I was struck by something Lance Armstrong said in the first few minutes of the new documentary on his life and career. He described being accosted by some angry fans at a restaurant and being tempted to physically confront them. He thought better of it.

But then he said something illuminating: “I was shocked and I was mad. And I was like, I have to do something. I have to act. I’m me. Me, Lance Armstrong, doesn’t just let s**t like that happen and not do something.” (emphasis mine)

In this way, at least, Lance Armstrong isn’t extraordinary. He has a defined story about himself. In ways he’s probably not completely aware of, that story drives his feelings and his actions. I do, too. And so do you.

Here are a few stories I’ve heard people tell me about themselves:

  • I’m not the kind of person to let my people get stepped on by one of my colleagues.
  • I’m competitive. Especially in a negotiation, I want to feel like I got some concession from the other party. I need a little win.
  • I’m not the kind of person who is disciplined and structured.
  • I’m tough-minded and smart. That means I rub some people the wrong way, but that’s who I am.

Most of the time, we’re barely aware of these stories. They run in the background as part of the OS that runs our lives.

But managing ourselves in a crisis starts with knowing ourselves. And knowing ourselves starts with listening to the stories we tell ourselves about us.

We’ll be tempted to be self-critical, to want to edit what we hear ourselves saying. Don’t bother with that. It’s a horrible waste of time. Instead, have a sense of humor. Listen to your story about yourself, notice it, and smile at it slyly. Ask yourself where that story comes from and how useful it is to you now. Ask whether a mismatch between the story you tell yourself and your current experience has something to do with how tired you feel. That alone is a solid first step.

Be bright