In the last few installments of the “Positive Permanent change” series, we covered Core values and Resistance. In this segment, we’ll go over “story,” and how to use the power of story to program your brain for success.
The Power of Story
Everyone and their grandmother has been touting the effectiveness of marketing through storytelling, lately, and the power of story in the mind of the consumer. It’s true, storytelling is indeed tremendously powerful. And it’s not just limited to marketing!
Your brain is wired for story. It’s how we as humans make sense of the world.
Beliefs and stories
Read just about any publication about how to create positive change in yourself or the world, and you’ll find a few common themes. One of the most common is discovering and changing your limiting beliefs, replacing them with empowering beliefs.
It’s common because it’s true. The beliefs that you hold dear, consciously and unconsciously, are the reins that control the directions you go in life. If you want to change direction, you’ve got to take the reins. You’ve got to get a handle on your beliefs. And the best way that I’ve found to do that is through the power of story.
Stories are like bits of computer code for your brain. They provide the unconscious framework around which you build your perception of the world, other people, and yourself. And, much like computer code, the stories that your brain “runs” can be full of bugs. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert at computer science to reprogram your brain.
Your stories are impacting your life–right now.
My wife and I are in the process of adopting a child. As a part of that process, we each had to answer a 118 item questionnaire. Many of the questions required essay-style answers. When was done, my answer document was well over 40 pages long! It was a hugely powerful opportunity to examine some of the stories I hold on to from my past, and how they affect my life today.
Stories are all that remain of the past. That’s what memories are, after all: The stories you tell yourself about the past.
When you look at something that happens today, you judge it as positive or negative based on your past experiences–your stories. When you decide to do something–or not to do it–you’re basing that decision on predictions of possible outcomes–your stories about the future. Those predictions in turn were created once again by your past experiences.
You also make decision based on who you are. We’ve all identified certain traits that we identify with, and others that we don’t. Are you an outgoing, type-A personality? Or do you see yourself as a quieter, more careful person? Either way, you’re telling yourself a story. You’re creating an image of yourself that you then must live up to–or not.
Frustration is the emotion that tells you when the story of how you want things to be isn’t matching up with the story you see unfolding before you. And that’s fantastic news. Here’s why: Like any story, these can all be edited, re-written, or flat out deleted. Read on to find out how,
5 ways to edit your story
There are a lot of techniques for editing your internal stories. It’s worth the time and effort to try many of them, and find out what works best for you. Here are five options you can use to get started.
Reframing is my favorite tool for editing my story on a daily basis. it takes a little practice to get good at it and make it a part of your daily life, though! How’s it work? Well, every story has a setting and a tone. Together, they form the “frame,” the viewpoint through which you see the story. Based on that frame, we make assumptions about things it the story, It’s inevitable. Wee can’t know all of the details, but the frame allows us to fill in what’s missing.
Re-framing, then, is just shifting the frame for any given story.
It’s simpler than it sounds. Here’s an example: When I was working at the camp for troubled youth, I saw all sorts of behavior that was hard for me to understand, at first. One time, one of the boys grabbed the pot of everyone’s dinner and through it into the woods! I was hungry, tired, and mad as hell. But instead of telling the story as “Out of nowhere “Joe” (not his real name) ruined dinner and caused havoc that took the rest of the night–and part of the morning–to settle” I reframed it like this:
“The group process wasn’t working, and Joe was feeling it. The group of boys that he was sitting with were getting picked on by the rest of the group, and I wasn’t noticing. So Joe used the only tool he knew of to change the situation. His tactic was crude but effective. It brought to light a bigger problem in the group, and in the end, brought the boys closer together.”
“Joe” also provided a great story to tell… through the distance of a few years, it’s actually become one of my fondest memories of camp life!
The words you use on a daily basis have a strong effect on your unconscious mind. Using negative words or overusing power words creates a mental environment that impacts how you see the world. And perception is reality.
Focus instead on using empowering positive words when talk both to yourself, and to others. This includes making requests. Don’t tell yourself not to do something.
Tell yourself what to do instead. I learned part of this when I worked as a lifeguard at summer camp a long, long time ago. The docks at the small pond we used as a swimming hole got pretty slippery when wet, as you might expect. So we had a simple rule. No Running. Nonetheless. Kids were constantly getting excited and fogetting themselves, and running around on the slippery docks. In the beginning of the summer, I would blow my whistle and yell “No Running!” over and over and over… The kids would slow down a bit, but a few minutes later… you guesses it: they were right back to running around. What I didn’t realize was that every time I yelled “No running,” the unconscious part of the kids’ brains grabbed onto the action word: running. So what was the idea that was sitting there under their conscious thought the whole time?
Running, of course!
One day the camp director pulled aside the lifeguard team and imparted these words of wisdom: “Instead of telling them to stop doing something, tell them what you want them to do.”
It seemed too simple to be effective, but it worked! We’d still have to yell “Walk!” every so often, but not nearly as much as we used to. At the camp director’s urging, we even took it a step further: The power of questions. Instead of telling the kids what to do, we started asking them what they should be doing, and why. The results were unbelieveable… more on that technique some other time the power of questions is for another article.
Visualization & NLP
Visualization works because your unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between something you see for real, and something you see in your mind’s eye. It can be used for many things, from sports training where athletes imagine themselves performing perfectly, to the medical world, where patients “see” themselves healing and getting better.
You can use it like that, too, to “see” future improvements and prime your brain with a story of success. Or, you can use visualization to “replay” painful or otherwise negative memories, and “re-write” those memories to make them less painful. You can replay from another point of view, effectively re-framing the past.
Every time you recall a memory, you’re recreating it. It becomes a copy of a copy of a copy.. and you can control what gets highlighted and what gets left out. (This is the essence of why pretty much any of these techniques work!)
If you really want to get serious with visualization, you might want to dive deep into the realm of NLP.
NLP (Neurolinguistic programming) is a set of techniques developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. I’ll state up front that the science of NLP is debatable, but the fact is, it works for a lot of people. Why? It’s all mental. So the placebo effect, or “mind over matter” is just “mind over mind,” in this case. In the end, whatever metaphor works for you, works for you. If you’re interested in learning NLP, there are a lot of resources out there. hit me up, I’d be happy to walk you through NLP-style visualization. Or, check out one of the many, many books on the subject.
Journaling, Photography, and Art –
These work by taking visualization and making it external, visible. They’re great ways to focus, if you have trouble with your mind wandering. And, it’s a great way to exercise your creativity, too! Try getting a real, physical journal or scrapbook. Or try using something like Evernote. There are a lot of ways to go about expressing your stories, and retelling them in empowering ways. Try a few, and see what works best for you.
Where you focus your attention is where you go. For control over your life now, you have to stop looking at the past and live in the present. Mindfulness helps you develop that capability. It helps you see your story as it’s happening, and gives you an opportunity to reframe each moment as it happens. That’s an amazingly powerful technique! It takes some practice to get there, though. Start today by designating 10 – 20 minutes to just sit, eyes closed, with nothing else to do. That’s it. It really can be that simple. If you’re interested in learning more about practicing mindfulness, let me know. I’ve got a resource guide in the works, and if enough people are interested, I’ll move it up in the priority list.
Do you have experience with reframing? Is there a story from your past that still haunts you years later? What disempowering beliefs and stories are holding you back, right now, from becoming a more positive force in the world? Drop your answers in the comments section below, or shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
PS – One of the best ways to keep your mind focused on the positive, empowering aspects of your stories is through the practice of gratitude. For a free guide to how to start your gratitude practice, click here.
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