How the stories we tell frame our response to challenging times.
As Victoria goes deeper into lockdown and other states seem destined to follow, we may feel a sense of descent into darkness, a heaviness, perhaps even depression.
So; I’d like to pose a question for reflection:
Looking back over your life, what were the experiences, the turning points that most led to growth and development, that “made you who you are today”.
You might like to take a moment to jot a few down. Now, look back over the list – were these experiences happy? Easy? Joyful? Or were they perhaps times of struggle, discomfort, perhaps even pain and distress? I am willing to bet that most of your significant points of growth were precipitated by challenge and discomfort and in the struggle, you had to draw deeply on hitherto unrealised resources. I’m also willing to bet that this does not come as a revelation to you.
Because we know this. We know it is the tearing of our muscle fibres under the strain of exertion that precipitates re-growth and new strength. It is the difficult problem that forces our brain to build new connections. It is extreme pressure that forms a diamond.
Given this, what is surprising is how difficult this lived wisdom can be to access when we are faced with the seemingly over-whelming or insoluble. This apparent blindness to the evidence of our own experience may have a lot to do with how our minds tell us stories.
Cutting edge research from multiple fields such as neuroscience and psychology have revealed that our minds frame our perception and experience through the structure of story. At the centre of any story is conflict, struggle, trouble. And most compellingly – a challenging problem.
On some level we all crave adventure, the opportunity to test ourselves against seemingly insurmountable challenges. Paradoxically, this primes us to view challenges in our path as dangerous adversaries that threaten the end of the world as we know it.
Is Covid 19 a problem or an opportunity? The truth is, that assessment can probably only be made in hindsight. In 5-years’ time, if I ask you the same question as at the start of this piece, is it possible that you will list this difficult time amongst the catalysts for growth and development?
So how can we fend off the negative framing of our rapacious storytelling minds? Well it may just be that in this case the disease is also the cure (Talking about story here, not the pandemic).
Recently CulturAlchemy has facilitated a series of CulturAlchemy Story Circles™ for the leaders and managers of a large organisation. Not only is this organisation facing the struggles and challenges of responding to the pandemic, but they are only a year into a region-wide restructure. So, their leaders are still dealing with the uncertainty of this new world, Survivor Syndrome and the emotional fallout of seeing friends and colleagues lose
We brought the participants together in break out rooms of 5-6 participants, set up a culture of deep listening – no responding just sharing and reflection. We invited them to share personal stories in response to a carefully designed question. The question invited participants to reflect on their back-story and how they have discovered new strengths and vulnerabilities.
Many of the participants shared moving stories of some of their most difficult experiences both in their career and in their broader life. There was a growing intensity through the sessions that showed us how deeply these stories were resonating and the feedback from participants was enthusiastic. From their responses, the chief benefits of the process were:
- An immediate and deepened sense of solidarity and connection.
- Greater trust in the shared values of colleagues, their commitment to the “Why” of the organisation and the extraordinary diversity of resourcefulness in the members.
- An opportunity to have a deeper conversation about the mind, heart and gut impacts of challenging times and a re-validation of why I work here and why the work matters.
- A chance to reflect on their own experiences of unrealised potential emerging in response to the calling of a challenge.
What’s the difference between suffering in the face of challenges and obstacles and relishing the opportunity to test our mettle and embrace the developmental fruits of discomfort?
The story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we are capable of and what we really value.
CulturAlchemy exists to support you in harnessing the empowering stories of your people and aligning your culture to ensure your people and organisation flourish. To find out more, contact Simon Oats or one of our Alchemists at CulturAlchemy and share your story.
Written by Simon Oats – CulturAlchemist
Thanks for reading.
Have your own story to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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