Whenever I’m feeling particularly uninspired or low, one of my favorite activities is to read the biography of someone famous and look for the part of their life story where they had struggled. I find that I learn a lot more from a person’s low points—my own included—rather than a highlight reel of their greatest achievements.
I’m deeply curious about how people reengage with life after a difficult, traumatic, or tragic event. How did they get back on the horse? In what ways did they succeed? What did they do that was “unsuccessful?” (Quick tangent: the word “fail” should be replaced in the English language with “lesson I learned on my way to success.”)
“If that woman can overcome her paraplegia to become a famous painter by using her teeth, then holy cow, I can do just about anything!”
“That guy lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and fell into tremendous grief, but then rebounded, found love again, and became the Vice President of the United States. If he can keep fighting on then, oh snap, I can keep on fighting, too.”
When people give of themselves through the telling of their stories it makes the seemingly impossible in our lives tangible and attainable.
According to Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, when we listen to stories, more of the brain lights up, “Stories cause your neurons to fire the same way they would if you were doing the actual action talked about. For example, if you were listening to someone talk about kicking a ball, the motor part of the brain that would help you kick a ball in real life lights up.”
In fact, in his “Scientific American” article Jeremy Hsu found that: “Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations. “Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. Whilst we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else.”
We can use this storytelling connection and sharing our souls, in an effort to leverage the story into having the listener take action.
When someone talks about their recovery story or healing story, or how they got help—the brain, in some way, begins to fire up with the possibility that they could take the same or similar action of the storyteller: healing, recovery, or getting help.
Of course there are lots of ways to tell a story, and an even greater amount of desired outcomes. But everyone has an important story to tell, whether or not they yet know how to tell it. And you have an important story to tell as well. And sometimes a story is not told through words but by the actions one takes and the life they lead.
Josh Rivedal (executive director of The i’Mpossible Project) is an author, actor, and international speaker on suicide prevention, mental health, and diversity. He curated the 50-story inspirational anthology The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life Creating a New You. He wrote the one-man play, Kicking My Blue Genes in The Butt (KMBB), which has toured extensively throughout the world. He writes for the Huffington Post. His memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, based on KMBB and published by Skookum Hill in 2013, is on The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list.