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How To Spot The Stories In Your Head That Steal Your Time, Energy, And Leadership Effectiveness

Written by: Sara Mueller, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


As human beings, we love a good story. Stories are how cultural traditions are passed on. They are the way we learn about our ancestors and heritage. And telling a story is one of the best ways to connect with an audience or help others retain information.

Inside our head, however, stories do not serve us. Yet so many of us spend time manufacturing, ruminating on, and acting in accordance with stories that are often far from the neutral facts. This causes us to waste our precious time and energy and adds unnecessary drama and stress to our days.

I recently texted my friend Vicki and asked her if she wanted to have a playdate with our kiddos. Normally Vicki is pretty quick to respond to a text message, so when I hadn’t heard from her after a couple of hours had passed, I went into a story-making mode in my mind.

“I can’t believe I haven’t heard back from Vicki yet,” I thought. “I wonder what’s going on. Oh man, I forgot to ask how her mother-in-law was doing last time we talked. She probably thinks I am an inconsiderate friend. No wonder I have such a hard time maintaining friendships. I’m such a bad friend. Which of my other friends have I neglected lately?”… and on and on and on I storied.

In order to increase our self-awareness (the first pillar of emotional intelligence we must master for more effective leadership), we need to recognize when we are in a story. The quickest way to do so is to bring our focus to neutral facts. In my example with Vicki, the neutral facts were that I had sent her a text invitation and she hadn’t responded yet. That’s it. Everything else was just a story I had created in my head.

And wouldn’t you know, a few hours later I got a text from Vicki that said, “Sorry for the delay – we had family visiting. We’d love to meet you for a playdate.”

As a leader, we must continually focus on the neutral facts around the people that we lead, rather than the stories we create in our head. Let’s say you have a new team member that has been late several times in the last week. Your mind may go into story-making mode thinking something like, “Man, this person is lazy. How hard is it to get to work on time? I must have made a mistake in hiring this person. How could this have not come up in her reference checks? Gosh, I’m a bad judge of character. Maybe I shouldn’t be in this leadership position after all” … and on and on and on.

In order to address the issue and lead effectively, you need to label the story for what it is, then be on the hunt for neutral facts with your team member.

You could say something like, “I really want you to be successful here. I see that you’ve been late several times this past month. You're being late impacts everyone in the morning meeting because they are then behind schedule the rest of the day. Help me understand what’s going on here.”

Only when you uncover the neutral facts can you address them and coach your team member through them. Maybe their employee badge hasn’t been working in the security line and they need a new one. Maybe early morning client meetings have lasted longer than expected and moving the team meeting back 30 minutes would work better for everyone’s schedule. Maybe your employee’s spouse has been hospitalized and they have had to take over all childcare responsibilities this month and need some empathy and coaching on how to ask for help and get additional support.

We can’t get to the neutral facts if we are caught up in a story. We can’t be productive, high energy, and drama-free leaders if we are caught up in a story. For high-performance leadership, recognize when you’re in a story-making mode in your head and turn your focus back to the neutral facts.

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Sara Mueller, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Sara Mueller believes we CAN have it all. She helps leaders develop emotional intelligence, resilience, and high performance so they can balance an impactful career AND a meaningful family life. After being burnt out in her career and hitting rock bottom in her marriage, Sara realized that her limiting beliefs and unproductive patterns were blocking joy and success in all areas of her life. So, she underwent an intense journey of self-discovery learning how to own her authentic power, presence, and purpose. She now teaches the key learnings of her transformation in her Self-Mastery Method coaching and leadership programs. Prior to becoming a Success Mentor, Sara spent nearly two decades developing optimization training programs for Fortune Global 500 executives while also teaching mindfulness and yoga to people from all walks of life. She’s a certified Conscious Parenting Coach and is regularly regarded as “life-changing,” “eye-opening,” and “one of the most engaging facilitators I’ve ever seen” by her beloved clients.



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