Celebrities, athletes, and politicians often have a team of PR experts ready to leap into action to control the narrative of their actions in an effort to make sure the story being told is the one they want being told.
While we might think of these teams being associated with negative situations, they don’t always have to be. When Politician Z goes to rural America to deliver a speech, with his top button undone and his sleeves rolled down, his/her team will tell the story about how they are blue-collar, hardworking, and for the little people.
When Politician Z gets caught in a lie during his speech, that same team will go into overdrive to explain how it was either, a) a misunderstanding, b) not what he actually said, c) needs further explanation, or d) they didn’t understand the question.
The goal of the PR team, regardless of the situation, is to control the narrative. They want the story out there that best serves their client. Most of the time, some portion of the truth will be present, it will just be reframed in a way that is best for their client.
We can do the same for ourselves. Controlling the narrative is an important tool for us as it allows us to find and tell the story that is most useful for us and our ability to move forward in a positive way. It does not mean that we lie to ourselves. Instead, it means that we shift our focus on what we can control based on the choices we have.
I’m writing this a bit aspirationally. Rather than coming from a place of complete expertise (if there is such a place), I’m writing this while learning about it myself. It’s just as much for me as it is for you. I continue to have internal arguments with myself about some of the tenets of mental toughness, and I think that’s a healthy thing to do.
Rather than accepting things blindly from authors and experts, I’m challenging things as I consume them. At the end of those challenges, I’ll accept or reject the different concepts I’m exploring, and the ones that I keep will be mine, I’ll be able to own them, and I’ll be better off for struggling through them.
I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
Your Own PR Team
Today’s concept, controlling the narrative by using the tool,
“That’s like me.”
Think about how many times we’ve done something that we deemed to be stupid or frustrating, and then responded with something like, “What an idiot!” or “How could I be so stupid?” or “What a loser!” Whether saying it internally or out loud, we can be quick to not only criticize, but also to characterize ourselves as (fill in the blank) based on our latest mistake. Essentially, what we are saying is, “That’s like me to be so _____ (negative characterization).”
I’d like to challenge us on the power of flipping the script on that. The power in controlling the narrative is that we take control over our perspective. Remember this is not about lying to ourselves or making up a new reality that doesn’t exist. The power lies in making a choice about how we see things, and what we say about ourselves in a given situation.
Think about the inverse of the situation above. How do we often respond when we do something amazing? When we finally reach that goal, make that impact, or close that deal, we might be tempted to dismiss it as luck, or good fortune, or “It’s about time”.
Imagine, for a moment, that this is something you’ve worked towards. You’ve prepared for the speech, or nurtured the relationship, or honed your skills. When the results finally come, rather than focusing on luck, good fortune, or the fate of the universe finally falling in your favor, what if the narrative was instead, “That’s like me”?
That’s like me to close the deal. That’s like me to earn the sale. That’s like me to see my hard work pay off. That’s like me to crush it in front of my peers.
And we say it to ourselves, when we reach that mark or acheive that success.
“That’s like me!” It’s a reminder about who we are and who we’ve worked to become.
It’s okay to acknowledge the help we’ve received from others, and I’m not talking about an overinflated ego here. We can remain humble and grateful, while still working a narrative that we are indeed the kind of people who _______ (positive characterization).
There is power in this reframing in the aspirational tense as well. In other words, “That’s like me” can be used when we are working to become that person as well. It’s an encouragement about who we are working to become.
Burpees = That’s Like Me
I hate burpees. If you’ve never experienced a burpee, it’s a combination of squatting, push ups, and jumping, with a pace that, accumulating over time, might make an individual throw up. I’ve had a mental block on burpees for quite some time.
This weekend, while spending some time with a good friend of mine who is in the fitness world, I participated in a group workout he was leading. At the end of the workout, we did burpees, in combination with some other exercises, that got the heart rate up and threatened to challenge my ability to keep my breakfast down.
In the middle of the first set, I decided that every time I came up to do the jumping jack portion of the burpees, I would say to myself, “That’s like me”.
Call it whoo-whoo if you want (again, I’m fleshing all of this out for myself as well, so you should wrestle with this) but I went through those burpees, and the final stretch of the workout in general, in a way that I don’t believe I would have in the past. Telling myself, in the moment, that I was the kind of guy who did burpees, was powerful.
To take a moment to allow a counter argument if you are doubting this. Let’s say there are three options on how to approach this. Maybe there are more, but here are three clear approaches.
- Be negative — I hate burpees. This stinks. I might be dying. I’m going to throw up. This isn’t worth it. What am I doing? How much longer can this possibly go on?
- Be neutral — We could go through this moment saying, thinking, or feeling nothing. I don’t know how realistic this is, but I’ll include it as a choice here. You are looking straight ahead, no thoughts about anything, just doing the burpees.
- That’s like me — Here, we tell ourselves that we are the kind of people (or becoming the kind of people) who are willing to work for what we want. We can do this, because that’s who we are. After each “success” (completed burpee) we tell ourselves, “That’s like me”
For a moment, let’s assume those are the three choices, and again, I’m a bit doubtful about one’s ability to maintain neutrality throughout circumstances, but I’ll leave it in there.
It’s a Choice
Option 1 isn’t helpful at all, though it’s the one we often choose. I think we can agree that option 1 doesn’t serve us best, even if we do indeed hate burpees.
Option 2, I might argue, often doesn’t serve us best. While it doesn’t bring us down, and it may help us get through, it doesn’t provide any additional benefit. We don’t become someone who does hard things, or create a narrative that we are the type of people who do those types of things. We simply get through it, which is certainly a good thing, but perhaps we can do more for ourselves.
Option 3 tells us that we are tough and becoming tougher. It tells us that we are the types of people who can do things we hate. It tells us, immediately, in the moment, that we are the types of people to accomplish things we thought we couldn’t do. That’s like me to work hard towards something that I know has value, even thought it’s hard.
The point is, let’s say you are on the fence, or unsure. If that’s the case, which of these is at least worth trying? If you are doubtful about it (as I was prior to trying it) would it be worth choosing the one that potentially serves you best over the other options, just to see?
We can control the narrative in a way that serves us. And one way we can do that, is to start working the phrase, and the belief, that “That’s like me.”
I’m pulling for you,