Stories are a powerful part of our lives. They help us simplify the complex to something that we can easily remember, that we can easily reinforce and that we can easily identify with. They are what we tell ourselves about the different part of our lives.
But what happens when we have a story that we don’t like?
This guide will show you how we can go about changing that.
One of the books that we highly recommend to everyone we meet is Jim Loehr’s Power of Story. It’s a great book that explains what stories are, how they impact our lives and the incredible things that we can do with them.
But one thing that has always bothered me about stories, is the idea that we have to start living them in the present – mostly because I personally don’t like the waiting time required for stories to take root in unconscious behavior… I want to see fast change, and I want to see it NOW.
In this guide I want to present a solution that I’ve personally been using and have taught to others in 1-on-1 settings. It acts as a shortcut and allows us to act/behave as-if we’ve been living a story that we’ve crafted for years already – I would dare say, as-if we’ve been living it our entire lives.
The technique is this: Embedding Stories in your personal history.
Now this does get a little woo-woo. But it works. It’s a technique that I learned from some early mentors of mine about 10-ish years ago, and one of the useful things that I’ve kept coming back to over the last decade.
The version I’ll be writing about deviates substantially from what they originally taught.
Also, we’ll be talking about stories specifically in this guide, but this technique can be used for anything – beliefs, ideas and concepts. It is particularly useful for rapidly implementing new “inner game” ideas that we pick up from books and guides (like this one).
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- An outline of the Embedding Stories method.
- How it works / What it does.
- What to expect / What to use this for.
- Next actions and closing thoughts.
The method is actually a fairly linear process.
1. Identify the story you want to change and/or embed
The first step is to identify what you want to change and/or embed. It can be either, as we can either work with a story from our personal history that we don’t like and alter that, or we can take a new story (though those are rare) and work on embedding that instead.
If you need help identifying stories, see this article.
Once you have the story that needs to be changed, write it down. Also write down the story that will replace it, or the new story if it is something completely new.
2. Craft the story so it’s well-formed
The second step is to craft the replacement story/new story so that it meets certain criteria.
- Getting specific as to what you want/what you want the story to be.
- Making sure it’s humanly achievable.
- Detailing what the evidence will look like when the story has been changed.
- Determining if it’s within my control.
- Determining costs and consequences and if they are acceptable.
- Asking if all the resources required for change are available.
- Asking if you REALLY want this.
Let’s use an example to explain.
If we take the story “I am a productive person”, we can run it through the aforementioned criteria.
“I am a productive person”.
The first criteria asks that we get specific. That we narrow down the story into something more concrete. Let’s go with:
“I am a productive person when it comes to managing email”.
Or even better:
“I am a productive person when it comes to managing email. I use a hybrid methodology as outlined by Asian Efficiency, which involves checking my email at fixed times every day, turning notifications, off, achieving inbox zero and using a workflow to triage incoming email.”
Note: You can and should flesh out your story as much as as specifically as possible.
Is this humanly achievable?
What evidence will indicate that I am a productive person when it comes to managing email?
“Well, right now I spend most of my day looking at email. If I can cut this down to 1 hour a day, split into 2 x 30 minute sessions, I (and most other people) would consider that productive.”
Is it under my control?
“It may not seem like it, but yes it is. I may need to explain to my boss why I’m not on email all day, but that I can do.”
Are the costs and consequences acceptable to me (and others)?
“To me, definitely yes. I’ll have to turn off notifications and get used to working uninterrupted. Other people will have to adapt to the idea that I’m not replying to their emails instantly and there may be some kickback, but I am OK with that consequence.”
Note: You will want to list out all the costs and consequences you can think of.
Do I have all the resources available for this change in story?
“Yes. I have the tools and equipment (email client), and I know how to change my notification settings. I also have Asian Efficiency’s email guide for the technical process of how this works.”
3. Locate the First Incident
Think about the story you want to change, and locate the first incident where that story played out in your life.
The easiest way to do this is to close your eyes, think about the story, visualize it, and trace back year-by-year until you get to the first time in your personal history that the story occurred. Really try to narrow it down to a specific first incident that kicked off this story in your life.
If you are embedding a completely new story (which is rare), think back to the point in your personal history where you would have wanted this new story to be part of your life.
4. Deconstruct the First Incident
Now that you have identified the first incident, you want to deconstruct it.
Let the incident play out in your mind once, and then freeze and hold it.
Break down the story into different actors and influences – these are usually people, but could also be parts of the environment, like the cultural milieu or any overriding beliefs of that particular era.
Once you’ve broken these out, you want to rank the actors in order of importance, from least to most.
5. Embed the New Story
Now that you’ve deconstructed the first incident of the story that you want to change, you want to start changing it.
Start with the least important actor/influence, and change his/her/it’s words and actions first, to match the new story that you’ve crafted and want to embed.
You can change:
- What they say.
- What they do.
- How they respond.
- Their general stance and demeanor.
Once you’ve done this, run through the story one time with ONLY that actor’s/influence’s changes. Make sure that you notice the difference.
Continue with each subsequent actor in that first incident. Change their words/actions/stance, and then run through the incident to see the difference. To clarify, change ONLY that subsequent actor’s words/actions/stance when running through the incident each time.
Once you’ve gone through all the actors, it’s time to change your own actions and words in that first incident to match the new story you want to embed. An easy way to do this is to have your adult self into the story, and convey the new story and what you know now to your younger self. Again, run through the incident with your actions changed.
When all this is done, play through the entire first incident with everyone’s words/actions changed, and notice the difference.
If you’re not satisfied, then you need to go back to edit each of the actor’s responses/words/actions until you are satisfied.
6. Making it Generative
Play back the first incident with the changed story.
Then, run through your life year-by-year from the time of that first incident up until the present. Notice how events would have changed, or how your perspective on different events has changed as a result of this new story.
If you like, you can even run this same story into your future – what you are planning to do over the next few years.
7. Checking In
Once you’ve done this, sit for a minute and let the changes sink in.
Then ask yourself:
- Is everything still OK?
- If there are any nagging thoughts or issues with the changes you just made?
If there are any issues, you can always go back and reset the first incident to its original state, and reverse any changes that were made.
How Embedding Stories Works and What It Does
I realize that this technique and process does come off a little woo-woo. After all, what has happened in our personal history has already happened… and can’t be changed, right?
Well, yes, reality itself is objective. Facts are facts and they don’t change.
But what does change, are our experience and memory and emotions and recollections of our personal history – those can be changed.
Note: a great example of this are the recollections of the men of the Harvard Grant Study (see the book Triumphs of Experience for more).
We’re big fans of using what simply works here at Asian Efficiency – and the process of Embedding Stories most definitely does work.
As to exactly how it works, that is a different question.
Will it change your reactions and behaviors in the present time?
Yes, it will.
Does it “override” what has happened in the past?
Not really. It simply gives you a different interpretation about an event and how you view that event as part of your history of stories leading up to the present day.
What to Expect and What to Use This For
If you’ve run through the process already, you’ll have noticed that it does require a certain amount of concentration and can be mentally taxing, so be sure to set aside some quiet time to go through it.
You probably won’t notice any immediate changes yourself in how you act, think or perceive things. But others around you will – you can trust that the changes will be there.
As to what you can use this for – there are a lot of things.
You can get rid of unhelpful beliefs. You can adopt new habits and behaviors. You can change bad habits and remove negative behaviors. You can get “unconscious uptake” on a new skill, process or system that you’re learning. You can handle limiting stories from the past. You can implement new ideas that you’ve learned from reading.
And the obvious one: you can use the process to change any perceived limitations with your productivity.
Next Actions and Closing Thoughts
When I teach this process to people for the first time, a lot of them are skeptical – after all, if nothing physical has actually changed, then how can it possible work?
Well, that’s it exactly. All you’re doing there is sitting, thinking and rearranging things inside your mind… there is no physical component to this. So if it doesn’t work – all you’ve lost is 15-20 minutes of your time, thinking. So why not give it a try?
Asian Efficiency is a blog about productivity, but sometimes being productive means doing other things to help us perform at our best – and cleaning up our stories about ourselves is an important part of that.
If you have any questions or comments or want to hear about more techniques and processes like this, let me know in the comments.
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