Whether it’s through shoulder angels or Morgan Freeman voice overs, we narrate our life. It’s how we make sense of things.

Sometimes the narratives are more negative than positive; other times more optimistic than pessimistic. Our bias towards one or the other exists within us. How they get narrated depends on the context and what positive psychologists call our unique “Explanatory Style”.

We tend to skew towards an optimistic style, underestimating how long things will take, or how smoothly our projects will roll out. We start with unbridled optimism but then quickly find the road strewn with uncertainty, setback, and self-doubt.

Research demonstrates that our brains are rewarded with dopamine for making sense of complex events, even if the explanations are incomplete or wrong. It is our way of preparing us for an unknowable future. So it is critical to constantly have ways to double check our stories and assumptions as we go about executing our plans.

Fear comes from not knowing what to expect. – Chris Hadfield

We can start by asking ourselves what could potentially go wrong as a way to test our plans, by conducting what’s called a premortem. By creating awareness of all potential disruption, we become better prepared and forewarned against risks which minimizes our fears.

Once we have created this awareness of possible points of failure, the next step is to take notice of how we narrate them internally in the present moment. The degree to which we think we can succeed if we try is the basis of so much of our decision making. Psychologist Albert Bandura termed this our self-efficacy, more commonly known as our confidence.

Psychologist Martin Seligman asked swimmers to swim their best stroke then told them their times were slightly slower than they actually were. Swimmers with an optimistic self-explanatory style continued to swim at the same speed, whereas swimmers with a pessimistic style swam slower. Results showed that when things are not going well, pessimists tend to give up or stop trying simply based on the way they choose to narrate the challenge.

Reality is so much more delicious than our concept of it. – Jud Brewer

With a bit of practice, we can learn to get out of our own way, by shifting our stories from our subconscious to the conscious, thereby reducing their power over us. Any story, whether positive or negative, takes us out of the direct experience of what’s happening. The big idea here is by simply noting and becoming aware of our storytelling tendencies (whether positive or negative) through our mindfulness practice, we are able to evaluate them with greater discernment. This leads to making more informed choices giving us a greater chance of success.

The next time you are caught up in rumination or storytelling around a particular challenge, ask yourself, “Is this really true?” Or perhaps, admit that you don’t actually know yet, and be ok with that. When you find yourself making up reasons for something you don’t fully understand, ask yourself, “What else can be true in this moment?” And when the story involves someone else, know that we are not mind readers, and to verify our stories with the source to take away all ambiguity.

20/20 vision is a term used to express clarity or sharpness of vision

As we head into 2021, are you “20/20” vision ready? A lot of our plans were changed or thrown out the window. How did you generate awareness of risks as you moved through the year? How did you narrate challenges as they came up?

Next year might be better and yet likely just as uncertain. What will your Morgan Freeman voice be telling you as you navigate the year ahead?

Learn to curate your explanatory style and create greater clarity in 2021. Registration is now open for the Mindful Performance Enhancement (mPEAK) Certificate, starting January 27th, 2021.

Enquire if you want to bring this training to your team or workplace.