Since the cognitive revolution 70,000 years ago, we have been changing our behavior and social patterns faster than our DNA is able to change. The cognitive revolution, according to Yuval Noah Harari, enabled humankind to imagine realities other than the perceived reality of the ground we walk on, the sky we look up to, or the saber toothed tiger chasing us down. The imagined realities and stories we tell one another enable us to adapt more effectively and efficiently than the forces of evolution that shaped this strange rock we live on for the last 3.5 billion years. Our genetic algorithms have not kept up with the changes since the cognitive revolution resulting in instincts, biases, and patterns of behavior no longer optimized in our daily existence. Take for example our growing issue with overweight people all over the world. We have an unconscious need to gorge on high-calorie fatty foods. Out on the Savanah we had to do so as there was little to no food. When we found a tree with ripe figs, we gorged so that we would not lose the calories to some band of apes or other creatures. Today, we have an overabundance of food as well as the instinct born from our hunter and gathering days. The instinctual desires have not adapted to our modern environment. This leaves us in a struggle between our instincts and the modern understanding of caloric intake for our particular body. Sometimes we lose control to our instincts, over eat, and gain weight. We then sign up for a gym membership, work out at home, or take a spinning class. This lasts for a time until our motivation changes. We get into cycles of gain and loss. We try this diet or that set of exercises only to find us at the fig tree once again. However, there is another tool working subtlety in the background. This tool is the motivation behind our behaviors and the construct we use to achieve what we set out to do with our time and energy. The tool each one of us has is the story in our heads. The stories we tell ourselves and use to integrate into our tribe connect us to our work, others, and purpose beyond ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves provide intrinsic motivation to achieve what we tell ourselves we can. We are the authors of our lives. We simply have to recognize the stories and use them to change our lives.
The biz of you has much ado about the seemingly inconsequential stories we immerse ourselves within. Stepping back to witness the story separate from our behavior permits us to see where and how the story does and does not help us achieve our objectives in life. Knowing the differences between the stories around us, within us, and the person we want to be empowers us to make radical change for the better. The stories we tell ourselves can benefit not only our specific circumstance but everyone and everything we interact with. If there is a fundamental principle of managing the biz of you, it is this recognition of the interacting stories shaping our lives and adjusting our internal narrative to achieve what we set out to do. The story we tell ourselves shapes us into the symbols within our internal narrative. It is time for a new story, your story of who you want to become, as well as our story living out our days as stewards of the future. What will you story be? Will your story be filled with love and hope, frustration and anger, or sadness and despair? A realistic story is to combine all of the previous ingredients. We all have a choice about the narrative we use to focus our thoughts, feelings and energies. So how do we go about becoming the authors of our lives?
First, we have to become aware of the stories we tell ourselves. There are many ways to do so. My particular path involved immersing myself into the Taoist arts and more specifically meditation. It is hard to sit still and just observe the thoughts coming and going in our heads. It is so much easier to attach our awareness to a particular thought and ride the wave of pleasure or pain it gives. Mediation creates the space inside to just witness without riding the wave of emotional reactions in our lives. There are many different kinds of meditation and mindfulness is currently a trendy self-health topic. There are other means of finding that place of stillness within to simply observe and witness. Some people run to clear their minds. Some of us do yoga, focus on hobbies, or go dancing. Whatever you choose, the idea is to find a way to observe without judgement the thoughts and feelings that come and go in your moment-to-moment awareness. The hard part is letting go of the thoughts and feelings that come into our mind.
Second, we have to observe the patterns of internal narrative over time. It is beneficial to recognize the repeated thoughts and feelings as part of the larger story of our lives. Seeing patterns of our behavior is a step towards modifying our behavior in ways that serve our purposes. This step simply takes time and dedication to the practice of witnessing. A tai chi teacher once told me about “listening with your whole body.” Each of our senses is part of the narrative we tell ourselves. Observing not only our thoughts and feelings but also the reactions to them is the essence of this phase of learning to be the author of our lives. We all have a personal reaction to our thoughts and feelings. As an example, imagine looking at a picture of maggots. This thought may bring about a sense of revulsion and even the sensation of wanting to vomit especially if you have ever had the chance to see it for real. The smell, sounds, and sense of decay can be overwhelming. However, there are different stories about maggots we can bring our awareness to. Maggots are simply feeding on a carcass so they can bring about the proliferation of their genes. They are removing the dead. They are creatures like us just trying to survive. Maggots are part of the circle of life, death, and birth. There are many stories going on all the time. We have a choice on which one to focus on. We can focus on the negative, positive, or neutral versions of the stories. We can use one thought to accentuate another. As an example when we allow our thoughts and feelings to run away with our attention they become the maggots of our lives eating away our time and energy. A more positive use of the thought is to think of the maggots consuming the negative thoughts allowing us to create space for new positive thoughts. The choice we can make is to allow thoughts and feelings come and more importantly go. This enables us to choose which ones to take a hold of and nurture. The key is to open our minds to different stories while observing our reactions and not allowing our reactions to become our reality. We then can make a choice to focus on a different story, a story conducive to our growth and success.
The third step in becoming the author of our lives is to absorb as many stories as possible. Read and interact with people observing the stories and symbols within. Go experience life and listen to those who have had different experiences than you. Having many stories to draw from is the foundation to writing your own narrative. Every time you interact with someone, seek to understand their experience. Ask questions to see if you can witness the story they are immersed in that brought about their experience. This is subtle. If you ask directly what the story is they tell themselves, you will be looked at like a weirdo. This step is the art of reflecting without judgement upon the interaction as it happens. It is being open to understand motivations not judgements, intent not just sharing feelings. Knowing their story and personal narrative empowers us to have more effective communication. Being able to select words that can relate to someone else’s story facilitates the exchange of ideas in our business, social, and family lives. Instead of just commiserating we can collaborate. This is a path to conflict resolution as much as it is gathering stories for the final step in authoring our lives.
Lastly, we have to reflect on and orient our awareness, observations, and experience with the intent of creating a story we want to live our life by. Coupling our story with what we truly want out of life sets the stage for our particular play. As Shakespeare plays with words, we can play with ideas and stories to create the masterpiece of our life. This is critical. We create the life we live with every one of our actions. Our actions stem directly from our decisions which emerge from the stories we tell ourselves. Managing our biz to achieve our objectives and fulfill our purposes is an act of creation. Managing the biz of you is about taking full responsibility of our lives and not living out the stories and drama of another author. Of course, all of our stories are interrelated and feed off one another. Once we choose the people we want to stick around in our lives for whatever term, they become part of the play we write with the stories we re-member as our own. I use the term play in both the sense of a play to be written within our heads but also as the intention of being playful. Let this process be fun. Let it be playfully interacting with the intent to learn, grow, and adapt.
The cognitive revolution 70,000 years ago gave us the ability to imagine realities not directly apprehended by our senses. This set the stage for the agriculture and scientific revolutions. What’s next? We have information available to us like never before. We are entering a realm of biological and neurological enhancements. What stories will we tell ourselves as we look to upgrade our bodies and minds in the decades to come? As Hagrid says in the Harry Potter books, “What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does.” Having the ability to alter our inner narrative will be a key to adapting to the changes coming our way. Even if we get stuck in the steps of 1) being aware of our stories, 2) observing our patterns of stories, 3) experiencing other’s stories, and 4) orienting our stories and ourselves to the future we want, we will have an increased capacity to adapt to the changes in our lives. Enabling ourselves to evolve with the world as it constantly changes around us is in my mind a critical skill. Evolving with intent stewards our resources of time, energy and attention. Orienting our stories towards stewardship of the future is one story, I think all of us can use in managing our biz.
For more information on the cognitive revolution mentioned above, I suggest reading Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. His follow on book Homo Deus is about what history tells us of the future being developed now by the Sapiens changing the world.
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