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The Power of Triumph Over Adversity in Personal Storytelling

Updated: Jun 11

Why do we love a good story and what motivates us to tell a story well?

Hollywood filmmakers, best-selling novelists and advertising execs have known for a long time.

We tell stories borne from the desire and need to engage our listeners. When a listener is actively listening the storyteller can change attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. In business, politics and the entertainment industry those things are key. The 'hero's journey' of triumph over adversity is one that works in fiction and non-fiction storytelling.

This is when the story telling is the easy part. In a world where we're bombarded with information in our ears and on our devices all day long, we think we're listening but the opposite can be true. So our listening needs work.

At Narativ we start with listening.

We explore how we listen, noticing what might be a distraction or an obstacle today. If you have stuff going on at home or you had a bad journey to work, you might not be as connected in interactions with others, you might not be as engaged in 'the story' being told to you. It will be different on the day before your family holiday starts and your commute into town was seamless and full of happy smiling faces! But remember, these joyous things could be a distraction as well - they will be 'in your listening' too...

This article in the Harvard Business Review tells how scientists have researched what happens in our brains when stories are told well.

A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key 'it’s safe to approach others' signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.

When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts – by first attracting their brains.”

In other words, these scientists have discovered that the brain loves it when a story is well told and this in turn, helps our listening.

So whether it's the origin story of your successful business, with all the passion, drive and hardships you overcame to start it, or reading the favourite novel you love to read over and over again, the brain craves a good story. Do you know someone who's seen Titanic more times than they can count? Even when we know the outcome, if the story is well told, we're happy to hear it more that once. The creation of the scene, the time and the set up, followed by a bit of jeopardy, engages our listeners to come on the journey with us. They will actively listen for the satisfying conclusion.

At Narativ, our focus is is on real stories of human experience. This story shows how listeners were connected to a children's cancer charity. It's an example of how a father's personal story about his son motivated people to donate. Stories can move us, make us think, change our attitudes, motivate and inspire us... And above all they can make us listen to one another in new and transformative ways.

Alexandra Boyd

Writer & Narativ Associate

To learn more about the Narativ Storytelling Method go here

And to join our next One Day Personal Listening & Storytelling Workshop in London on June 20th.

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