emotion when your audience empathizes with your story. Narratives that evoke positive feelings when others “get it” represent the absolute bleeding edge of story-based identity creation.
When you tell someone a tale about who you are, why you’re doing X or why X is happening to you and they really get it, you’re unconsciously seeking validation. You’re testing out a new component of identity you’d like to adopt and your listener is giving you a big ol’ thumbs up.
The problem with this? Even if that particular narrative is a limiting explanation for why you can’t achieve what you want. Toxic stories will still elicit positive emotions when people “get” you.
The classic example is the entrepreneur “busyness” story. We sit down with friends over coffee/dinner to spin tales of our epic busyness – winning empathetic oooh’s and ahhh’s. Even though busyness isn’t a very useful story to be building around your identity, it feels GREAT when people *get* it right?
Don’t worry, figuring this out is perfect. There is zero shame in this sharing of busted narrative – you are a social animal and the construction of your psychological stories is a social process by design.
You’re in the right place.
How to transform your identity narratives to revolutionize your life
Step 1: Pick out a goal you really desire but you’ve struggled to attain.
By definition, this will be a goal that your psychological narrative simply isn’t supporting the achievement of. Your identity doesn’t include being the person who makes this thing happen.
That’s about to change.
Step 2: Get Objective about your terrible story.
Your mission is to identify the story you’re telling yourself around this goal. If you’ve picked an area where you’re well and truly stuck, your story will undoubtably revolve around a detailed rationalization – your reasoning for struggling, delaying and failing to achieve results.
Finding the story is easy – you’re already telling it all the time. Once you’ve got it, take a step back and look at your past experiences as objectively as possible. Separate the story from what actually happened.
Narrative Therapists (yes, it’s a thing) suggest roleplaying the “investigative reporter” – making it your job to seek objective truths about your “character’s” past.
Step 3: Pick a totally new story that presupposes you’ll soon achieve your goal.
You don’t need to change anything about your past. You only need to change your perception of it – the things you’ve learned, the way you see it.
The idea here is to reframe your past experiences – the real ones that objectively “happened”, NOT your BS interpretation of them – as contributing towards a new and improved narrative.
Transmute past challenges into valuable “training experiences” for your central character. Transfer present obstacles into heroic trials – or “creative constraints” – designed to test and hone the capabilities the hero possesses. Identify trigger points in your recent past that could serve as “realization” moments – causing your perception to shift. Hell, use this article as one of them!
Create a story of challenge overcome in the face of adversity. Make this day, today, precisely where a hero of old would be in the middle of the tale.
Confused? Let me tell you a story that’ll create some clarity…
Here’s a very personal example to give this all context. It’s health (not business) related, and I use it because of it universally relate-able.
For the last two years, I’ve been telling myself (and others) a story about how moving to the United States has messed with my health. The story has had quite a lot of practice, to get polished and compelling:
I moved to New York, arguably the culinary capital of the world, and spent months with the mentality of a tourist. I drank deeply of the opportunities surrounding me. A lot of them included eating delicious and unhealthy food.
The story shifts from being a tourist to being a busy entrepreneur. Networking, meetings and late night work sessions resulted in bars, restaurants and ordering delivery.
And of course, it’s the US-of-A… so it’s partly the COUNTRY’S fault for making such unhealthy food so delicious and accessible.
Long story short, I put on 21 pounds in a totally understandable and – this is essential – relatable way. People who I told my story to nodded and oooh’ed with empathy.
Then I decided to shift my story
With the goal of being in incredible shape and seriously athletic, I decided to place myself squarely in the middle of a new narrative. It goes something like this:
“Slighty nerdy kid who never had to worry about what he eats… realizes the hard way that age changes things… and that the only person responsible for his body is him… grows up and discovers a newfound passion for health and athleticism. Combines physical performance with entrepreneurial values for ultimate results in life and business.”
Like I said, I placed myself squarely in the middle of this narrative. I’m not even close to the end of the story yet. This happened a month ago. So far I’m down 10 pounds. I’ve exercised 25 days out of the last 30. I’ve made serious commitments (some financial) to getting to the happy end of this story.
What is the biggest, most sudden behavior change I’ve literally ever implemented… really hasn’t been that difficult.
Because when narrative shifts, everything flows.
The key here is that I transmuted things that actually happened in the past into essential learning experiences. I allowed my character (me) a “pivotal realization moment” which turns all the mistakes of the past into useful intelligence that’ll inform the future. I turned the very real obstacles I face today into creative constraints to be overcome for fun.
Now it’s your turn…
The first thing you’re going to notice after reading this article is the stories other people tell you. You’ll hear some huge, seriously toxic tales that enable folks to continue their destructive behaviors.
Ignore it. Don’t get self righteous. You can’t change them, but you can work on you.
Pick a goal you’re struggling with. Identify your (shitty) story and get objective about what really happened. Then design a new narrative.
Your new story will redefine your sense of self – quite literally who you are. When this happens, your beliefs – about what is possible, for example – will transform. Your capabilities will rapidly improve. Your behavior will permanently shift. Your environment itself will start to change.
Make yourself the hero in the story we all know in our bones. The one we all admire and aspire to - where the hero (you) overcomes adversity and supersedes past challenges in the quest for constant improvement.
Wealth, health and growth – whatever you want – can be yours, far easier than you’ve ever thought possible. You just need to be the main character in a story where that good stuff happens.