Amplifying Moments by Choosing How We Narrate Our Story

Joy doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional and requires work.

We experience joy in proportion to our ability to practice gratitude. Gratitude in turn opens us up to noticing the moments in our day-to-day that are joy-worthy. 

Once we notice, we can choose joy as the emotional state to live in and find opportunities to amplify joy.

And after the last 16 months, there is plenty to amplify.

As the number of people vaccinated increase, life is slowly beginning to return to some semblance of normal. People are beginning to gather, families are reuniting, and we’re able to start exploring the world around us again. The most empathetic employers are rethinking what the future state of work looks like. The organizations most likely to last are evolving their approach on how to amplify a work culture that allows employees to continue bringing their whole self to work.

We’ve had to lean in to those closest to us for support these past 16 months. And while, it’s not been without its challenges, it’s given a deeper appreciation to being part of a community or family. 

This isn’t to say that all has been a bucket of adorable baby sea otters. There is still so much turmoil and pain and grief in the world. However, most of us have zero control over any of it. What we do have control over is what we notice or pay attention to.

Learning to notice gives us the power to narrate the story unfolding before us. 

We can choose to bookmark certain moments as worth remembering. We can look for the indicators of past moments that made a life-changing impact and be present in current moments that have the same markings. We can amplify feelings and experiences and shape them with meaning. We can reframe a challenging reality by intensifying gratitude, joy and growth.

The point is, we are all narrating our lives. 

It’s up to you to choose the stories you want to tell yourself and which emotions you want to give a greater voice to.

What to focus on

If it’s not going to matter in the next five minutes, five hours or five days, is it worth focusing on? Is it worth the energy or emotional output?

On the other hand, if it may matter or have lasting impact in the next five weeks, five months or five years, shouldn’t this get the lion’s share of your attention and focus?

Learning to ask better questions is a useful skill. But, getting good at asking better questions isn’t enough on its own. 

The answer to a good question will usually sort itself out.

For most of us, if we ask ourselves a question like this at the right moment, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to discern which of the two categories the current moment would fall into. 

The hard part is training yourself to pause and recognize you are in a moment that requires asking the question.

Noticing is at the heart of it. 

Learn to notice and what to focus on will take care of itself.

Give yourself an A

The following is an idea that I “stole like an artist” from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander and highly recommend the read.

This world we live in, this one right here and now, is a world of measurement. 

Everything is measured, managed, benchmarked, compared, and stripped down to a piece of data that can be tracked and analyzed. 

Measurement is important. It allows for continuous improvement.

But measuring has limitations. It can only be done to that which is finite, concrete, or tangible.

A company can measure how much of its product it sold. They can compare that to their competitor. 

If they sold more, this company can claim a larger piece of the market share pie. 

But, this world of measurement, more often than not, leads to a zero-sum or finite game. There is only so much of the pie to go around. The more someone else gets, the less someone else gets.

Further, measurement cannot stand on its own. For it to have meaning it requires comparison. How is something tracking compared to something else – a past measurement, a competitor, etc.

Because it’s everywhere, we can’t help but let this world of measurement influence our thinking to our own detriment. We view the world as a zero-sum game, a world of scarcity – of time, money, resources, power – where our job is to get the biggest piece of the pie. We compare ourselves to everyone around us and find that we don’t stack up or if we do, we feel like an imposter. 

The world of measurement can lead to a downward spiral – a race to get more than everyone else.

But there is another world.

THE UNIVERSE OF POSSIBILITY

This world extends beyond the borders that define the world of measurement and includes all worlds: infinite, generative and abundant. This world requires a posture of openness and an unrestricted imagination for what is possible. 

Action in this universe is defined as generative or giving – creating new ideas, consciously ascribing meaning, contributing, and yielding to the power of context. Emotions, often associated with spirituality, are abundant here – joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion and compassion. 

Many experience this world in the presence of natural beauty or at the sight of something of infinite magnitude – a breathtaking view, an ocean that goes on forever. 

Overall, success is more likely if you participate joyfully with projects and goals and don’t fear as if your life depends on achieving a mark.

Resources are likely to come with greater abundance when you are generous, inclusive and engage people in your passion for life. It’s not guaranteed – success never is – but when you orient yourself towards abundance, you care less about being in control and you tend to take more risks.

The world of measurement requires you to set a goal and strive for it. The universe of possibility requires you set the conditions and let the journey unfold.

GIVING YOURSELF AN A

Grades are another example of the the world of measurement – it is a way to compare students. From an early age, grades teach us that success is a measurement of comparison against others. 

And as we move into adult life, grades may disappear but we carry with us the idea that we must habitually compare ourselves to others.

But what if there’s another way…

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Michelangelo

Rather than comparing ourselves to others, what if instead we focused on chipping away at whatever is keeping us from making our highest level of contribution – from developing skills, mastery or self-expression. 

This practice is known as giving yourself an A.

This practice allows you to speak openly about your own thoughts, feelings and aspirations. It allows you to support others to be all they dream of being without the need to compare.

An A can be given to anyone you may encounter.

Doing so allows you to speak from a place of respect. It allows space for others to realize themselves rather than measuring how they stack up against another.

The A becomes a possibility to live into, rather than an expectation to fulfill.

The practice of giving an A recognizes the inherent desire in people to contribute to others, no matter how many barriers there may be.

You can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a friend, or co-worker or you can choose to honor in them an unfulfilled need to make a difference.

When you freely grant an A to yourself and others, it cuts across the ladder of success/failure in the world of measurement, to the world of possibility. It is a framework that allows you to both see and be all you are, without having to resist or deny any part of yourself. 

A Daily Choice

Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.

Boethius

Today, you have a choice.

The day may not go at all as you planned. In fact, everything may go horrible. 

But such is life.

We do not control the outcome. Events are neutral, neither good nor bad. We ascribe meaning to them. 

Misery vindicates us as the victim and allows us to blame the outcome on the event. We give eskimo kisses to our ego and reassure it we are not the architect of this existence. And while that may absolve us of responsibility, it leaves us feeling powerless.

Happiness requires we take responsibility for our own state without relying on externalities to define it. The hardest part about happiness is learning to be content in a culture that sells scarcity and convinces us we need more.

Both are a choice.

Which will you choose today?

Hidden Structures

We often build structures or systems to support us in our achievement.

  • We set up an accountability system with a friend.
  • We hire a coach to provide us with guidance in order to achieve better.
  • We attend co-working sessions to help us get done what must get done.
  • We seek communities that will support us on our journey and make us feel like a part of that community.
  • We look for frameworks, systems or processes that others have applied successfully and attempt to replicate.

As we experiment with different structures, we discover that some help us achieve our desired outcome as a result. 

So, we adopt these structures. We integrate them into our routines or habits. They become part of the background against which we pursue and attain our achievements. They provide us with the momentum we need to help us get started and remain in motion.

And yet, after enough time of something working, we forget (or rather assume) that WE are doing something right. We misattribute our success to our own volition. We discount the structures upon which our successes were made possible. We falsely believe that our discipline and commitment bore our achievement. 

We may even be so arrogant to think that we don’t need these structures. We may grow bored of them and make the mistake of equating boredom with useless or unnecessary. We discard them because WE believe we are the architect of our success. 

But with the structures removed, we lose momentum. We may even have the audacity to be surprised when that occurs. After all, we’ve been successful before. Perhaps, we just need to try harder. But this thinking is self-centered. It fails to recognize that YOU alone were not successful – it was your system or structure. 

We learn that the source of our failures is a result of the choices we made to disregard the structure. 

We are only as successful as the systems and structures we have in place. And we must never fail to recognize that these structures are what make achievement possible. 

We’re much less powerful than we think. 

It’s best to realize that sooner rather than later and save yourself the pain of self-sabotage and self-deception.

Boundaries

State lines. Property lines. Medians. Guard rails. Borderlines. Fences. Goal line. End zone.

These are all various forms of the same thing – a boundary. 

They serve as reminder of where the edge is. 

Push too far past it and you’ll exceed the boundary that’s been set. 

Build something outside your property line and there will be reprucussions. Veer off the road over the median or past the guardrails and disaster is certain. Catch a football outside the the end zone and your team won’t score any points.

Boundaries give us information about how the world is structured.

This of course is easy to see in the physical world. The edges are clearly marked.

And we don’t question them. 

The external world exerts a boundary and we adhere.

Of course there are some boundaries we should question critically. 

Because not all boundaries need be set by the external world. 

That’s not to say the external world won’t alwys impose. 

If we haven’t given much thought to our own personal boundaries, it’s easy to accept what is presented as if it’s our only choice. We can feel helpless like flotsam at mercy of the ocean currents.

To set our own boundaries, we must first care. 

We must be invested in an outcome that is different than what the external world imposes. We must have the courage to disagree and push back. Otherwise, our acceptance can turn to resentment. 

You cannot live intentionally if you are constantly accepting what the world imposes. 

A boundary is nothing more than a constraint that informs how to achieve an outcome. 

If you value building a life of contribution, you must set your boundary to encompass the activities and behaviors that maximize your ability to contribute. Anything outside of that or not related must be ignored or minimized.

I suppose if you don’t know what your desired outcome is, then any boundary will do.

Control What You Can Control

Suffering for the sake of suffering is a fool’s choice. 

And I had been a fool lately.

I’d had some tough workdays. The kind of days that make you doubt the path you are on. The ones that cast a pretty big cloud and bleed over outside of work.

I was letting them spill over into the most sacred and scarce moments of my day – time spent with my family or time spent engaged in regenerative activities such as sleep, exercise and play. 

One minute I’d be watching my daughters do something silly and the next I found my mind drifting back towards work.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night and work would pop into my head and shine like a blinding neon light, kissing any chance I had of going back to sleep goodbye.

Or I’d be at the gym in the early morning, I’d remember something about work and start worrying about the day and lose focus on my workout.

I would let myself suffer in advance or relive a difficult day outside the boundaries it existed rather than being present in the moment.

I would get irritated. My patience became nonexistent. Every little thing would rub me wrong and I’d get dramatically mad and curse the gods for being drunk on ambrosia.

I was allowing these bad days to encroach on the best parts of my day.

I needed to figure out how to free myself from this hostage situation.

Philosophy Meets Application

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been working with a fitness and nutrition coach. One of the things we always talk about is the discipline of controlling what you can control.

  • Control the number of calories you consume.
  • Control for your macronutrients.
  • Control for hours of sleep.
  • Control for your daily movement or exercise.
  • Control for doing the minimum effective dose.
  • Control your emotions and assess results objectively.
  • Focus on the key inputs that drive results and do your best to execute on those, ignore everything else.

This focused mindset has yielded impressive results in my fitness and nutrition. 

I wondered…could the same principle apply to the shadowed mindset I was experiencing from work?

Perhaps I was focusing on the wrong things. Was I trying to control things outside my control?

Upon examiniation, I found that I was trying to control for clients emotions – did they like me or were they upset? I was trying to control for the types of problems I hoped to solve that day but didn’t. I was too attached to expectations about how the day should go. 

Instead of focusing on the things within my control – was I showing up and contributing to the best of my abilities, did I help my team grow, was I setting the right leadership example – I was focused on the wrong things.

When I realized this, I recalibrated my internal score keeper to focus only on what I could control. Once this shift in mindset occurred, I noticed a couple things that hadn’t been clear to me before.  

When I didn’t maintain clear boundaries that helped me live in the present (like being intentional to not check work email after hours), that lack of discipline shifted my focus to things outside my control. 

The mornings I woke up and dove straight into the maddening world of social media or the infinite news cycle, my focus would shift to a mindset of comparison or outrage. I was starting the day at a mental deficit. Goodbye self-esteem and empathy. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I found that controlling for what I could control didn’t eliminate bad days. Rather it helped me quickly assess if I was focused on the wrong things.  

Once I noticed it, I could refocus and start again.

The discipline is in learning to ignore the outcome of the day, which can be as predictable as a spider monkey that’s just chugged a Four Loko.

Instead, it meant focusing on the critical few things within my control. 

I found that I got to decide what the day meant by what I focused on.

Is this a test?

The strength of a great coach or mentor comes from their ability to challenge your thinking – to poke holes and push back on it. 

When done masterfully, it helps to either develop a stronger belief in your thinking because it holds up or expands it because you realized there was an assumption or bias you had overlooked.

It is a masterful form of mental jiu jitsu. 

And one that I learned to leverage against myself in a recent moment of lazy thinking. 

I was at the gym in the early morning. I pulled open the app that had my programming from my coach. I noticed one of the sets didn’t specify how many reps to do. 

I don’t know about you, but when I’m still ramping up in the morning, any little unexpected thing can shut my brain down immediately.

And THIS was unexpected. 

My mind began to race worryingly, “Oh god, what am I supposed to do? How many reps should I do?” 

I replied to myself, “Just pick a number, any number is fine.” 

I responded panicky, “But how will I know if I do enough? What if the number of reps I pick is not enough to have made this work out count?” 

I don’t think I’m going to do it then since I don’t have all the information,” I rationalized to myself. 

I paused for a moment and wondered, what if this is a test?

What if my coach had intentionally left the number of reps off? Perhaps he is testing me by creating an opportunity to practice applying what I know. What if this is a chance to test out an idea and see how it lives in the real world without someone providing explicit direction?

I picked a number of reps and that was the end of it. 

DEFCON 1 crisis narrowly averted.

Of course it wasn’t a test. It was most likely an oversight. 

But if it WAS a test, I definitely got a gold star.

Hope as a Choice

As of late there’s something extra in the air, something that is hard to shake. It’s unsettling – an underlying existential anxiety or dread. It’s hard to escape from. It feels as if it’s become part of the background noise – absorbed into the ambience. 

It begins to seep into your bones and your body carries the weight of it all.

A funk without hope. 

But, tread carefully.

This ground, while heavy, is fertile for shaping your view of the world. And ultimately, the trajectory of your life. 

This is a pivotal fork in the road, not to be taken lightly.

A moment to decide what deep belief you want to hold about how to view the world.  

Because deep beliefs unwaver during times of uncertainy like these. 

Down one path, the world, situation, or outcome is hopeless and filled with dread. A belief that no matter what we do, it won’t make a difference. And if nothing matters, why care about anything or open ourselves up to the world.

Down the other path, is hope. And hope is a decision (this distinction is important).

A decision that you’d prefer to live with intent. A path with a deep belief that we must not waver from because it is our contribution to the world. 

This is a choice to believe that better is still possible, even in the face of the bleakest of situations. A commitment that no matter how dire it may seem, you choose to believe that better is possible.

And so you fight.

You make the choice to fight. 

Because without hope, better is not possible.

The Inner Critic’s Greatest Hits

I used to think the idea of being kinder to yourself was a bunch of fluffy woo-woo lovey-dovey nonsense. 

I couldn’t connect the dots on how to apply it whenever the inner critic took over and put some its favorite hits on repeat.

Like the classic hit, titled “What the literal fuck did you just do?”

Or the one that made it to the top of the Heatseekers Chart, “WHAT’S wrong with you? You’ll look like an IDIOT.”

Or the emo crowd’s favorite, “You don’t ever do enough.”

Let those play over in your head enough times and it’ll keep you walled inside a safe existence, too scared to venture outside the lines.

But through much time and grace, I’ve found that being kinder to myself doesn’t mean your self-talk is lovey-dovey all the time or it’s positive self-talk 24/7. 

Quite the opposite.

The inner critic still lives with me and often times is the voice of reason for the moment at hand.

Being kinder just means that it’s not the ONLY voice you let in your head. You recognize it’s only one perspective. 

Instead of defaulting to the inner critics as truth, I let other thoughts in, kinder thoughts, thoughts that remind me I am enough. Thoughts that help me trust myself rather than doubt. 

Self kindness isn’t a blindness to your shortcomings.

It’s dancing with the tension that there is opportunity to improve AND you are also good enough as you are. 

The AND is important.

You need both sides for balance.