The Power of A Good Story

I love a good story. Don’t you? Stories work on us, they take us places, and they let us plumb the depths of our wisdom for new ways to look at familiar challenges. Metaphors challenge, confound, entertain, and change us.

At any moment, we can choose to invoke the power of story to create a new result. As a coach, I frequently use stories and metaphor to help people move from being stuck, into practical action; from defining a situation as a problem, to seeing how it is a steppingstone. And stories and metaphor are everywhere. You can’t take a half a step in any direction without bumping into a whole bunch of them — in a book, a poem, a quote, a conversation, inspirational writings, a song, graffiti, a personal belief, a folk tale, a prayer, an email, a wish, a joke, a movie, a commercial, on a bumper sticker…heck, everything has a story just waiting to inspire you.

Stories tap into deep truths, archetypes, core values, and patterns that are bigger than us. Our bodies and souls recognize a deep truth when we hear it. It has a resonance that we can feel, and it reminds us who we are, and are meant to be, and it invites us to continue growing. In a similar way, stories (those we tell ourselves, and those we choose to listen to) create the frameworks we use to make sense of our experience. Imagine what would happen if you changed a fundamental story “Life is Hard” to a new story “I am resourceful and can respond well to whatever comes my way.”

Stories give us many voices. They enable us to clothe ourselves in fresh perspectives and learn from each. What conclusions might Sherlock Holmes deduce from the information in front of you? How about running your strategic plan through the Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise, so you can watch how it plays out? What would you do differently if you put on the hat and point of view of a farmer? How would a child respond? What about a tribal elder?

Stories invite us to play. They are endlessly malleable – they can have as many endings, new beginnings, plot twists as we can imagine. There really are no rules, so anything is possible. They fire up our creative right brain. You can start one without knowing where it will go and just follow it along to see. There is something about stepping into a story (do you remember “make pretend?”) that frees us to create with a little less judgment. To skip past what we “know” to be right and logical to find something fresh and innovative. And maybe loosen, even a little bit, the tightness with which we grip our conclusions.

And in a very real way, playing with stories trains your brain to see in a new way, supporting you to actually create something new. You can rehearse a change you want to introduce in your life by telling the story of your life as it will be 10 years from now. You can watch the story unfold in your mind as you practice a skill you never knew you had. You begin to notice what you haven’t noticed before. A good story creates a picture that becomes included in our mental concept of reality. Repeating a story can actually program our thinking. It is a kind of mental rehearsal – a power tool used by masterful athletes and performers the world over. This can lead to magic — Abracadabra! By the way, did you know that one story about this most magic of words (although it may be a myth and has been challenged by scholars), suggests that the word is derived from an incantation from the Jewish mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, Abarah K’Dabarah or "I create as I speak."

So, open yourself up to possibility and gather ’round. It’s story time!