Meg Myers Morgan at #MBAIMB24: Improve Your Reality by Confronting Your Illusions

(Meg Myers Morgan speaking at #MBAIMB24)

NEW ORLEANS–The stories you tell to change other peoples’ perceptions of you can actually shape your own self-perception, professor and executive coach Meg Myers Morgan said here at the MBA Independent Mortgage Bankers conference.

“That is to say, the stories that we carry, whether we’re conscious about them or not, are actually changing the relationship that you have with yourself,” Myers Morgan said here at a networking lunch for mPower, MBA’s networking organization for women in real estate finance. “So these stories aren’t just funny things we tell over the dinner table, or sometimes negative self-talk; they are actually changing the way you feel about yourself.”

Myers Morgan gave three ways to examine the stories we tell ourselves–whether they’re conscious or unconscious. “I want you to really be able to analyze and break down the way that you talk about yourself,” she said. “What that voice is in your head. I’m going to give you three shifts to improve that self-perception: improve the way you see yourself, improve the way you perceive yourself and improve that relationship that you have with yourself.”

Consider character, emotion and logic, Myers Morgan noted. “Every time somebody comes into my office with a story to tell, they always start with what the other person did, or what the position is that’s available or the opportunity has been presented,” she said. “That is, they always start with the plot. They start with what’s happening around them; they never start with character. So when we think about the stories we tell, we are missing the idea of the character that it’s about, that is, you.”

Myers Morgan said she always asks the person in front of her, “who are you and what do you want?”

“And literally, nobody can answer this question, because we all spend a lot of time crafting a beautiful story about all the people that are around us and all the opportunities around us,” she said. “But we actually haven’t done the thought of sitting and thinking about what it is that we want.” She said one client had gotten quite high up in a very intense industry and was contemplating moving even higher up, a move that would require a lot more hours and stress. “As we talked, I realized her problem case was not whether or not she needed to take this next position; the problem she was having was her own mental health. And I had to tell her that your mental health comes first. As a person that works both in higher ed and with corporate leaders, I cannot stress this enough: literally nobody will prioritize your mental health but you and there are a lot of people that will line up to try to deteriorate it any chance they get.”

Remember: you cannot manage other people, Myers Morgan said. “You can only manage yourself. So when it comes to your stories, make sure that you’re thinking about character first, you’re investing in that character and not moving too quickly through plot,” she said.

The second thing to keep in mind when analyzing your stories is emotion, Myers Morgan said. “And this is really tricky. Of the hundreds and hundreds of women I’ve worked with on negotiation, almost all of them say, ‘what happens if I get in there and cry?’ or ‘What happens if I get in there and get angry?’ or ‘what happens if I have emotions?’ And that’s fair because not only are we not taught how to process our emotions, we have an added layer as women to not be too emotional. So it makes perfect sense that we struggle in this area.”

She mentioned one client, a CEO of a mid-sized organization who told Myers Morgan that she sometimes felt overwhelmed and felt the need to delegate. But when she saw her team get stressed, she would take the delegated responsibility back upon herself. “I told her, okay, let’s slow it down,” Myers Morgan said. “Because we know that emotion drives rapid behavior. So let’s slow it down.”

Allowing some space between stimulus and response leads to better decisions, Myers Morgan said. “I sometimes coach clients to wait for an hour before replying to an email. I’m not saying you should never take action. I’m saying if you are acting in a state in which you are having emotions, it’s probably not going to be the way you want it. And it’s going to continually keep you in the same loop.”

The third thing to consider when analyzing your stories is to think about logic, Myers Morgan said. “This this was a toughie for me, but essentially what we’re asking is, does this make sense?” She cited one client in the non-profit sector who felt her career growth had stalled and was considering leaving her job to pursue a PhD. “I told her, as somebody with a PhD, I have to ask, is this a good idea? Explain how stopping when you’re one office away from where you want to be to return to school for seven years to then go back and take that job makes sense. Talk to me about that.”

In this case, the client required a full 10 minutes to explain why her idea made sense to her. “It took a lot of work for her to explain it,” Myers Morgan said. “When things are really logical, it doesn’t take a lot of work to explain them. So when clients come to me and start giving me a long story about how something might make sense, I know it probably isn’t very logical.”

“The second thing I asked her is, have you ever seen anyone do this successfully?,” Myers Morgan continued. “Which is to say, do you have proof of concept? Have you seen a lot of people leave this organization, go get a PhD, and seven years later come back and take a higher position? Of course you haven’t. And if you look at the leadership level, do any of those people have PhDs?”

Chaos starts where logic ends, Myers Morgan noted. “When I find people saying their life feels very chaotic, I can guarantee you, there’s some logic that is not at play,” she said.

Myers Morgan listed several things you can do to improve your self-perception. “The first thing is to change your language,” she said. “My oldest daughter is a seventh grader. As part of the seventh-grade curriculum, they have to take a language arts class, and she chose German. For the first six or seven weeks of school, every day when she came home, the story that she told us was that German was her least favorite class. ‘I hate the German teacher, and the German teacher hates me,’ she would tell us. Every day, the same story for six weeks. I said, hey, would you be willing to do an experiment with me for one day? Let’s try something else. I said, tomorrow, we’re going to wake up and we’re going to say to ourselves, ‘German is my favorite class. The German teacher is my favorite teacher and I’m his favorite student’.”

The next morning, Myers Morgan’s daughter woke up and told herself that day would be a great day, because German is her favorite class and her favorite teacher. “So it was like Christmas waiting on her to get home that afternoon,” Myers Morgan said. “She told me, ‘Oh, you’re right. It works. It works.’ Now fast-forward into the second semester, not only is German her favorite class, it’s the one she has the highest grade in. And the teacher is now officially her favorite teacher.”

“What my daughter learned is what you say is what you see,” Myers Morgan said. “And if you find yourself repeating the same stories over and over without change, it is likely because you’re stuck in a rut. It is likely because you are building a reality that doesn’t make any sense or isn’t serving you. If you can just change the language, even if you have to get up and pretend to like a seventh-grade German class, it can change the way that you feel about things.”

Another thing you should do to change your self-perception is actually run toward conflict, Myers Morgan said. “I think it’s more probably for the women in the room, because I’ve worked with so many women who really, really avoid conflict at all costs,” she said. “And that’s for a lot of different reasons. I’m definitely one of those people. For instance, early on in my teaching career, I really hated getting student evaluations. So what happened was, I didn’t really know if I was doing a good job. And I had little feedback to go on. It started to make me not feel very good about myself.”

So she decided to run headlong into this conflict, Myers Morgan said. “I started reading every single excruciating comment, sometimes they were things like, ‘the classroom is too cold’ or ‘I wish the PowerPoints used a different font,’ And I realized that I can fix that. And the more I went headlong into this, the more I realized I actually had feedback that I could use. And wouldn’t you know it, that feedback actually helped me become an incredibly better professor than I was at the beginning. Because I was actually connecting with the students. I was actually craving their feedback so much that I asked at the beginning and end of every single class period for students to correct me or to ask me for something. I went from being a person who avoided conflict at all costs to one who ran headlong into it because I realized that conflict is actually where life happens.”

Myers Morgan noted most of our conflict results in us getting what we need. “We can’t get what we need if we don’t embrace conflict, so if you find yourself resisting something–even if it’s just a conflict within yourself–I ask you to run headlong into it, because that’s where you will find the good stuff,” she said. “That’s where you will get resolution. That’s where you grow as a person.”