Our words matter…
Quite a few years ago, I was talking to my wife about a project I was trying to get off the ground. It was a major deal, and I had a lot of skin in the game. And it involved a HUGE amount of work.
And as I was telling her all about it, and all the dramas that were going on, I said something like, “But don’t worry, I’m going to climb this mountain.”
She said, “That’s a bit dramatic isn’t it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re a businessman. Not a mountaineer. I’m not going to send out a chopper for you if you don’t come home from a meeting one day…
“… because you’re probably just having beer and chips at the pub.”
“Yeah, but pulling this deal off is like climbing a mountain. It requires grit, determination… it takes balls. I’m cast of the same heroic spirit. I’m an adventurer of commerce. I’m a trailblazer of trade. I’m…
“You’re someone who won’t go camping unless we can bring the espresso machine.
My point is you’re turning it into a big deal. You talk like this all the time. Climbing mountains. Crossing seas. Slaying dragons. Sure you get to play the hero, but only by turning your project into a monster.
Why not pick something less scary, less intimidating. Pick something that better matches the stuff you’ve got to do. Like a pile of washing up.
If there’s a big pile of washing up, you’ve just got to put your head down and keep chipping away. But the washing up is never going to beat you. No one ever lost a battle of wits with a pile of dishes. But people fail to climb mountains all the time. Heaps of people have died half-way up a mountains.
So when you say the project is like a mountain, you give it all this power. You make it sound like it’s a 50/50 chance – like it’s probably going to beat you. But if you say it’s like a pile of dishes, it can be big, but it’s never going to beat you.”
“I don’t know love. I’ve seen some pretty scary dishes.”
“Yeah I think we should see someone about your irrational phobia of housework.”
But I thought about what she said for a while, and figured that this is one of those rare instances where she was right.
(Just kidding hon. You’re always right.)
Our words matter. The way we chose to frame ideas affects the way those ideas sit in our heads. And that means that they start to impact our beliefs and attitudes. They affect our mindset.
And that also means that we can change our attitudes just by changing our words.
(For a while there, I used to say “Thanks a million!”, and imagine myself giving away a million dollars — to make me feel rich and abundant.)
And when I looked at this, my wife was right. I was making the job out to be harder than it was, or had to be. (In fact, by giving it this power, I was actually inviting it to become difficult and dangerous.)
I was, almost literally, making a mountain out of molehill.
But even when I could see that, I found it hard to let go of those heroic narratives I was carrying around.
I was dependent on them… for two reasons. First, I just like thinking of myself as a brave adventurer, rising to the challenge and over-coming great odds.
It’s one of the most popular archetypes in our culture. It’s little Frodo Baggins off to fight the great evil at Mt Doom. It’s the karate kid coming up against bigger, and more ruthless opponents. It’s David and Goliath.
In Australia in particular we LOVE the underdog.
And that might be great if it inspires us to rise to challenges that seem bigger than us. But it’s not so great if I start imagining monsters where there are none just so I can play hero-boy.
And so to let the project become easy you need to let go of being the underdog hero (unless, of course, you only want to do projects that are hard… in that case, knock yourself out.)
The second element was the energy I got from this narrative. When I imagined myself as a little Froddo Baggins, I was inspired. I got excited. It gave me energy.
There was me, in a little boat, pitched against wild and stormy seas, on a motivational poster, pinned to the walls of my mind.
And energy is useful so that’s great. But if things didn’t go my way (and at some point they won’t) then suddenly I’m way out of my depth. I’m a useless hobbit with a stick staring down an army or orcs.
Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed, intimidated, wet in the pants.
And they’re totally unproductive emotions to bring to any endeavour.
So I needed to let go of my mighty hero narrative, and I needed to find an alternative source of energy – something more sustainable.
There’s a lot of strategies for that, and I’m curious to hear what people think, but since I’ve made those changes, I no longer find myself stuck half way up mountains any more.
When things are tough, I know I can keep going. It’s all within my capabilities. Just wash another cup. Just rinse another spoon. Just keep going. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
And since I’ve started framing my journeys in this way, surprisingly enough, they actually have been a lot easier.
I enjoy more success, and I’m more relaxed and enjoy the journey more.
Thanks love. Where would I be without you?
“Halfway up some stupid mountain.”
Anyone else caught up in a hero narrative? Where else do we get our energy?