Transcript: Unraveling Your Stories with Dina Cataldo
Hello, my friend.
Before I start today's episode, I want to give you a piece of advice that has helped me make changes faster in my own life, and I know it can benefit you too.
It's allowed me to listen harder to mentors and allow myself to be coachable even when my brain wanted to shut down while being coached.
Whenever I hear advice, a teaching, coaching, whatever it is, I ask myself, “How might this apply to me?”
No matter who a person was speaking to or what situation they were talking about, I ask myself, “How can I apply this to my problem?”
I offer this to you because what I used to do, and what I notice some of you doing, is discarding teachings that can impact you because they don't exactly match up to what you think you need to work on.
You are holding yourself back if you do this.
If you're looking for your exact situation, that's not ever going to happen. No one has ever been in your exact same situation.
Actively seek the change you're looking for by listening to everything you hear on this podcast through the filter of, “How can I apply this to my life?” “How can I apply this to my problem?” “How might this apply to me?”
Alright, let's dig in to unraveling your stories.
Think of your life as if you're in a car. The car represents all of your actions: what direction you're going, how fast you're going, whether you're driving on the sidewalk or the street.
You're either in the driver's seat consciously making the decisions about which direction you want to go and how fast you're going, or you're in the passenger's seat letting your subconscious make all the decisions.
A lot of us think we're are consciously in the driver's seat, but what's actually happening is that the subconscious is driving the car.
The subconscious stores all our beliefs, and it makes decisions and takes actions based on those beliefs. Our beliefs are our stories about who we are and what our identity is.
– I'm good at math.
– I'm bad at math.
– I'm a great attorney.
– I'm a horrible attorney.
– It's easy to make friends.
– It's hard to make friends.
– I don't know how.
– I can figure anything out.
– My business is working.
– My business is not working.
These stories tell the subconscious where to drive the car.
Our stories we have about our life and about what we're capable of determines our quality of the experiences we have in our life.
The problem is most of us can't see our stories for what they are: stories that can be changed.
Most people don't do the work to unravel the stories they have about their life and what they're capable of and stay stuck in the passenger seat.
They believe their stories with their whole heart and don't see a way out.
Even when a way to start taking the driver's seat is offered to them, it feels scary to take the wheel. We're not used to it.
The prospect of changing who we are and the stories that make up who we are is terrifying.
What people do is feel the terror in their body, and they make that mean it's a terrible idea to do anything differently.
They make it another piece of evidence to support their story that they can't change. That they can't do what they want to do.
I was prosecuting a man for burglary, and it's the perfect example of what we can do to unravel stories we've believed for a long time.
An older couple went out to grab an ice cream at McDonald's.
While they were out, the man I was prosecuting broke into their home, stole some items, then left. The couple got home and reported the incident.
There was comical evidence that led the police to him.
In my closing argument, I argued that each piece of evidence was a breadcrumb leading them to one conclusion: that this man broke into the couple's home and took their items.
He's seen coming out of their home in a t-shirt with words on it – I forget the words.
He's seen riding away from the home and down the block on a pink bicycle.
Then he's heard, but not see, breaking into a laundry room. He's seen coming out of it.
Inside the laundry room was a backpack stuffed behind the washer that had items from the couple's home.
The man was seen changing his shirt nearby.
Then police found him hiding in a bush.
Pretty compelling right?
To add onto this, the man was well-known in town partly because of the pink bicycle he rode.
I built the story of this closing argument piece by piece showing the jury evidence.
Our brains do the same thing.
When we're building our stories about what we're capable of or not capable of, we collect lots of breadcrumbs. We build a case detailing why we can't build a business, why we can't manage our time, why we can't change who we are.
Our brain has spent a lot of time looking for breadcrumbs that lead us to one conclusion: we can't.
What I do with my clients is help them unravel their stories, so they can open themselves up to the potential that they CAN.
It's a painstaking process that we work on together each week.
Most people don't do this work because they're committed to their story. It's too hard for them to take the leap and consider that maybe — just maybe — their story isn't true.
Let's take a look at what the defense argument COULD have looked like. They didn't have much evidence, and they lost, but they could have done this:
First Degree Burglary requires that a person go inside a residential dwelling with the intent to commit a felony. In this case theft.
Let's look at each breadcrumb set forth.
The prosecution has a witness that says they saw my client leaving the home. But no one says they saw him inside the home. Burglary requires that he's inside. There's no finger prints. We don't know what happened. We just don't know. There's lots of things that we don't know. There's a lot of things that could have happened that the prosecution can't disprove. They can't prove someone else wasn't in the home. They can't prove that the door wasn't open and someone else didn't take the property out of the house first, and the defendant didn't just find the items discarded.
Laughable argument? Maybe. But it may give someone – just one person – reasonable doubt to acquit.
What are the other breadcrumbs?
If I were the defense, I'd just keep picking at the breadcrumbs I set forth.
– we heard evidence that my client rode a pink bike around town. we don't have fingerprints. we don't have pictures of this bike. if we don't have this, what else don't we have?
– we heard evidence that a witness heard someone break into the locked laundry room and saw my client come out. how reliable is that testimony? she didn't seem like she wanted to be here or that she wanted to participate in this trial. The prosecution wants you to believe that makes her testimony more reliable b/c she doesn't have a bias. I'd argue that makes it less reliable because she doesn't care how much detail she gives or whether her identification is accurate.
Do you see what I'm getting at? We have to treat our beliefs the same way we would treat an argument by opposing counsel. There's two sides to the evidence.
When we do that, then our brain opens up. We start seeing evidence that was always there that we just couldn't see because we were so attached to our story.
As attorneys, our job is to slow down and deconstruct arguments.
I help my clients slow down their brains and deconstruct the arguments they're making against themselves.
Us lawyers are also very rational — well, most of us. We want to see every inch of a problem before we take action. Sometimes I'll talk to lawyers, and they tell me they did a pro and con list for their decisions.
There's nothing wrong with that. The problem is, they want to abdicate their decision-making to a pro/com list instead of making a powerful decision using wisdom.
Here's what I mean.
This came up in Bob Iger's book, “The Ride of a Lifetime.” He was the CEO of Disney after Michael Eisner left. Bob Iger had the unenviable task of trying to reestablish a relationship with Steve Jobs after Eisner and Jobs had it out over their Pixar animation deal. Iger did it though, despite everyone believing he couldn't do it. Then one day he brings up the idea of Disney buying Pixar from Jobs. Steve immediately puts up a pro/con list on the giant white board in his office. There's a ton of cons he lists including things like, “Disney culture will destroy Pixar,” “Fixing Disney animation will take too long” and burn out the leaders in Pixar, “There's too much ill will and the healing will take years, ” “Wall Street will hate it,” “[Disney's] board will never let you do it.” And this one was my favorite, “Pixar will reject Disney as an owner as a body rejects a donated organ.”
The pros included a much shorter list. One was that buying Pixar will save Disney and the Pixar creators will have a larger canvas to paint on for their creations.
Iger was crushed, and he told Jobs that he couldn't see how they could do it based on the pro/con list. Jobs said, “A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons.”
Remember that when we go through this next exercise. Your brain may come up with a zillion reasons why something won't work, but a few solid reasons why it will work can be much more powerful.
Don't abdicate your decision-making to a pro/con list.
What Bob Iger did next was discuss what it MIGHT look like if buying Pixar could work. He started building a case — looking for evidence. That required meeting and communicating with people at Pixar, looking at the books, understanding the creative process there. He brought up what he learned with his team, who was decidedly negatively biased saying the deal would be too costly and it was too risky to work. He was told the numbers didn't make sense. He was told he was too new of a CEO to make a deal like this. Michael Eisner even called him and told him not to do it. But he didn't believe everyone's thoughts or fears. He considered them, then he made a decision on his best information and instinct about what the deal would do for the parties involved. He was the person in charge.
Disney paid 7.4 billion dollars for Pixar, and Iger looks back at it as the best deal Disney ever made. After the acquisition, Disney made $11.5 billion at the end of 2021.
I say all this, so that you can use any list like this simply as a journaling exercise to see some of your thoughts. And if you want to go after something, if you want to build your practice, don't be discouraged because your brain tells you there's more cons than pros.
Build a case that it's possible.
You can use this way of thinking for anything you want to accomplish, but I'm going to talk about it in the context of building your practice or a new business since a lot of lawyers reach out to me for this.
Before I do, I want to talk to you about negativity bias because it influences the stories we have. If we have awareness of what negativity bias is, we can see how it shows up in our brain daily.
Our brain biases our perceptions to be pessimistic.
Our brain wants to show us all the reasons it's not working or it won't work.
It collects evidence which accumulates more thoughts in favor of the negativity bias that it's not working. It's constantly looking for evidence to place in the cons list.
That's why a lot of people interpret fear or confusion as a sign they shouldn't do something. They make fear or any negative emotion mean it's their “intuition” telling them it's a bad idea.
Not true. It's a sign that there's work to be done to manage your emotions instead of allowing them to drive the car.
Unraveling our stories about what our thoughts and feelings mean requires that we see all our thoughts that it's not working and start looking for evidence that it's working.
This is important. We're not sugar-coating things. We're training our brain to see the other side of the argument. When we do that, we allow our brain to have all the information to make powerful decisions.
You get to see both sides of the case.
Now, you get to decide if you want to do this work.
Most people stop at feeling uncomfortable about changing their lives, and they don't look for how change may be closer than they think.
But understand that it's a choice.
You're choosing not to do this work and remain where you are.
And that's okay.
If you do want to do this work, then stay with me.
Our beliefs are our interpretations of the world and are thoughts that we've thought over and over again until they feel true.
Our thoughts can be lightning fast, and we may not even see them even if we're looking.
For example, we see a tree, then our brain has an instantaneous judgment about whether the tree is pretty, ugly, dying, young, tall, short, big, small, etc. That's how fast our brain works.
Then we believe our judgments. Of course it's small – -compared to what? Of course it's ugly — compared to what? Of course it's young, compared to what? How do you know it's small, ugly, young? We don't question any of our judgments about it because we simply think our thoughts are true.
It's no different than how we judge ourselves. Our thoughts are instantaneous and we don't question them. When my clients slow down their brains, they can see that they're having thoughts, and then they begin unraveling the stories holding them back.
That's what makes it possible for them to expand their practices, reduce their stress levels, and start enjoying their law practice again.
If we want to grow in our life in any way, we must do this work of unraveling the stories because what we think about our life and our capabilities will be our limit.
We can't change ourselves beyond what we believe is true.
The story we have is a psychological barrier to change.
One great example of unraveling a story is Roger Bannister. He's the first man to break the 4 minute mile record. Instead of believing the story that most people believed — that it was impossible to break the 4 minute mile — he saw possibility and studied what might help him break the record. It wasn't an accident that he broke it. He was intentional in his focus, so that he could break it even in less than ideal weather conditions the day of the race.
After he broke the record, the psychological barrier to the 4 minute mile was broken, and many other runners have run faster than him.
He had to question the past. He had to question the beliefs of the larger running community. He had to question some of the assumptions he made about the science and allow himself to do the research.
He had to move from the beliefs that, “It's not possible,” to, “It's possible,” to, “It's probably possible,” to “I can do it,” to finally, “I did it.” It wasn't a straight line.
We don't usually go straight from “It's impossible” to “I can do it.” It's too big a leap for our brains. Negativity bias weighs our brain in favor of “It's impossible.”
We've got to work through unraveling the breadcrumbs that our brain has accumulated to prove to us each story we have along the way.
Let's look at a belief a lot of us have when it comes to building our businesses.
“It's not working.”
You may have this belief about anything in your life, but we're going to talk about it in the context of building a business.
Let's say it's the 21st of the month, and you haven't hit your revenue goal yet.
Is your default story that your business is working or that it's not working.
This will determine how you show up the rest of the month.
If you think it's not working, you're going to feel deflated, disappointed or worried. When you feel that way, you're less likely to market your business. You're more likely to think that because it's the end of the month, that means you don't have much of a chance to hit your goal. So you may say to yourself, “There's no point. I'll rest and start fresh next month.” That sounds like a pretty thought, right? But when we're inconsistent in how we show up, it takes longer to grow a business. Because we're only marketing and putting energy into building it two thirds of the month instead of the whole month. Your'e losing out on the compound impact that showing up for your business will have.
If you think it IS working, you get a different result. This is not a default thought for most people because they're not aware of negativity bias or what thoughts are creating their results. This is why I stress celebrating our successes because it reminds our brain of all the things that are working and helps our brain become more resourceful when it comes to seeing our thoughts clearly. It's like lifting some of the fog our brain has when it comes to our goals.
Same scenario. It's the 21st of the month, and you haven't hit your revenue goal yet. You notice that you're thinking, “It's not working,” and you get to work unraveling this story. All the breadcrumbs seem to point to it really not working: it's towards the end of the month, you haven't hit your goal, you feel disappointed, your brain tells you to let it go and start up fresh next month. Let's deconstruct these one by one.
It's the 21st. So what?
Have you ever had a consult book in the last week of the month? How many clients have you signed in one week before? Where do your clients come from? List all the ways they have come in the past: referrals, social media, webinars, networking events. Just because it's the 21st doesn't mean that it's evidence that it's not working. It's evidence that you have 7 more days in the month.
I haven't hit my revenue goal yet. So what?
You can make that thought mean that you're not going to hit your revenue goal. Or you can look at all the ways you can hit your revenue goal. What might be possible? How might you hit your revenue goal? Networking event? Webinar? Email to your list? Social media posts? Instead of using this thought as the story why it's not going to happen, unravel the story and get to work.
I feel deflated or disappointed. So what?
Your feelings don't mean anything about your ability to hit your revenue goal. But what most of us do is make those feelings mean that it's not working. We make it mean that something has gone wrong. Nothing has gone wrong. You're just not managing your brain to help you hit your revenue goal.
Your brain says, “I'll just start fresh next month.” So what?
Why would you need to be “fresh” next month? The only reason your brain wants to stop you now is because you are afraid of feeling failure. It feels horrible. But wouldn't you rather give it all you've got and be disappointed with the result than not go all out and try to hit your goal? If you chose giving it your all, good because that means that even if you don't hit your goal this month, you can analyze what happened and learn from it. If you don't try, you don't have anything to learn from. There's no lessons. No takeaways. We need to have lessons if we're going to grow.
Now ask yourself all the evidence that it is working. Remind yourself of all the consults you had or the conversations you had or the money you did take in. Remind yourself of the money you took in prior months. Remind yourself of all the unexpected ways clients come to you. I had a client who has been making really good money in her practice, but in the last week of one month she persistently believed that it wasn't working. She felt horrible, and it put her into a spin where she wasn't billing as many hours, and she wasn't emailing her list to remind them that she's taking referrals for zoom calls. When we coached on it, she realized what she was doing and then the next month she came back to me and said that last week she took in more revenue than she thought. She wasn't looking at the numbers that were going to roll in at the end of the month billing.
When we get our brain into a space where we believe something closer to, “It's working” than it's “not” working, we feel incrementally better, then we can take more impactful action towards our goal. If you feel better about your situation, you're more likely to make offers on social media, network, send out an email for referrals, do the billables you already have lined up to raise you revenue, propose work to current clients. It gets your brain more resourceful, so you're not spinning out.
Notice that we're just talking about two thoughts right now:
1. It's not working
2. It's working.
Most of us want to ditch the “It's not working” because it feels awful to think that. I want you to resist the urge to do that.
Unraveling your stories to get from “It's not working” to “It's working” is a tall order most of the time, so we want to work with all the color of the rainbow between those two thoughts. There's a spectrum.
I want you to pick a thought from the spectrum I'm going to provide you that feels like it could be true to you. It feels easy to believe.
Let me be clear – pick a thought other than “It's not working.” Pretty much any thought is better.
This is what the spectrum of thoughts between It's working and It's not working looks like:
– It's not working. (don't pick this one.)
– I want to believe that it might work.
– I want to believe that it's working.
– I think I believe that it could work.
– It's possible that it's working.
– I think it could be working.
– I think it's working.
– It's working.
Think about your goal. Which one of these feels true in your body. Or at least could feel a little true. You're probably going to feel solid and grounded in your body.
Now when it comes to your goal, look at it in the light most favorable to that thought.
Practice it daily by reminding yourself of all the evidence that it might be working.
This is how you start the process of unraveling your stories.
Notice your thoughts about your goal.
Counter them with the other facts you may not be looking for.
Learning to change requires consistency and repetition.
This isn't about perfection.
It's about paying attention.
Be present in your life moment to moment.
When you see your brain wanting perfection, pause.
Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable.
Remind yourself that you can refocus your attention, then practice this consistently.
This practice is perfect for the journaling practice we talked about last week.
Anyone can do this work.
The only reason someone doesn't is if they believe everything their brain tells them.
Our brain always wants to take the same path it took yesterday.
It wants to repeat the easy and well-traveled path.
If you want a new path, book a call with me.
All you have to lose are all your old stories about yourself and what's possible.
You can book a call with me at https://dinacataldo.com/strategysession
Repetition and consistency, my friend.
I do this work on myself and my goals all the time.
We don't do it once, then we're “fixed.” It's consistency that creates the compound results we want to see for our goals and our business.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and I'll talk to you next week.