Stories Create Our Reality


I taught a self-management class for fifteen years, and work with scores of coaching clients to improve their self-management. One critical insight that I've observed over the years is that the happiest people construct their reality by telling themselves positive stories.

I manage my own life by taking time to reflect on the stories I'm telling myself about people and events. I've learned that by changing my internal narrative and becoming less reactive my personal and business life is more fulfilling. We interact with people and events, but have choice over how we explain our experiences to ourselves and others.

Humans are wired to create and tell stories. Our brains continuously look for explanations to the events around us. Whatever we encounter, whether random or planned, forces our minds to impose a chronology and apply cause-and-effect logic.

"We automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us, and ‘stuff just happens' is no explanation," according to psychologist Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at Oxford University's Centre for Anthropology & Mind.

We use stories to find meaning amid chaos. This is how we organize and give context to our experiences. Facts are meaningless until we create a story around them. As business consultant Annette Simmons writes in The Story Factor (Basic Books, 2006), "People don't need new facts-they need a new story." In most cases, these stories matter more than what actually happens.

We tell our stories constantly, even when we're unaware of doing so. They reflect issues with our work, family, overall happiness, and personal strengths and weaknesses. Each story has a theme, hero, villain and conflict, and the way we communicate it involves both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Because we alone craft our stories, we may as well make them as inspiring as possible, suggest leadership coach Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor Benjamin Zander, authors of The Art of Possibility (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).

Consequences of Negative Stories

Some of our internal stories are so tragically inaccurate that they lead to stress and burnout:

• "It's a competitive, cutthroat world out there."

• "If I don't look out for No. 1, nobody else will."

• "The world is moving too fast for me these days."

• "I'd love to spend time with my family, but I have to work."

• "If I'm not the first person at work and the last to leave, I'll be viewed as a slacker."

• "I'd exercise and eat better, if only I wasn't so busy."

• "I'm smarter than most people at work, so I don't need to prepare, train or worry."

A USA Today survey reveals that one in six employees is so overworked that he/she doesn't use up allotted annual vacation time (even though Americans receive the fewest vacation days in the industrialized world).

Another survey shows:

• 34% of workers report that they have no downtime at work.

• 32% eat lunch while working.

• 32% never leave the building until they head home.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development for emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching to help leaders develop executive presence? Leaders with highly developed executive presence tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to fully engage employees and customers.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is "What are my faulty stories that I tell myself self over and over again?" Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching for collaborative leaders who value work/life balance.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are fully engaged and work/life balance is an important value. You can become a leader with executive presence who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.


Maynard is a consulting psychologist and personal, career and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting, training and transformational coaching firm that develops people and organizations. We specialize in helping companies assess, select, coach, and retain top talent; leadership development; 360-degree feedback; emotional intelligence; competency modeling; succession management; career development and executive coaching. Maynard is an instructor with The...

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