James Altucher is fond of talking about the power of storytelling. He discusses it in a recent podcast episode with Steven Pressfield, most famous for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art.
In the interview, Pressfield talks about a time when he was asked by a porn movie director to write some scenes for his movies. The director had some suggestions for Pressfield that many might find surprising, given the genre:
- A sex scene shouldn’t just be about having sex. It should advance the story in some way.
- Have something else going on so they can cut back and forth.
Pressfield said those suggestions improved his fiction writing, which makes sense. It’s pretty good advice in any genre. So even porn relies on storytelling conventions.
You hear about this in advertising or any time you need to persuade someone else of something. Telling a story will always get you further than a dry recitation of facts.
Is it any surprise, then, that the most powerful stories are the ones we tell ourselves every day?
Ramit Sethi calls them invisible scripts. Michael Hyatt calls the bad ones limiting beliefs. Basically, we all have a set of stories that we tell ourselves about why things are the way they are. Often those stories are planted by our early environment: family, culture, religion, etc. Sometimes they’re put there by circumstances. For instance, a series of struggles in school leads someone to think, “I’m no good at school.”
Not all such stories are bad, but it’s important to recognize the ones that are. As in many areas, bringing them to light is the first step to changing them.
For instance, I’d considered myself uncoordinated for a long time. This obviously meant that anything that required grace was beyond my ability. Then a few years ago, a Groupon appeared in my inbox for ballroom dancing lessons. The idea terrified me.
I knew by my reaction that I had to do it.
And as it turned out, I loved it. I wasn’t amazing, but I made lots of improvements. The experience had a side benefit of making me more comfortable being in close proximity to people in general. But to get there, I had to commit myself to telling a different story than the one I’d told previously.
There are two basic ways you can go about changing a particular story once you identify it. One way that works for some people is to affirm the opposite of the problem story. For example, if you’re struggling at your job, you might be telling yourself, “I’m no good at this.” You could instead affirm, “I have all the skills and resources I need to succeed in this job.” Many people find success with this approach.
Another way to go about it is to acknowledge the current reality but also the possibility for improvement. To continue with the job example, if you’ve been warned by your boss for missing multiple deadlines, it might help to think more concretely. You could tell yourself, “I’m willing to do what it takes to improve my work to the required standard.” Sounds less cool, but maybe more achievable if you’re doubting your abilities. The ability to do something to improve a situation is almost always in your grasp. By the way, if you’re currently in this situation, Ramit Sethi has some useful advice for you.
If something in your life isn’t going the way you want it to go, there’s a good chance that some story you tell yourself is playing a role. Try to bring it to light and see what you can find.
When have you changed your situation by changing the story? Let’s talk about it in the comments.