I've been waiting in the hotel lobby for two minutes. My temper begins to rise as I think, How inconsiderate of them to waste my time! But I catch myself.
I was about to tell myself a victim story, and I remembered: You can't run a multimillion-dollar business as a victim.
You can't lead successfully if you play the role of a victim. As a victim, you're disempowered and without control. How could you possibly lead?
Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from 161 to 180, said, "It is the responsibility of leadership to work intelligently with what is given, and not waste time fantasizing about a world of flawless people and perfect choices."
In fact, we often waste time fantasizing about flawless people and perfect choices. You see a gap between where you are and where you want to be, and that eats at you.
You can let this paralyze you, or you can rewrite the story.
Success: What's Story Got to Do With It?
Human beings make sense of and find meaning in reality through stories. We commonly hear of storytelling in marketing, but the most important stories are the ones we tell about ourselves, our internal narrative.
Successful people manage their internal narrative, because they recognize that it dictates their actions, and therefore their outcomes. Your internal narrative is the defining factor to your ability to show up as a leader.
Researchers have repeatedly discovered the power of internal narrative. In an article for The Atlantic, Julie Beck references studies where positive internal narratives or "redemption" stories are linked to greater life satisfaction. Other studies have found that people whose stories revolve around "agency"--feeling in control of one's life--tend to have better mental health and higher well-being.
We're constantly creating a narrative about where we are and how we got here, and we're always on the latest chapter of our narrative. When something undesirable happens, the story turns into a tragedy. Then you struggle to recover your happy ending.
The trick is to realize that your story isn't over yet. It's only the latest chapter in your novel, and it just so happened that things didn't turn out the way you thought they would.
But you can turn it into a plot twist.
The tragic subplot is your subjective interpretation of the situation, and you can change your interpretation. As Carol Dweck wrote in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, "Mindsets are just beliefs. They're powerful beliefs, but they're just something in your mind, and you can change your mind."
When you accept that neither your abilities nor your talents nor your potential are set in stone, that you can continue to grow and change, then you have a growth mindset. And a growth mindset, Dweck's research reveals, is what sets achievers apart from non-achievers. In other words, the growth mindset is the success mindset.
How to Make the Mental Switch From Victim to Success
You can have a success mindset, instantly.
Try the following exercise, which I learned from Annie Hyman Pratt of Impaq Business Execution Systems.
Think of something that upset you in the last two weeks and complete the sentence, "I'm upset because...." That's your victim story!
First, admit that you're writing your internal narrative with you as the victim.
Then, accept the possibility that none of it is true. Welcome other interpretations of the situation. Put yourself in a growth mindset: Recognize that there's an opportunity for growth in this upsetting situation, and find it.
Finally, rewrite your story, so you're a leader instead of a victim.
In my case, I realized the few minutes delay was in fact a gift of time. I could pause, take deep breaths, reset my intention, and get clear on what I wanted to accomplish in my next interaction.
It turned out, the person was only three minutes late. I could have spent that time fuming, getting annoyed, and becoming disagreeable. Instead, I calmed down and got focused, and the meeting was a pleasant and productive one.
Which ending would you have preferred? Remember, you get to decide how your story ends.