The stories we tell ourselves fuel every single action. When the New York Giants faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, they weren’t just underdogs. They were the greatest underdogs in modern football history. You were considered either foolish or just a blind fan if you picked them to defeat Belichick’s team. The overwhelming sentiment was that the Giants would lose. So the narrative for the Giants was pretty easy to develop. If you follow sports, you’ll hear this refrain quite often:
“No one believed in us. Everyone doubted. We knew the world was against us so we had nothing to lose.”
Or, as Plaxico Burress, their top wide reciever, said, “For us to come out here and win a world championship tonight, nobody gave us a shot.”
Note that this isn’t the story according to the experts, the pundits, the Vegas odds-makers, or even their fans. This isn’t the true story in the factual sense. Does anyone really think that no one, literally no one, believed in them? Of course not. The New York Giants fan base is one of the largest in professional football. There’s millions of people who believed in them. That doesn’t matter, though. Unlike data, narratives are a matter of choice. You can’t choose what your blood pressure will be when it’s measured by a nurse. You can’t choose what the annual GDP for the State of California will be. You can’t choose the betting line on Super Bowl XLII. But you choose the narratives that surround it.
And when it comes to narratives, the biggest choice is whether or not to accept the narrative others provide or, instead, make your own. Regardless of the facts.
Your Narrative Or The One They Give You
We know what happens when a team of deeply committed and incredibly competitive athletes make their own narrative. It doesn’t have to be true; you just have to believe it. The Giants did. And they won the Super Bowl against all odds. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots had a narrative, too. The one everybody had crafted for them. The one they had been so successful in earning. This narrative declared them as The Greatest Team in all of sports, an unstoppable juggernaut.
This creates a lot of pressure. When you create an image of an unstoppable juggernaut, you’re required to never stop. To not even slow down.
The Patriots were supposed to steamroll the Giants. And at first sign of resistance, the narrative started to diverge from reality. By the end of the first half, the score was just 7-3. The Patriots barely had an edge. Doubt crept it. The weight of their onerous expectations started to press hard. Then comes the following thought, the one tell-tale sign of a bad narrative:
“It’s not supposed to be this way.”
That’s what you say when your narrative fails to fit reality. It’s a scary place to be.
Getting the Narrative Right
We’re supposed to be grateful. We’re well-aware of the benefit of being present, in the moment, mindful. We understand the games and how to play them–be it football or something else. But our success in these endeavors begins and ends with the stories we tell ourselves.
The right narrative is the first step in making something work. If you choose the narrative yourself, you’ll find you can change it at any time. You’re in control. But if you let others give you the narrative, you’ll probably wait on them to change it for you. And you’ll work really, really hard to inspire them to do so. It’s anxious work because they are in control.
Your narrative is far too important. Don’t let others decide it for you.
Stuck in a crummy job? You are if you say so.
Don’t have what it takes to start your own business? It’s true if you say so.
Too late to get in shape? Okay. If you say so.
Or maybe that crummy job is actually a learning experience. Maybe it’s something that teaches you every day what you want the next move to be. Like an opponent on the chessboard, it helps you find the right path, the right strategy.
And maybe you do have what it takes to start a business. In fact, maybe you’ve already started. You might not have an LLC but you are developing the product. The rest is just the detail that follows.
And maybe it isn’t too late to get in shape. You’re taking the first step right now. While fighting against the absurd expectations that society creates.
There is a narrative out there that says victory is in-progress. Victory is always in-progress. If you say so.