Take a Moment and Ask “What Story Would I Tell about Myself?”

It’s Sunday morning and there is snow on the ground. These are the type of mornings when you relax with a cup of coffee and read the news and just kind of veg out. I have my browser open and plenty of good stories ahead of me. But there is one thing I forgot to mention, my plan for a low key morning is not going to happen. My youngest just excitedly decided to dump out her crayon container and put it on her head as a hat. With her messed up blonde hair and three bottom teeth, she deviously smiles at me. But I’m not amused.

In between these occurrences of Sunday morning distraction I take in a blog post by Peter Bregman on HBR.com called A Story About Motivation. It’s about an elderly man who needed help into his “person’s with disabilities” van. It was raining and the walk was difficult to maneuver. Five good samaritans helped load the man into his ride while the driver curiously sat idle in the driver seat. Bregman didn’t get the sense that the driver was being malicious or even soulless. It just seemed like this was an everyday, every stop event. The driver wasn’t motivated to continually help in these situations. From his point of view it doesn’t change what he needs to do. One way or another, his riders are going to get into the van, he is going to driver them, and they are going to get out. He will do it again the next day and the day after that. So why get wet in the rain?

Bregman at this point hits on the theme of Drive by Dan Pink, a book about motivation. People put themselves into a story. Their role in the story is how they identify themselves. How that is defined is by how the question is framed. Here is an excerpt from the blog entry that helps clarify:

People tend to think of themselves as stories. When you interact with someone, you’re playing a role in her story. And whatever you do, or whatever she does, or whatever you want her to do, needs to fit into that story in some satisfying way.

When you want something from someone, ask yourself what story that person is trying to tell about himself, and then make sure that your role and actions are enhancing that story in the right way.

We can stoke another person’s internal motivation not with more money, but by understanding, and supporting, his story. “Hey,” the driver’s boss could say, “I know you don’t have to get out of the van to help people, but the fact that you do — and in the rain — that’s a great thing. And it tells me something about you. And I appreciate it and I know that man with the walker does too.” Which reinforces the driver’s self-concept — his story — that he’s the kind of guy who gets out, in the rain, to help a passenger in need.

And this snaps me out of my frustrated mood. Remember, I wanted to read the news and drink my coffee. My daughter wanted to wear a hat. I asked myself a personal question about being a father.


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One response to “Take a Moment and Ask “What Story Would I Tell about Myself?””

  1. By reading professional blogs, and occasionally commenting on them, I’m telling my “constantly looking to improve” story. Whether anyone could incorporate this story in a way that motivates me remains to be seen. I certainly hope so …

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