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Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will

Jul 31, 2018

I was in my early 20's when I noticed this pattern. If I look down at my hands and find three or more minor injuries requiring BAND-AIDs, I know I’m not paying attention to myself or my surroundings, I know I’m not being fully present. Two band-aids are a small hint, but if I get to three, I require serious reflection. When I see three, I know I'm in trouble, and that my brain is not in fully-functional, problem-solving mode.

Seeing multiple injuries on my hands is one hint to myself to take a long walk, a long drive, or simply find space to clear my head. Whatever I do to find clarity and presence to center myself, I do it with intention. That means I make sure I can’t get notifications for my phone - if I’m even carrying it - and that I let my family know my plan so I don’t get interrupted. 

Years ago my best friend called me, full of frustration and anxiety between back-to-back work trips. She traveled a lot at that point in her career, and as she arrived home at her apartment, she called me to catch up.

"I left my sunglasses in the rental car,

my phone charger in the hotel room, and

my book in the seat back pocket on the plane.”

She was a little angry with herself, definitely resigned to that aggravated energy she was carrying, and sad. I told her to sit down.

"I have a million things to do before I leave again in two days!”

I  said: “Stop what you’re doing. Sit. Down. Now.”

I heard her heavy sigh as she slid down onto the floor, legs outstretched, purse thrown onto the chair beside her.

"Remember when I told you about the three BAND-AIDs on my hands?”

"No. *sigh*  Seriously, Sarah, I have too much to do to just sit here.”

"Trust me. Stay where you are. When I have three BAND-AIDs on my hands I know I'm not present. Those bandages are my hint to stop, take a breath, and re-center myself."

"Ok. So what? Do you have three bandages on your hands?”

“No, I don't. But you do.

“Losing your sunglasses, phone charger, and book are very small hints for something that could be much, much worse. They are your three bandages, your warning that something much worse can happen if you don't take some time to breathe and re-center yourself.

"Now. When we hang up, you are going to slowly get up off the floor, put on good walking shoes, and go for a long walk around your neighborhood. You are going to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, looking at details of plants, houses, and people. You are going to lose yourself, and clear your head of your "to do" list, and focus on things outside your own brain. And when you get back to your apartment, you’re going to call me and we'll talk through your list.”

About an hour later she called me back, a substantially improved tone to her voice. She was back to her old self, confident and calm. We chatted away while she started laundry, cleaned up dishes in the sink, and started a grocery and errand, and MUST DO work list.

And the next time I saw a couple of small injuries on my fingers, I called her to share my frustration, and to remind her that I have to stop myself, too, sometimes.

How many times have you been rushing through things and either messing them up and having to re-do them, or actually injuring yourself - even if it’s just a paper cut? What does it take for you to realize you’re spinning your wheels?

My friend Curt Mercadante has written a few things that have changed the way I look at how I spend my days.

I was working for a local government agency when I read his post asserting that 70% of our days are filled with bullshit… it only took me about 30 seconds to decide his assessment was pretty accurate. And then he mentioned something in a post about scheduling specific amounts of time for specific projects, knowing that if you schedule an hour to complete a project, it’ll take an hour to complete that project.

And then there was this: Doing more work isn’t the same as being productive.

The next time you start to see yourself spinning wheels, having to do things more than once, and seeing band-aids on your hands, consider whether everything you’re spending time and energy - and stress - on, is more work, or is productive time spent.

Here’s your challenge for this week: Figure out what your three BAND-AIDs are.

Are they small physical injuries on your hands? Are they lost items like keys, sunglasses, or wallet?

The next time you notice a few things out of step, stop what you are doing and breathe for a minute. Take inventory of the last few days to see if maybe you're missing something - like being present. Walk, bike, do something creative (if this is tricky for you, I often recommend using those coloring books with patterns you can get at the local art store, along with a pack of colored pencils); do something that clears your head. It must take some time, a minimum of 30 minutes, to be intentional about finding your balance again.

And while you’re thinking about what your three band-aids are and what they represent, consider the consequences of not being present when you're driving, spending time with your children or aging parents, cooking with heat & sharp objects. In my experience, if I don't pay attention to those bandages, I'm risking serious damage.

Please be sure and visit my website,, to read the associated blog post to this podcast episode. There are links to Curt’s articles, as well as more information about what Elkins Consulting can do to help you and your leadership and sales teams improve communication using storytelling as the foundation of our work.