K.M. Weiland’s “Creating Character Arcs” is a treasure trove of applied theory for Narrative Coaching.
Today we examine her chapter on “the lie the character believes” which I find to be amazing concept.
The Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes. His life may be horrible, or his life may seem pretty great. But, festering under the surface, is the Lie.
In order for your character to evolve in a positive way, he has to start out with something lacking in his life, some reason that makes the change necessary. He is incomplete in some way, but not because he is lacking something external. A person in a prison camp can still be entirely whole and balanced on the inside, while someone floating in a Malibu mansion’s swimming pool may be one miserable son of a gun. – K.M. Weiland
The concept here is of a human who is incomplete on the inside. They are harboring some deeply held misconception about themselves, the world, or, probably, both.
The Change Arc, at its simplest manifestation, is all about the protagonist’s changing priorities. He realizes the reason he’s not getting what he wants is because either a) he wants the wrong thing or b) his moral methods for achieving what he wants are all wrong. – K.M. Weiland
This aligns with the “Crucial Conversations” concept of the stories we tell ourselves.
K.M. Weiland breaks it down into three types of arcs:
Positive Arc – the character works his way to the truth and out of the lie he believes
Flat Arc – the character knows the truth and uses it to circumvent obstacles.
Negative Arc – the character works their way deeper into the lie. They double down instead of working their way out.
Obviously as a coach, my goal is to move my clients through either a Positive Arc or a Flat Arc.
There you stand, looking at the freight train you have allowed to slow to a full stop. You know that you must get it moving again, but all of those hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel seem impossibly immobile. You recognize that the amount of energy it will take to get things rolling again feels infinitely greater than what it took to keep the moving train moving. It feels daunting and you would rather just go back to bed.
In mid-October I decided I was going to pause my daily blogging a few days to shift my focus to write more on topics that will help others. Though the idea of a shift was solid, my strategy was not, and it resulted in me not writing at all until today. Perhaps you can learn from the trap I fell into.
To understand where I went wrong, it is necessary to first understand my own personal issues with tension. Like many people, I struggle with anxiety and there is a part of my mind that, when I get overwhelmed, wants at all costs to remove the tension from whatever situation I am in. This causes errors in my decision making and negatively affects projects where I am the sole contributor.
In this case, what I intended was to stop publishing my blog for a week while I thought through my intentions and refocused my purpose. What happened, in reality, was that I pulled the “release valve.” Suddenly I had less tension and less pressure and that terrible overwhelmed part of my brain felt satisfied. If I give in to this terrible instinct too often, it will sabotage any chance I have at making a real difference in the lives of others.
It is OK to stop hitting publish on your blog while you reprioritize and think things through. **What you should not do under any circumstances is to interrupt your habit of writing every day.** Writing and blogging are not identical. Even if you are not writing a blog to post you should be writing SOMETHING to keep the momentum and the habit.
Getting Started Again:
Once I recognize what is happening and I summon the courage to fix the problem, I have a very specific way of moving past the inertia. The technique I use for getting back into motion, I call “The tiniest box to your peppiest tune.” It is similar to the idea that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
How to get started with “The Tiniest Box to Your Peppiest Tune”
1. Pick the size of your box.
Choose the smallest reasonable increment of the thing that you need to get done. This is your tiniest box. If it is cleaning a room that has you paralyzed, go to a corner of the room and choose a six inch by six inch square that has something in it. If you want to do ten hours of backlogged data entry, go to one single entry that needs to be accomplished and open it up.
2. Add music.
Make it something that really makes you want to move. Turn up the volume. Really feel the beat. Stare at the tiniest box while feeling the music.
3. Do the thing.
Clean that six inch square. It will feel ridiculous but do it anyway. Enter that one record of data entry. Groove to the music and then move the box a little and do the next thing. Focus only on the box, not on the room, and not on the mountain of data, just on the box.
A few additional notes.
Continue this until it feels as though the music is a part of your perspective and the rhythm is a part of the work.
Move the box, do the thing, move the box, do the thing.
Let it all simmer together until you don’t want to stop doing the thing.
If you get distracted by how daunting it all is, go back to the box and go back to the tune. Block everything else out and start again.
If you feel daunted or overwhelmed, give this a try. You’ll find your own way to make it work with the right music and the right sized box.
When I moved into my new home a month ago, the former renter had left all of the plants on the property in a sad state. Some were dead, others were overgrown, and some were blooming beautifully from the ends of long, untrimmed branches. This is what I originally thought was the definition of an untended garden. Dying, overgrown, mishapen, or worse.
This past week I found the metaphor lacking as I attempted to describe a new problem I was having. I was reaching into my writing garden to pull new posts that were close to ready for harvest and I came back with a handful of seeds. Everything I had planted and cared for had been harvested and eaten. There was nothing left but the general descriptions of future posts but they were just seeds and hardly ready to get out the same day.
Because I was spending every morning in a frenzy caused by moving to a new home and starting several new projects, my planting and tending time had vanished. I was now fully at the mercy of my thoughts from that day. The trouble with relying on your day to provide your content is that, if you are not mentally prepared, you can slog your way through and still end up with a wilted radish.
On a good day, because I am an improviser, starting from a seed and growing it on the spot is not an issue. However, combine exhaustion, with allergies, and numerous distractions and suddenly improvising takes on its lesser meaning and becomes something much less than is desired.
Now I have seen the two sides of neglect in my writing garden.
If we are constantly Executing, and doing so much faster than we can Discover, we end up with all of our ideas piled up in the Ideate queue, a pile of seeds with no soil.
At the same time, if we write our posts and Execute them but leave them without Maintaining or Auditing, we will find that the posts are quickly dated or grow to become factually incorrect or misleading. Without time tending to all areas of the content garden equally, we end up with bare soil, unplanted seeds, wilted plants, and mishapen overgrown shrubs.
What areas of your projects might you be neglecting and leaving untended?
Today I hopped on a video chat with Sebastian Ruf, my partner in improv crime over at improvinaction.com to talk about our plans for the next season of our podcast and the troubles I was having with getting in the right head space for Season Two.
Over the course of our conversation, we broke down my errors in thought so that we can deal with each:
#1 – Future Thought Prohibits Present Action
I was spending so much time in future thought about the project that I was not being present in the project.
#2 – Analysis Paralysis
I was spending so much time thinking about all of the aspects of the work that I wasn’t actually doing the work. I was analyzing and then freezing, with no action being performed.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his consistent findings that, while increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.
Rather than empowering us to make better choices, our virtually unlimited access to information often leads to greater fear of making the wrong decision, which in turn leads to us spinning our wheels in a seemingly inescapable purgatory of analysis paralysis, all the while getting nowhere on our important projects.
#3 – Sunken Cost Fallacy
I was paying so much attention to how much money and effort we have already put into the project, that I was putting pressure on the project itself to meet a potentially unrealistic benchmark.
Imagine you go see a movie which costs $10 for a ticket. When you open your wallet or purse you realize you’ve lost a $10 bill. Would you still buy a ticket? You probably would. Only 12 percent of subjects said they wouldn’t. Now, imagine you go to see the movie and pay $10 for a ticket, but right before you hand it over to get inside you realize you’ve lost it. Would you go back and buy another ticket? Maybe, but it would hurt a lot more. In the experiment, 54 percent of people said they would not. The situation is the exact same. You lose $10 and then must pay $10 to see the movie, but the second scenario feels different. It seems as if the money was assigned to a specific purpose and then lost, and loss sucks.
New Focus: The Next Right Thing
If I focus on making the best podcast possible, I am doing what I can do to reach a goal of greatness. Anything else is wasted wheel spinning. I need to focus on what the next right action would be to create the next best episode.
People who meet me and know me from a speaking or coaching setting often have a difficult time understanding how I could have issues with confidence in the other aspects of my life.
When I am on stage or one on one with a client, I find myself free from self-judgement and at the top of my confidence.
When I am facing social situations that have no set structure or I am faced with an issue that only has one correct and ultra-specific solution, I freeze up.
My confidence in working with my hands has been growing over the past three months as I have taken on projects, each a baby step in difficulty above the last. I have painted a mailbox, installed a toilet flange, painted a bedroom, and installed a screen door handle. None of these sound like particularly difficult things, but each of them required me to face them, push through anxiety, and find a level of focus where I could reach the end goal.
Now I am working on a lawnmower for someone I met a few weeks back. He was the impetus behind the blog post Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up. I got a free lawnmower from someone who had it in storage for years but accidentally left fuel in the tank that turned to varnishy goo.
So far I have:
Replaced the air filter
Changed the oil
Added fuel cleaner
Changed the spark plug
Replaced two gaskets
Cleaned out the carburetor
Replaced the fuel hose
Replaced the needle inside the carburetor
Beaten my head against a wall because it still doesn’t run
I am so far outside my normal element it is ridiculous. With each step along the way I have tried to give up, and then failed at giving up. Something deep down inside me insists that I need to keep going and make this (*&%^&$ lawnmower live again.
Today I wrote a Facebook post admitting defeat and asking for others to consider giving money toward getting my new friend back to work with a functioning lawnmower. After writing the post and tagging friends, I deleted it while simultaneously reproaching myself for not giving up. “How long are you going to do this”, my mind screams? “Until it is finished”, another part of me replies. “But there are people who do this sort of thing. You could just pay them!”
And yet I continue, step by step, inch by inch, hoping the next small tweak will make it all worthwhile.
During this process, I realized that I felt a level of competence in being able to take a carburetor apart and get it back together again. It dawned on me that it was enjoyable to find the right size hose to replace the one that had dry rotted.
Each turn of the wrench, I am gaining confidence, even though the end result is not a fully implemented solution. The frustration of not getting it working is somehow balanced with the confidence of now understanding what I am doing, knowing the inner workings of a lawn mower, and interacting with the parts in a way that feels less and less alien.
I will leave you with this…
Today I met a man for a lawnmower part named J.C. who sits on his porch all day and repairs things with small engines. His arms are covered with tattoos, his skin tan, his hair long, and his muscles like rope. He told me to drop by if I needed anything else. “I never go anywhere unless it is to the store” he said with a smile “I’m always right here.”
Tomorrow will be my first day in my new home office. For the last year and a half, I have been working from the couch, coffee shops, and the occasional co-working facility. As I picture how I will keep track of all of my projects in a visual representation on my wall, I thought about utilizing Agile, Scrum, Waterfall or Kanban. Kanban, which is Japanese for “visual sign” or “card,” won out of the four as a base for how I wanted to set up the board in my office. The change that I decided to make to traditional Kanban is that I will set up the board with the swim lanes matching my good friend Jason Scott Montoya’s IDEMA system.
IDEMA (Ideate > Discover > Execute > Maintain > Audit) is a problem-solving structure that helps organize business and life. It guides the creation process for making a living blueprint for your project, department, company or life. It was conceived by Jason Montoya, Len Wikberg and Beth Coetzee in a desperate attempt to keep a good project manager at Noodlehead Marketing as we explored the lifecycle of projects.
The Benefits Of IDEMA
Operating within the IDEMA framework gives us context for ideas and activities.
It causes us to think about how to sustain ideas before bringing them to life.
IDEMA adds enough tension to refine ideas and projects, but minimizes friction for moving it forward.
It helps us get the right people in the right places doing the right actions.
IDEMA is a framework to organize life & business in a spreadsheet, Trello, Airtable, Basecamp, or any other preferred tool.
With the provided framework as creative commons, we encourage you take the system and add more details, steps, & sub-processes. Keep it simple or make it complex, the decision is yours.
So What Is The IDEMA Framework?
Every idea has a place. Where does it now belong?
Ideate. Capture Our Idea.
Discover. Establish Intentions & Plan to Sustain.
Execute. Start, Finish & Prepare to Maintain.
Maintain. Sustain Our Idea.
Audit. Determine Our Assessed Idea’s Fate.
Challenge & Commit To Our Idea Before Moving From One Stage To The Next.
I decided to use IDEMA because:
It was created by someone I know, love, and support.
My entire world is nothing but ideas. I don’t develop software, I deal in ideas.
It follows a cycle that allows for the final phase of Audit to generate new ideas
My weakness in the stages is #4 – Maintain. I want to get stronger at this and I want to make maintain the focus of my new habits as I move into my new home office.
I will post a part two to this post when I have the Kanban board with the IDEMA swim lanes set up and running. Until then, wish me luck!
As I was watching my five-year-old today, I saw him react with surprise at his own success during an outdoor activity. We had driven 30-minutes to a state park in Georgia where volunteers had set up lots of outdoor stations. Canoe rides, archery, BB guns, rock climbing, fishing, and more.
For my son, there seem to be three possibilities for any challenge he was faced with:
He is fully confident in the task and would be surprised if the did not succeed
He lacks full confidence, proceeds anyway and is happily surprised when he succeeds
He wants nothing to do with the activity to start with and cannot be convinced to proceed
I watched in curiosity as he had these reactions and as I failed to predict which activities he would be confident in and which he would have no interest.
Paddle boat and canoe riding both called to him, involved no anticipation or nerves and resulted in an amazing time from start to finish. His confidence in himself and in the activity was absolute and there was no room or time for deliberation.
Big kid archery with compound bows got his attention but he was far too small to be able to pull the arrow back enough to make it fly. We headed over to find the little kid’s archery where he gathered his courage, calmed his nerves, and succeeded on the first try at shooting the arrow into the target area. He was surprised at his accomplishment and excited to try again. If he had walked away at this point he would have been on cloud nine, but he had two more arrows, each of which failed to launch. The second arrow fell out of the notch on the ground and the third arrow slapped him on the arm, upsetting him a bit. We praised him for his attempt and reminded him that he succeeded on the first arrow. I wondered afterward how this would all play out in his future if he were ever offered a bow and arrow again. Would it be his surprise at his success he would remember or the pain of being slapped by the arrow?
Rock climbing he wanted nothing to do with. He saw the activity and decided immediately that he did not want to participate. I was a little stumped on this one because of his reactions to other activities. What made him not want to proceed? Fear of heights? The long line of kids watching? The amount of time it had been since breakfast?
Do we allow room to surprise ourselves?
I started thinking about the different activities that I am absolutely confident in and the ones I am certain I will fail at. I tried to think of things that I might put in a category of “I’m not sure. I’ll try and see.”
Everything I could think of was either something I was excited to try and confident in or the polar opposite and wanted nothing to do with.
So where have I left room to surprise myself? On the drive home I tried to place things I have done that fit into a place of unsureness followed by surprise at success.
Generally, the things I want to do are all directly related to what I am powerfully confident in. The types of risks I am taking these days are big but they are calculated.
Over the 30 minute drive back home I realized that if I am going to change things and show my son what it looks like to try something that you are not sure you will succeed at, I will have to be intentional. So I started a new list.
Activities I am not confident in but am allowing room to surprise myself by trying.
Learning to throw and catch a football correctly.
Grilling steaks over charcoal that do not turn into charcoal.
Learning to beatbox.
Learning to play the piano.
That’s all I could come up with today, but I will make sure that the list continues to grow.
So what about you? Where are you allowing room to surprise yourself?
Have you ever become hyper-aware of a particular muscle group in your body? I have. Around 8:00 pm last night I started being acutely aware of my forearms.
Here’s what I have been doing differently for the last week:
Typing more and using my mouse in weird positions until my office is set up again
Started driving a stick shift again after years of driving automatic
Waving a leaf blower around my yard
Moving lots and lots of medium-sized, medium weighted boxes
Playing a new game with my son where he chases a large teddy bear around the house and I animate the teddy bear
Playing guitar for the first time in years
It was today when I was blowing leaves around my yard that I got a distracting burn in my flexor digitorum superficialis. All of a sudden I realized that the discomfort was just enough to pull me out of my flow state. Prior to this, I hadn’t realized I was in a flow state because I wasn’t doing anything creative that needed it. It bothered me that my flow state would be fragile enough to be defeated by forearm pain but it was exciting to know that I might have another avenue into the state of flow.
So what did I do? That’s right. I continued to push through the discomfort, not so that I could get the leaves into a pile but so that I could experiment with my flow state.
What is flow?
If you aren’t familiar with flow state, here is a quick definition:
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time. – Wikipedia
So why would I continue to do the activity for the sake of re-attaining my flow? Because I couldn’t believe that blowing leaves around the yard would allow me to enter flow in the first place. I did not realize that I enjoyed blowing leaves because today was the first time I have ever done it.
If we compare leaf blowing with leaf raking, they are for me two entirely different beasts. Apparently, leaf blowing puts me in flow, where leaf raking puts me in the opposite state of flow where I can do nothing but be overly aware of the flow of time and have a mild displeasure about the activity overall. I call this being “in my head.”
Why does this matter?
For an improviser who is also a writer, flow state is heavily sought after and deeply prized. Getting myself to the right place for flow mentally and physically can at times be easy, and at other times elusive. To find an activity that achieves this while simultaneously discovering that my forearm pain pulled me out of it was both exciting and frustrating.
I turned the leaf blower back on and began again. Boom… right back into the flow, then, bam, forearm pain, and back out again.
It wasn’t until about 15 minutes into this practice that I found I had accepted the pain as a warmth instead of a warning sign. This time I slipped into the flow and stayed there until my wife let me know it was time to greet our son home from his first day of riding the bus.
I headed to the street to watch for the bus feeling oddly in tune with an activity I would have assumed I would detest. I love happy accidents.
So, what sorts of activities get you into a state of flow? What pulls you out again?
If we are focusing on intentional interactions with others, it is necessary for us to know what it would look like to succeed at intentionality and what it would look like were we to fail.
Today we add the concept of The Crab Mentality.
Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket (also barrel, basket or pot), is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” The metaphor refers to a bucket of crabs. Individually, the crabs in the story could easily escape from the bucket, but instead they are described as grabbing at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress. – Wikipedia
Pushing and Pulling Down
So if I am someone who wishes to, at best, lift up someone else within an interaction, I must also know that at the very leastmy goal is not to pull/push down.
Pushing down happens when we are in a better state than the person in an interaction and we choose to put them in a worse position than when we encountered them.
Pulling down indicates that we are either in the same position or worse than the person in an interaction and we choose to put them in an even worse position than when we encountered them.
Pulling Down is where the crab mentality kicks in.
If I am in the same position as someone else, I can do something that helps them up to another level, but it will leave me in the same position as before. I may decide that I do not want to use my opportunity, talents, or network to lift the other person up. I may think to myself that if I cannot have this thing, then why should I lift them up to reach it?
However, If my basic needs are provided for and my situation will not be made worse by helping someone else, then Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up pushes me to do it and to be genuinely happy for the person who got the ladder and the lift.
What causes us to want to Pull Down?
At the end of the Wikipedia introduction, it mentions envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings. I like this break-down a lot because it covers the darker side of our motivation fairly well.
Envy – a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
Spite – a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone.
Conspiracy – a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.
Competitive Feelings – having a strong desire to win or to be the best.
So when I am in the middle of an intentional interaction I must remind myself of my goals:
Ensure that I will not be put in a bad position by lifting the other person up.
Ensure the other person will not be enabled or pushed down by my well-intended lift up.
Lower the Ladder to them so that they can help themselves out under their own power.
Empower the other person to rise up a level even if it means they will now be higher than myself.
What situations can you see yourself hesitating to help out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competition? What can be done to prepare yourself to ignore these instincts and follow through with lifting up?
My wife and I were finishing up the last of our move from living with family to our new rental home just five minutes down the road. We ran out of boxes and were getting the last items by shoving them into black plastic garbage bags. On one of the trips out to the car, I had a rather emotional moment. I was placing a few of my possessions into a garbage bag and rose, lifting two bags, one in each hand. As I started to walk to my car, I thought about how it felt to be carrying my favorite items in a trash bag. It felt awful. Even though it was me who came up with the idea to use the bags instead of buying more boxes, and even though I was going to a new home of my own choosing just a few minutes down the road, it really felt terrible.
Then I remembered something I had seen on facebook, that made me feel a lot of apples-to-apples-empathy with how foster children enter the system. I did a quick search and found the non-profit that was dealing directly with this issue:
When most children enter foster care, they receive two trash bags to carry their belongings to their foster home.
About Sweet Cases
Sweet Cases consist of duffel bags filled with hygiene kits, blankets, coloring books, crayons and miscellaneous toys. These duffel bags are given to some of the 500,000 children newly brought into the foster care system each year, many of whom were previously forced to carry their belongings in trash bags when being shifted from one home to another—sometimes multiple times each year. By taking the place of a black trash bag, sweet cases help a foster child keep their belongings—and their self-worth—intact.
About Together We Rise
In 2008, TWR was founded by Danny Mendoza after he discovered that his 9 year-old cousin was living in a car. He wanted to help but ran into obstacles because he was under the age of 21. Danny became disheartened after he was denied the ability to help his cousin and youth like his cousin.
Danny then had a vision to create ways to help youth in foster care without becoming a foster parent. After telling others about his vision, he was inspired by encouragement from friends and colleagues to use his ambition to help others and start a new organization. Danny’s vision turned reality when he created, Together We Rise, now a nation-wide organization changing the way youth experience foster care.
Why I Believe in This
If you have ever heard me talk about my philosophy for intentional encounters, you know that I always attempt to Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up. This is how I live life and is now the working title for a book I am writing.
Lowering the ladder means to help someone out of a hole they are in by adding a tool or knowledge that allows them to get out of that hole under their own power. I believe this is an important part of helping people not become enabled into defeatist behaviors and allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment even though they did receive help getting there.
Only Lifting Up means that in every encounter where a need is discovered you are helping that person reach a new level in their life in a way that does not put you in a bad place yourself. If you cannot help the person, then the alternative is to avoid pushing them down by instilling in the conversation a sense of hope and retained dignity.
I believe that this non-profit is doing exactly the right thing by providing these children something that both Lowers the Ladder and Only Lifts Up.
1.) The duffel bag acts as the ladder which allows the child experience a very difficult time without also experiencing an unintentional message that they or their belongings are garbage. Because the child carries their own belongings under their own power, altering HOW they carry their belongings can change how the process the entire encounter. If this is the first time they have been in foster care, it may also be the first time they have to put their belongings in a plastic bag and may be the first time they do not have things that comfort them and make them feel human.
2.) The bags Only Lift Up. I can see no way in which this project inadvertently pushes the child down. They are filled with items that are useful, connecting, and healthy for the children. They do not fill the bags with candy and treats.
The bags include:
Hygiene kit(s), including tooth brush, dental floss and small hour glass shaped timer