I have a confession: I’ve always wanted to be a mom.
I have the greatest mom. I remember one morning when I was a kid, my mom took me to school and for whatever reason that day, I didn’t want to get out of the car. So, being the ever wise mom that she is, she simply reapplied her lipstick, folded a Kleenex, pressed her lips into it and handed it to me. It was a kiss from her that I could carry with me all day long. (I know, right? Awwww.)
All I wanted was to be like her when I grew up. (Fast forward 20-ish years and I still do, but my future husband and future father of my future children are all still future. I’m okay with that for now.)
Why did I tell you that story about my mom? Because we’re all addicted to stories. And now —admit it — you love my mom almost as much as I do. How is that possible if you’ve never even met my mom? Well, it’s all thanks to the science of storytelling!
Your Brain on Stories
Our brains are created to love stories. The two major players in the science of storytelling are The Orbitofrontal Cortex and Oxytocin.
The Orbitofrontal Cortex is the part of your brain that is responsible for planning for the immediate future. Not the 5-year plan or the 10-year plan, but the 30-second plan. Like, I’m going to take a drink of coffee when I’m done writing this sentence. That kind of stuff. It’s like your own personal play-by-play commentator, but with less annoying opinions and a better wardrobe. And here’s the thing; the play-by-play planning doesn’t stop. Ever.
When you are engaged in a story.
Seriously! Your brain literally stops everything (except for the important stuff like breathing and pumping blood) to hear a story. Because our brains are wired to pay attention to stories. That’s why you can sit in a two-hour long movie and feel like it has only been five minutes, or how you can stay up reading your favorite book and not realize your alarm will wake you in approximately 2 hours and 43 minutes. This is your brain on stories.
But wait, there’s more.
Oxytocin, or better known as the Cuddle Hormone also jumps into the storytelling ring. Oxytocin is the blood hormone that is involved in safe physical intimacy. It’s what makes you feel emotionally close to the person with whom you’re physically intimate with, whether you’re hugging your best friend or your fingers are laced with your spouse’s. That Oxytocin is washing over your brain and bonding you with that person you love.
Oh yeah, and also with the person you’ve never met but whose telling you their story.
Higher levels of Oxytocin are found in the blood when you’re engaged in someone else story, and that Oxytocin makes you feel emotionally closer to the person who’s sharing. You don’t even have to be in the same room with the storyteller, though I suppose that doesn’t hurt.
Cool, right? I know! Our brains have been amazingly created to thrive on stories!
The science of storytelling means our stories have incredibly power. But how exactly do you harness that power?
3 Tips to Start Telling Your Story
1 — Know and Value Your Story
It’s so easy to believe the lie that you don’t have a story. But you must reject it! I believe we have an enemy that understands the power of our stories and so his main task is getting us to believe we don’t have them. Here’s what’s true: If you’re alive and breathing, you have a story. You can’t tell your story if you don’t know it, though. But here’s the good thing: you already know your story. You just have to value it.
Pro Tip: Sit down for a few minutes and list some things you’ve done or experiences you’ve had. List as many as you want, but start with at least 10. Soon you’ll realize that you have more experiences than you thought!
2 — Know Your Audience
Talk to any writer, speaker, or marketer, and they’ll tell you the first step in being successful at what they do is knowing who they’re talking to. Children’s books are written differently than textbooks. Stay-at-home moms have different needs than working moms. Middle school students need something different than professional athletes, and so on and so forth. Knowing your audience will help you choose which parts of your story to tell. What story could you share that would resonate best with your audience?
Think about your over-arching story, the 30k-foot view. Now think about how your big life story is made up of many mini stories: your first day of kindergarten; that time you forgot your locker combination in 8th grade; the pride you felt in a cap and gown or when you held your newborn baby. All of those little stories make up your big story. Thinking about your audience, which one of those little stories would be good to share?
Pro Tip: List 3 audiences you interact with regularly (could be family, coworkers, new clients, faith community members, etc.). Which of those little stories will resonate best with each of those audiences? Find two stories for each audience that you could share the next time you find yourself in need of stories.
3 — Prepare So You Don’t Overshare
We’ve all been in that awkward meeting or conversation when one person is going on and on and you find yourself thinking, “I don’t think I’m supposed to know this information.” Sometimes there are parts of our stories we aren’t ready to share yet, or should remain private. That’s okay. To avoid oversharing, plan. Just like overspending can happen when you don’t budget, oversharing can happen when you don’t prepare.
Pro Tip: Prepare by picking out a few parts of your story that you feel comfortable sharing and practice them. Keep those stories in your back pocket, ready to share when the time is right. Stick to those until you’re ready to share more parts of your story.
Harness The Power of Your Story
Know your story and value it, know your audience, and don’t overshare. Stick with those three things as you start sharing your story! Our brains will be happy, and you’ll build connections, compassion, and empathy when you share your story. Because we all connect on a story level.
For the record — I do still want to be a great mom like my mom.
But until then, I’m happy helping you harness the power of your story. Because you do have a story. And it does matter.