The Stories We Tell Ourselves Control Our Attention

As a seasoned coach, I’ve learned to see past clients’ “stories” and to use observation skills to discover “basic truths.”

Motivation “basic truth” examples:

  • You would be dead if you weren’t motivated.
  • Everything you ever did was because you were motivated to do it.
  • Everything you have not done was because you were not motivated to do it at the time you thought you should do it.

Facts don’t make you want to buy those new sneakers; stories do. Huh? A fact is a fact, i.e., your sneakers are worn out. Stories can have facts, but fiction rules, i.e., these sneakers will get you a date.

Aha! The stories we tell ourselves control our attention. That explains so much. Basic observation is boring, dull, and effortful. The story, however, is engaging, exciting, and captures attention. Corporate America has cracked the code on this. They don’t sell what you need or what you want; they sell based on the story you want to hear. When that doesn’t work, corporate America sells it to you again. Why? Because you buy the story of what you want to work, not facts.

Story examples:

The story we tell: A salesman with ADHD told me he was motivated to do his expense account because his company owed him over $15,000.

Fact: He had not filed his expenses in over six months because he hated the task of doing his expense accounts because they were time consuming, tedious, and boring and there were other things he would rather do.

The story we tell: Another client told me that making a call to his relatives to inform them of his daughter’s dance recitals was easy.

Fact: He had procrastinated for three weeks because he would have to make numerous other calls. Why? Because he wasn’t able to answer questions like where to park, what to wear, or how long the event would be.

The story we tell: One of my clients, a psychiatrist with ADHD, read articles (stories) to me about how those with ADHD are disorganized, that he was disorganized and couldn’t self-regulate, and that I wouldn’t be able to help him.

Fact: He had graduated from medical school, completed his residency, and had a long-established profitable practice. If that is disorganized, sign me up!

Motivation Aha!

Anything you think is easy that you haven’t done is actually hard. Admit it!
If it were truly that easy, it would have been done by now.

Using the basic truths I learned from Rick Green of Totally ADD, I was able to help my clients acknowledge the facts around why they were not motivated and why these limiting beliefs need to be examined and removed. These clients flourished as we found ways to identify and move past obstacles.

I’m reminded of a poem to illustrate the art of basic observation that is lost to the narrative story: “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” – Daniel Goleman

Now, substitute the word “see” in the place of “notice” and you’ll get the point of this writing.

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