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The Power of Story – Part 3 of 3

The Power of Story – Part 3 of 3

The Fast Track To Connection

Humans love stories! We love stories so much that we unconsciously create story all the time to make sense of, or give context to what we are experiencing. In part 1 of this series I talked about how neurobiology and how story enables our brain to store and sort memories, experiences and emotions. When we don’t have the whole picture, we simply fill in the gaps – fact or truth has little to do with it.

Ever discussed past events with a sibling or old school friend? Then you’ll probably know what I mean. yYou know for a fact you were both at the same thing at the same time, yet you remember different things, or even you remember the same thing very differently. This is because of your individual neurological filters, the way you process and store information you are presented with. Essentially you each exist in the reality you have created through your own stories.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, if your siblings / friends are anything like mine, a heated debate often ensues about who’s memory is correct – in fact we might feel anything but connected at this point. Here’s the thing though – we might create different story, but we share the same physiological reactions to stimuli we find happy, sad, exciting, scary and this is where story becomes an important part of connection.

Understanding some of the physiological impact of storytelling enhances your ability to engage people, to have influence and truly connect. The fact is our brains respond to story by producing chemicals – hormones, sometimes adrenaline or cortisol, but most often oxytocin – the hormone most responsible for empathy.


“We are all capable of telling great stories – great stories are simple, focused and



Here is an unpalatable fact – people are not interested in your business. They might be interested in you as a person, a fellow human being, they are most likely interested in what your business can do for them. I’m not just talking about sales and services here, I’m talking about relatability, shared beliefs, confidence, trust and a whole load of less tangible markers of whether you are a good fit for them.

Story is your fast track to connection. When we connect with something it happens sequentially – physiologically, emotionally then logically. This might be so rapid a sequence that it’s undetectable – but it is sequential all the same.  Story gives people the context they would otherwise make up. It engages them emotionally and enables the limbic brain to explore and connect.

There are a few rules – your job is to tell stories that make people feel things, to evoke emotion and to influence thinking. This means your story needs structure, often referred to as a story arc – a beginning, middle and end.  This might be an intro to the situation, then a hero (or key character), a conflict or struggle (the middle), that gets resolved – not necessarily happily, but there is an outcome or ‘end’.

A great example of this comes from neuroscientist, Paul Zak’s research in 2004, he discovered the impact of oxytocin on the brain. During the course of his experiments he told the story of a father of a sick child – a true story, see Ben’s Story.

The gist of the plot is that the father struggles to be with his terminally ill son – it is just too painful. In the first video the father talks to camera while Ben plays in the background, he talks of his pain, how hard it is to be joyful around Ben and ends with the father vowing to be emotionally connected “until he takes his last breath.”  In the second video Ben and his father are spending a day at the zoo, it’s clear the boy is unwell, his head bald from chemo, and he is referred to a miracle boy once during the video, it doesn’t talk about cancer or death.  

Participants had blood taken prior to watching one of the two videos. The blood tests were repeated after the video. The first video, which demonstrates a classic dramatic story arch – intro key character with a struggle, a solution resulted in a rise in oxytocin and cortisol. The second video which lacked the tension and was more matter of fact than the first video did not create a rise in oxytocin or cortisol and participants did not share the level of empathy with the father that was demonstrated from the first video.

Remember, story is simply the context around your message, the bit that helps people to get it. This will only work if you are both clear and focussed on impact you want that message to have. It also requires you to be honest and authentic. People will quickly see through you if you are trying to be something you are not – and I’m not just talking about the BS lives people portray on social media here. If you are uncomfortable with your story it will show. If your behaviour, body language or tone are not what you are feeling it will show and those listening will feel uncomfortable at best and distrust you at worst. You might bluff your way through for a bit, but you won’t truly connect.

Being able to use story effectively takes the following:

  1. Courage – you have to commit, be all in and vulnerable in your story – this is not the same as baring your soul and dumping all of your problems, woes and failures on the listener, by the way. Vulnerability in this context is about honesty, dropping the mask and being yourself.
  2. Clarity – plan your story, look at the emotion you want to evoke, the message you are sharing and the value to the listener.
  3. Structure – use a story arc, create a set up conflict and resolution.
  4. Credibility – see the last paragraph! Your aim is to create a story that helps your listener along their journey, make sure it is simple enough to be understood and relevant enough to be relatable, and congruent enough to be believed.
  5. Practice – start using story in your every day interactions, get into the habit of using it to illustrate facts, information you share and influence you want to create. Again, I’m not talking about over sharing personal stories, or worse, other’s stories, I’m talking about the stuff that adds value and helps others along their journey. The more you use story the better you will become at being authentic, impactful and compelling.

In the end, story is simply about providing context for people to help them understand their journey and how it might intertwine with you, or your services. If you don’t provide that context, they – or their brains, will make it up.

Finally, remember we were born great story tellers – we may have become rusty over the years, but we know how to use stories to get our point across – just watch any small child, and chances are you were like that once too.

If you want to have a go at crafting some story for your business and you’d like some feedback join the Braver Business community on Facebook

The Power of Story – Part 2 of 3

The Power of Story – Part 2 of 3

Your Internal Stories Are Your Reality.

First up, your brain is a very clever piece of kit – until it’s not. It has a sophisticated neural network as we discussed in part one of this series, the trouble is it doesn’t differentiate between real and imagined. Which basically means whatever you are thinking about, focused on or actually doing has the same amount of power over how you feel, how you show up and what you actually achieve. Great news if you are feeding your brain with empowering, self-affirming stories – the trouble is most of us do just the opposite. 

We are wired to stay safe, to repeat patterns and to fear the unknown, therefore most of your unconscious narrative serves exactly that purpose. Unconscious is the key bit here, you repeat the stories, or patterns so frequently they are just part of who you are – you probably don’t even recognise them as stories – they are just part of who you are. Unless you can identify these stories, they will continue to drive your life – and you will probably call it fate. One way of finding them is to look at your favourite excuses or our ‘inner critic’, both of which serve to stop us taking risks that might impact our ‘safety’. 

Your identity – or how you see yourself, is totally tied up in the stories you tell yourself! 

I’ve talked to 1000s of business owners and leaders over the years and sadly many of the stories I hear, often from outwardly successful people are stories of ‘not enoughness’ in some form or other: not bright enough, not lucky enough, not connected enough, not fit enough & so on… Many of these stories build out to create firmly held self-limiting beliefs, things you can’t do or won’t achieve. 

It’s one thing knowing this but understanding why it happens and what to do about, it is where story gets really powerful.  Many of these beliefs grew from stories created in moments of emotional processing. Daniel Goleman (1995) calls this Emotional Hijacking – essentially something happens and your limbic system, particularly your Amygdala reacts to the stimulus more quickly than your more logical neocortex can think and plan its response. The limbic system fills in the actual knowledge gaps with story drawn from previous emotional encounters and from this a physiological reaction often reinforcing your values and beliefs. And so the hijacking cycle is created.

Fixing this is not as simple as saying a few affirmations – it’s not what you say out loud that has the impact, but what you truly believe internally. This said story is still a fast and sustainable route to behaviour change.

Step One: Get familiar with your stories,

  • What do you repeatedly tell yourself? (think inner critic here if you are struggling)
  • What do you really believe about yourself?
  • What excuses do you consistently make?

Once you bring these into your consciousness you can start to unpick them. I find Robert Dilts’s Neurological levels model helpful here.

Let’s start from the bottom, Environment represents where and when, Behaviour is what you do, Skills represent how you do it, Values and beliefs why, and identity is who you are (or how you see yourself). Spirit then represents you vision /purpose.

When looking to make a change in your story (or your beliefs), you need to work at a level above where the problem exists – so for the most part this is at identity level – most challenges come from what you believe to be true about yourself (or your internal stories).  

Having identified your stories step two is deciding whether or not they are helpful and empowering or whether they limit you. 

I suggest you dump down all the stories you tell yourself regularly then ask the following questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Does it serve me?

Some stories when you look at this way are clearly not true – your logical brain can see that straight off, these you need to deal with. The best way to deal with them is to consciously focus on the evidence that proves them untrue. For example:

I can’t do public speaking – for the vast majority of us that is untrue. Public speaking may be undesirable, terrifying even, but you could do it. So, what is in the way? It’s not the ability to speak – and you probably have examples of when you have spoken in front of others to prove it, at school, at home socially – even if you weren’t perfect, you did it, draw on these to evidence the fact that you can speak in public then build up your skills and knowledge through practice. If you focus on it enough your brain will start to look for more evidence and gradually replace the ‘I can’t story’ with a new one.

Some beliefs you hold may actually be true but believing them may not serve you. I couldn’t run a half marathon may be true, but if I’m training for a 10K that belief probably doesn’t serve me. It is possible for a human of my age to run a half marathon, because they do all the time – so therefore it is possible with training, so what I need is a plan, a load of practice and a new story – I’m not planning to run a 10k by the way. If that were my belief it would absolutely serve me, I don’t like running.

Finally, the best way to deconstruct stories that are not true, or don’t serve you, is to decide what you need to believe to achieve what you want to achieve or be the person you want to be.  The trick here is to make the new story a stretch but believable, if I were to run, however well I trained I’m unlikely to be an Olympian! It is quite possible I could get to half marathon stage with time and effort though.

Once you identify what you need to believe creating the right story to support it becomes easy, for example, if you actually needed to speak publicly focus on your message not the act of speaking. Your message is what drives you, create compelling stories around why you are sharing it, what you have done so far and where you have evidence of speaking previously – then start to take some action, whether it is practice or small presentations – or the dog act, this sends messages to your limbic system that undo the emotional hijacking you may have previously created. A new story forms.   

In short, you choose what you believe either consciously, in a focused empowering way, or unconsciously by default based on your past experiences and beliefs – either way story is the answer.

This week is national storytelling week in the UK, do yourself a favour and check out your own stories.

If you need some more help join us in the Brave Business Community

The Power of Story – Part 1 of 3

The Power of Story – Part 1 of 3

How Your Brain Creates Story

Storytelling seems to have been around for as long as we have. Cavemen used story in the form of drawing and signs on rocks to share tales and teach about hunting; ancient Egyptians used story to educate, entertain and communicate – both visually and audibly; ancient Greek philosophers – such as Plato, told stories that still impact the world today. They understood the power of story, even if they didn’t understand the neurological workings of why story is important.

“Those who tell stories rule the world”

Plato (about 2400 years ago)

The way we tell story and consume story has changed throughout history in line with technology available – the way we process it has not!

In this three-part blog series we will explore the neurological impact of story, starting today with how we create stories in the first place.

Basically, story enables us to make sense of the world around us. It helps us to connect, to understand and to see perspectives other than our own. We can dip into a make-believe fantasy world for while, explore other realities and immerse ourselves in things it may not be practical to experience in ‘real life’. 

Interestingly, accuracy is not the most important thing when processing information, coherence is. Your brain is attempting to sort and react to billions of pieces of information from internal neuro pathways and external stimuli every second. It has to prioritise which bits of that info create a threat to your safety in some way and deal with those.  

Think about it like this – if your brain were a rail system the objective is to get trains from start to destination as quickly and safely as possible. Information fed to the ‘controller’ forms the basis of decision making – does the train go straight through, does it need to change line, does it need to stop completely? The sooner the controller can process that information the sooner he can move on to the next train. If the controller can see the whole rail circuit, what else is on the line, what the weather is like etc, then he can make a rapid decision. If he can only see part of the picture he cannot. This slows the progress of all trains.

Your brain uses narrative to process information quickly – that narrative is derived from memories, experiences and neurological conditioning. There are a number of different parts of the brain involved in memory formation, the key ones in terms of narrative are:-

The hippocampus, which stores linear and autobiographical information: time, space and people, if you like; the amygdala which attaches emotional significance to memory. This emotional significance is critical in how we process information – strong emotional responses such as shame, guilt, grief, and fear can create a physiological trigger when faced with similar information in the future.

The amygdala is also key to forming new memories – particularly those related to fear or threat to safety. When information is incomplete the brain processes what it has drawing on narrative from your memory to ‘join the dots’ and create the appropriate physiological response.

The neocortex is responsible for higher functions and processing in humans – it stores ‘facts’, language and reasoning. The challenge is that overtime we transfer ‘memories’ from the hippocampus to the neocortex as facts – whether they actually happened the way we recall them or not.

Why does this matter? From a very early age we tell ourselves stories about our actions, our experiences and the actions of others, these stories create a reality within which we exist – this can either expand our perspectives and horizons or constrain them depending on the types of story we tell ourselves.

Ultimately, story – whether internally or externally created, enables us to relate, to connect and to engage emotionally. It drives our behaviour, our feelings and the action we take. Consciously or not we all use story to process information and the quality of your stories has a direct impact on the quality of your life.

Next week we will be looking specifically at how to manage the stories you tell yourself and about yourself, before moving on to how connect with others using story.

In the meantime, think about what stories you regularly tell yourself, do they serve you or hold you back?

How Are You Using Social Media

How Are You Using Social Media

This morning I opened my Linked In messages to find 14 new messages – 2 from people I know well, 5 from people who have been connections for a while and message me every couple of months to tell me about there products and 8 from new connections who’s first contact with me is to try to sell me something. One even said ‘without my help your business will fail’ – I’d love to know what crystal ball he’s looking in.

On a more serious note though, in my mind social platforms – including LinkedIn, are about building connection, developing relationships and sharing good, helpful, value led stuff. They are not about connecting with as many randon people – especially those with plenty of connections, then flogging the guts out of your product and service, while at the same time destroying any potential relationships you might be building.

Does this mean I’m some fluffy coach who thinks selling is evil? Not at all, I have made money through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I sell stuff to people I first connected with on social platforms and I’ve even employed someone after building a relationship onLinkedIn. I have one guiding principle though, which is value first. Very few people actually like being sold at – by this I mean the unsolicited pitch that pops up in your messages – and this applies to all social platforms. I’m not talking about sales conversations after you have built a relationship, or established that the other party might be interested in what you have.

I guess what I’m saying here is if you want to use social media to grow your business – and there’s nothing wrong with that, use it for what its best for, engaging people in what you believe and what you do, expanding your reach and credibility, building relationships and getting to know interesting people.

If you do connect with me, connect because I am useful to you, you are interested in me or my business or because you may have something that I need, then take the time to get to know me. That way I may finish up doing business with you, I may recommend you to my network, or connect you with someone I know. Don’t look at my profile and think – target market or has lots of connection, and definitely don’t follow up my acceptance or your request with a sales pitch.

I’m sure I’m not alone in opening LinkedIn or messenger with a sinking feeling when I see 12 sales pitches.

Lets change this, lets get really connected with each other.

Own Your Presence

Own Your Presence

We all know people who can just walk into a room and own it. People pay attention to them, they might want to be noticed by them – or hidden from them depending on the circumstances. The mood, energy and attitude of these people impacts the room. They are the rapport leaders – for good or bad, they influence how others behave, interact and even what they think. These people are connected energetically, they are noticeable, they have a presence.

When we look at the constructs of our society it is geared towards needing to stand out, needing to be heard and to have an impact – and that is certainly true for business owners. In short, we are geared towards valuing extrovert behaviours.

We see this in the workplace, in schools, in many social clubs and certainly at parties – outgoing, sociable people, ones with lots of friends, ones who ’know’ lots of people. All are considered more noticeable. According to Susan Cain, in her book ‘Quiet’ this happens to an extent that people with more introverted tendencies fear they are at a disadvantage or even ashamed of their quiet natures, and somehow less worthy. She talks about society’s bias towards extroversion and how many introverts feel that in order to progress they need to develop more extrovert styles. She also points out that somewhere between a third and a half of the population favour introversion as their natural style, and by denying the value of this we are reducing the connectedness, the creativity of society, we risk losing some of the great talents that lie within introverts who cannot express themselves in this noisy world.

Let’s be honest though, introvert/extrovert/ambivert – we all need to have an impact, and we all need to have that impact in a way that suits our style, personality and values – in other words we need to be real and show up as ourselves.

Wherever you sit on the introvert/extrovert spectrum there are challenges and wins for you when we get down to presence. And for most of us we have a natural preference, but move backwards and forwards along the introvert/extrovert spectrum depending on the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Let’s look at extroverts first – you find it easy to walk into the room and seek attention, you like being in the spotlight, you have something to say, you’re on form and you easily tune in and engage with people around you, you carry the conversation on and on and never tire.

But, and it’s a big but, if you are not given that attention you are quite likely to crumple quickly, feel insecure, try harder to get noticed and probably be more inclined to talk about yourself and your accomplishments, not listen too closely to what others are saying and as a result not engage very well. People around you may tire of you your tales and your Duracell bunny style energy.

We need extrovert behaviour in business to get the conversations going, to start the exchange of creativity, to hold the energy for the room sometimes – just note this is extrovert behaviours, any one of us can learn and adopt these.

If you are an introvert then all I’ve just mentioned forms part of your worst nightmare. You are much more likely to listen, not get your point across, or not even be noticed, while at the same time finding the whole affair exhausting. You’d much rather slink into a quiet corner and have a conversation with one or two like-minded people.

We need introvert behaviours – that quiet introspection, to step back from group think, to allow individual creativity and revelations, which can be later developed or refined by a group. We need leaders who listen and are driven by what they believe is right, and not just a desire for the limelight – and again these introvert behaviours can be learned by any of us.

Of course, these are two extremes and as I said before you are most likely to move around the spectrum with a whole range of learned behaviours that allow you to function reasonably well in situations which are not your preference.

So, let’s come back to having a presence, being that person who owns the room – and just to be clear this is about authenticity, being real. It is not about being an introvert or extrovert, it’s about understanding what behaviours you can step into to have the impact you need to have in any given situation.

I believe there are three things that enable you to show up with conviction – confidence, position and clarity.

Confidence – understanding what value you bring to the table

Position – where are you coming from, what do you know, what do you need to share, what is your opinion.

Clarity – where are the lines, what are you prepared to do or not do in support of this thing or issue, what are your personal values around it?

And your answer to those three questions will vary depending on the circumstances, the issues, and how important a given topic is to you – and that’s ok.

The final piece of work around presence is self-management – and again what you need to do is both circumstantial and dependent on your introvert/extrovert tendencies.

Story, communication and energy all impact on your presence and with some planning and some attention they are all controllable.

Check in on the stories you tell yourself. Do they drive you to greatness or are they holding you back? Where might you need to do some work on your stories (or excuses) in order to achieve what you need to achieve?

Communication – be yourself, if you are not shouty, rah, rah – then don’t try to be. You’ll feel odd, look fake and lose impact. By the same token if you have something to say, say it, your way. If you are more dramatic then go for impact – be yourself.

Here’s the thing with communication, particularly when you really need to make an impact, practice and precision matter. Plan beforehand – even if you prefer to wing it! Know what you want to say and how you want to say it – then practice. This will make you more confident, more able to find a rapport with the people, and more able to lead the conversation in a connected way.

Energy – your energy is a huge part of your presence so control it. Use your physical presence to reinforce your message, not to undo it. Remember, actions speak louder than words – ensure your body language supports what you are saying. And ensure your mood or state does not undermine your impact. In short, think about the energy you are spreading and ensure it matches what you want the people you are with to feel.

We covered a lot her. Fundamentally, presence – or owning a room – is about paying attention, being true to yourself and who you are, while at the same time being mindful of what people need from you. It is about being able to connect, to share energy, and to move people with your courage and conviction. Personality type is not an excuse, or a cop out – it is a vehicle for understanding behaviour and how to show up in a congruent but powerful way, whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert.

So go have some fun with this, pay attention to what you do currently and where you could be more impactful, then practice.

Thank you for reading, if you’d like more insights like this, join the Brave Scene community.

Manage your Mind – are you feeding the Squatter?

Manage your Mind – are you feeding the Squatter?

We all have the most amazing piece of kit at our disposal, it’s with us all the time, capable of running complex software, handling masses of information and operating 24/7 – it’s the ultimate super computer – I’m talking about your brain!

I meet people all the time who are frantically chasing success – many of whom have not actually stopped long enough to define what success means to them. Even though many of these people know how to do the things they perceive will make them successful, few actually get round to doing them.

The brutal reality is that only the minority of people find the success they are looking for – the majority settle for what they know they can do. I believe this is down to the relationship you have with your brain.

Fundamentally, your brain hates change, it likes to create patterns – neuro pathways, kind of like high speed railways – no stops and A – B in the least time possible.

To enable this to happen, your brain takes any given stimuli and attempts to fit it into something already known – in effect it does a search & find on all the files in its memory and throws up the closest results, and most of the time this is perfectly good & an uber efficient way of dealing with the massive amount of data inputted every second.

Where it goes wrong is when the info has been slightly misfiled in the first place. You attach an emotional response or even a whole story to a specific stimuli and then create a behavioural response to that stimuli which may not serve you – it may not even be true.

I often talk about this as the squatter in your brain – your self-talk feeding the memory bank often with misfiled information. The trouble is, it can be very easy to focus on your self-talk, its active, quite literally, in your head and for many people consistent.

The challenge is that energy is directed to whatever we are focused on and that’s great if we are focused on what we want or are aiming to achieve.

Because your brain’s primary job is to keep us safe / alive, then most often your default focus is on what you don’t want, your fears and your limitations. Guess what, your energy goes on what you don’t want.

Your self-talk – the squatter – feeds on this energy, consuming it and leaving us less able to do the stuff that matters to us.

So ask yourself two questions:

  1. What regularly occupies space in your mind?
  2. In this where you want to focus your energy?

Kicking out the squatter takes a bit of up front conscious effort and focus, but is well worth it. Your brain is quite capable of changing its neural fast tracks, or building a new network. Essentially, anything your brain is repeatedly confronted with, it will rapidly learn, adapt to and make sense of the unexpected circumstances to create new patterns. This is called neuroplasticity.

When you’re a child or adolescent, when you are new in a place or role, feeling out of your depth is almost a daily occurrence – it becomes a familiar state and your brain knows how to adapt.

As you get older and more settled, you often have more choice about what you do and operate to easy comfortable familiar things. Those you believe you are good at. They take the least amount of cognitive effort.

The down side though is when you do the same stuff and stay in your comfort zone, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard – tasks are unchallenging and repetitive. It shrinks, loses versatility. it is always running the same patterns. This of course leaves more room for the squatter!

For most of human existence in history that was just fine, but the world has changed since the industrial revolution, the pace of change is increasing due to changes noticed from generation to generation, in health, in what we could do.

By the 20th century, technology made a significant difference to speed of change.

And in the 21st century the digital revolution has changed the world – 4 exabytes of new info in 2012 (that’s 4 billion billion new pieces of info created in a single year – more per year than in the 5000 preceding years of humanity).

Fast innovation has also changed how we socialise. We live in a much more info cluttered and noisy environment and as such have to adapt, but also protect ourselves from the complacency of old patterns and habits.

New things – new skills, don’t always come easy.

They need practice, a bit of dedicated time committed to them, until they become familiar – in other words we have created new neural pathways for them.

It is through consistently challenging your brain with new things, new environments, new tasks that you can recreate the learning environment your brain was used to when you were a child. This is how we continue to expand our thinking, develop new knowledge and hone our skills.

It’s more than just new knowledge though. The stories we tell ourselves play a big part. Even as a child we are influenced by those who matter to us: parents, teachers, siblings. We start to shape what we believe we are good at and what we are not. Most of us then gravitate to areas we do well and do more of that widening the perceived good/bad gap because we are focused on developing the good.

You’d be surprised how many business owners I work with who proudly tell me they don’t ‘do’ maths – they’ve never been any good at it! Many are shocked when I say get good at it then – you can’t run a successful business without understanding the numbers! I do of course help people to understand where their story came from – if it’s really true, or just an excuse – and I help them to understand the maths they need for their business, put into context what it means.

So how do you kick out the squatter?

  • Pay attention to how you feel & react
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want
  • Practice
  • Keep track of what works

And finally just know that an active, challenged brain is much healthier, more responsive and more likely to keep you sharp in your later years than one which has developed its set patterns and routines and stayed with them.

If you want to stay active and challenged in business, join us in the Brave Scene community.