We all love stories, don’t we? Whether they are fiction, fantasy, or true-life events, such as everyday dramas or inspirational tales of people overcoming huge life challenges or adventures! We are hard wired to be intrigued by them.
We listen to stories. We tell them. They are in our conversation. What did you do at work today? Guess what I did today! Stories are part of our Life. And our lives are our stories!
For centuries people have used and told stories to pass on information through the generations; to teach; to engage; to make us think. This is how culture is passed from one generation to another. Stories and Metaphors are present in our history, our present, and will be in our future. Stories are our roots: They spread through our language from person to person, just as the wind blows through the branches of the trees!
Using metaphors in stories can engage and inspire us. If a picture paints a thousand words, then imagine how powerful a picture and a story can be.
As adult educators we search for moral and educational stories to give our children values, to teach right and wrong and to help them to become resilient or to learn empathy. Stories are imaginative, so they help develop imagination and can help people to look for and understand the meaning of the story, which in turn promotes problem solving skills and aids the ability to rationalise and make decisions.
In our everyday lives we all want our stories to be heard. We want others to know how we think, how we feel or what our opinions are.
It can also be really helpful to hear stories from other people too. Sometimes we need to gain validation and comfort from hearing about someone in the same situation as us. To then read about or hear their story or their solutions, can give us options, offer us alternative possible solutions to our problems and give us the opportunity to consider things from a different angle. Stories can be very uplifting, so long as we don’t get lost in their story and become dragged into their misery or despair!
Have you ever given advice to someone with a problem? You could probably see many things they could do. You may have given examples. But it’s not that simple is it…?
A friend of mine was once suffering from lack of self-confidence. She had been a very successful teacher in her time but having had a family, now did not have the confidence to return to work after so much time at home with her children and years out of the workplace. Her friends and family told her she could do it. They were really positive and supportive, telling her she was good enough and reassuring her. But this didn’t help.
She then became depressed as she felt that everyone else was telling her she was capable, but her inner voice kept doubting her and putting her down. Her doctor told her to try to distract herself, get out in the fresh air, get some exercise, start a new hobby. And any of these things would probably have helped. But did they? Did she even do them? If you have ever been in this situation you will probably know the answer.
What did help however, was metaphor. A story. It went like this:
Imagine you were given a parrot, a lovely parrot with no special talents - just a pet parrot. But the one thing you didn’t know was that the parrot was actually poisoned and had been trained to be unhelpful to you, it would criticise you and put you down constantly. If you were late for work it would tell you that you are useless, disorganised, a waste of space. Every time you applied for a job, it will tell you that you aren’t good enough to do that, you don’t have the skills, you aren’t capable.
But then the storyteller asked “How long would it be before you would throw a cover over the cage, or even get rid of the parrot?
Not long I’m guessing!
But the storyteller then explained that actually we often allow out inner critic to talk to us in this way. We listen to it - we begin to believe it - and then it starts to drain our self-confidence, it makes us question our ability and affects who we are and how we live our life.
We wouldn’t put up with it from a parrot! So why would we put up with it from our inner critic!
There was however an antidote to the poisonous parrot, which the storyteller shared with my friend and it was what really helped her. And I will share it with you too. The antidote was:
Just notice the parrot - then cover the cage.
Notice the parrot, cover the cage and go and do something else! Find a distraction. Put your mind onto something other than the parrot.
Tell yourself - It’s just a parrot! I don’t have to listen to it.
Notice the parrot - Then cover the cage.
Now there is a caveat to this story and that is that the poisonous parrot is very persistent, and it will keep trying again and again, so my friend had to be very persistent too. And eventually she found that every time she did this, she began to notice her ‘inner parrot’ less and less.
So actually, what was in the story was much the same as everyone had been telling my friend. But not as advice, as a story: a metaphor. And so, she worked it out for herself. And this helped her to regain her confidence, because she wasn’t listening to that negative voice. But neither was she taking advice. She had been given the tools to do it herself.
She did go back to work and after a while became a very successful teacher who was called upon to turn difficult classes and poorly performing schools around.
So now you will perhaps understand why people find it much more effective to use third party examples, metaphors or stories, rather than to give advice. And also, why it can be so much more empowering to tell a story and allow someone to work out for themselves what to do. Or even better - especially with children, to allow them to create the story and be part of the solution.
If we give advice, it’s rarely acted upon or even seen as a good solution to help the other persons situation. After all, if we think something is our own idea, we are far more likely to take ownership of it and we’ll be far more likely to do it!
We are all unique and we all have everything it takes to solve our own problems; we just sometimes need some help to know where to look.
Our thought patterns are our stories. What we think about is the story we are in. If we can change our thinking, we can change our story and we can change our life. We can never change what happens to us, some things are out of our control. But we can change the way in which we experience it. The way we feel about it. And that will change our story - our reality.
So, we could become engulfed by whatever life throws at us, or we could accept it and just deal with it. Or, we could re-think it and change our story, like my friend did when she got rid of her poisonous parrot.
I actually did it too.
I changed my story from being someone who had failed in a work from home business to becoming a successful Foster Carer and then I went on to retrain again to become an Emotional Wellbeing Coach.
I changed my thinking and changed my story.
So, what’s your Story?
Why not re-write it? You might find it incredibly empowering!
And perhaps, you may even want to help other people change their stories too!
Solving Your Problems Together