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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

May 5, 2014

We know storytelling is a great leadership skill for engaging and influencing others.  However, there is also a growing body of research on how to harness the power of our inner narratives:

Use a Redemptive Rear View Mirror

The stories we recount about our past have a powerful impact on our memories and behaviors. Psychologist Jonathan Adler’s research highlights three habits that build resiliency and emotional strength as you reminisce:

  • Recalling both the positive and negative aspects of past situations.
  • Seeing negative events from your past as external events (“That speech didn’t go over well,” rather than “I’m not a good presenter.”)
  • Identifying how you have grown stronger and more effective as a result of your experiences.

Regulate with Reframing

391px-Quotation_Marks.svg_When you get emotionally triggered by a challenging situation, find a plausible but more positive way to view what’s happening.  The research on this practice (“reframing”) has confirmed significant benefits.  Psychologists Gross and John grouped hundreds of people based on whether they tended to use reframing or suppression (pretending everything’s fine) to deal with strong emotions.  They compared the two groups on factors including optimism, environmental mastery and positive relationships.  On every factor, those who reframed were significantly better off than those who suppressed.

Forecast Your Successes

Envision how you will be successful over the next few years. The more you revisit this story of what your future will look, sound, feel, smell and even taste like, the clearer it becomes.  Replaying this movie in your mind helps you recognize and act on choices that support it.

“Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory,” says researcher Angie LeVan. “It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”

This awareness of what you’re telling yourself, and how balanced but empowering your narratives are, is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better your story can become.

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