Our childhood stories are full of daring and adventure, of good conquering evil, and of distant lands where everyone lives happily ever after. Many of our childhood stories began as folklore and then morphed into fairy tales to make them more suitable for object lessons for our younger ears. Such stories helped us learn the basics of leadership, ethics, and morality as children. They created a foundation for our critical thinking skills and encouraged us to be perseverant and resilient. These stories shaped our understanding of home life, community, and set expectations for our behavior.
As adults, our lives are shaped by tales of a different sort. We create tales about people, situations, and sometimes about our behavior. These grownup tales become “background conversations”—conversations we have with ourselves, grown from a grain of truth then forced through a lifetime filter of personal observation and introspection.
We create these stories using an invisible process that influences what we see and hear. We unknowingly funnel our new experiences through filters that prejudge and shape our thinking about people, situations, and even our abilities. We tell ourselves, “They’re wrong, and I know it because…,” or “I can’t do that because…,” and we transform these fabricated beliefs into the reality because such thinking is the brain’s natural defense mechanism against change and acceptance of accountability. It’s not me; it’s them.
Of course, it is.
Background conversations are not unlike the fairy tales of our childhood. They are rooted in the truth, but as we regularly retell ourselves these stories, they take on a life of their own until they are suitable, believable, and acceptable for our ears. And here’s the problem: We limit our learning and personal development because we view our life through a lens colored by those stories. Sometimes this lens gives us true colors, but most of the time it offers the world that’s blurry and discolored and exists only to limit the clarity with which we see our potential.
What background conversations do you have with yourself that keep you from reaching your potential?
Stop listening. Right now.
David Harkins is a business strategist, speaker, and teacher.
He is the founder and executive consultant at David Harkins Company. In his spare time, he writes hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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