Once upon a time I had a video call with a coaching client. We took a couple of minutes to catch up, and she seemed to be in a good mood. We started coaching and suddenly something shifted. She was distracted. She seemed to stop listening. She asked me to repeat myself.
My brain started coming up with possibilities of what could be going on. Did someone just walk in her room? Did I say something to offend her? Is she not enjoying the coaching? Then she said, “Darc, hang on a sec.”
What’s going on? I wondered. A dozen thoughts ran through my head.
“I don’t have a pen. Let me go find one quickly.”
A missing pen. That wasn’t what I was expecting. But it was a welcome conclusion to the story my brain was concocting.
We tell ourselves stories all the time
The fact is, we’re always telling ourselves stories. Call them assumptions, beliefs, hunches, predictions… something happens and our brain has a thought that creates a story. That leads to our actions.
Our brain sets us up for this. Take a look at this TED Talk for a deeper dive on the brain science. The problem? The stories we make up—based on our initial thoughts—often aren’t true.
Consider the following situation.
Jake enters a Zoom meeting you’re leading with ten other people. After a quick hello, he turns his camera off.
What are your initial thoughts?
- He’s totally multitasking.
- He must be saving bandwidth.
- He doesn’t respect me as a leader.
- He listens better when he’s not worried about how he looks on camera.
- He must’ve left the room.
Remember, our brain “helps” us by creating a story from these thoughts. That leads to our actions.
- He’s multitasking? I can too. I’m going to check my email.
- He’s saving bandwidth? I should check in with him later to see how he’s managing with his three kids all home doing remote school.
- He doesn’t respect me? Well I never liked him much either. I think I’ll take him off that special project.
- He listens better with the camera off? Maybe I should take some time in our next meeting to check in on how our Zoom meetings are working for everyone.
- He left the room? If he doesn’t think this is important, then I won’t include him in this conversation.
Our brains can take us on quite a roller coaster ride. All we know to be true is Jake turned his camera off! But look at how many different ways this meeting could go simply because of your initial thought.
One-Minute Thoughtfully Fit Workout
What can you do? Can you override your brain? You likely can’t avoid your initial thought that leads you to make up a story.
But when you practice being Thoughtfully Fit, you can recognize that thought for what it is and consciously choose what action to take—instead of reacting on autopilot.
You start by engaging your core. Here’s your one-minute workout for the week.
Pause. During your initial thought, hit the pause button and pay attention to the story you’re making up. (This might be the hardest part of the workout!)
Think. What’s true right now? What story is your brain creating?
People problems live in the stories
Addressing the thoughts that create your assumptions—and focusing on what’s true instead—helps to address the people problems that often live in the story. This will help you to interact with others more thoughtfully.
Notice the stories you’re telling yourself and act thoughtfully ever after!
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