The Stories We Tell Have Power

Words

Words have tremendous power.

Words, Stories, Narratives = Richness, Inspiration, Hope.

To me stories make meaning of the chaos of life. They add immense richness. Kinda like the cream cheese frosting on a cinnamon roll. Without it …ehhhh – could take it or leave it.

I read a quote this morning by film composer Gustavo Santaolalla. He says “Movies, for some of us, are a form of the modern church”. You may or may not agree with that statement, but regardless—the point is that stories are powerful.

Stories give us hope.

Stories inspire.

The words we choose to give meaning to our narratives have astounding power. Power to build up, and they also have the power to destroy.

We love real-life stories. Think of that dude named Steve, who was a college drop-out and then went on to have a HUGE influence in the way we interact with technology on a daily basis. AND he made the technology so very pretty. (I do love my Apple products.)

Or the single mom, living on welfare in the UK, struggling to make ends meet. She was working only a few hours a week at a church office, because she couldn’t afford childcare. Meanwhile she was secretly writing a children’s novel that would become a series of books and movies that would make her richer than the queen. Yup, she kept her writing a secret because she didn’t want to hear comments from people telling her that she was ridiculous or delusional for thinking she could write a book. Ha!

We also love made up stories about underdogs beating the odds.

Think of Luke Skywalker hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice telling him to “use the Force” at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. So he fired two proton torpedoes into the Death Star and blew it to smithereens. He wasn’t even a Jedi yet, just a lowly farmer boy from Tatooine. (Yes…clearly I am a sci-fi/fantasy geek. I have watched the real trilogy more times than I’d choose to admit.)

If we as human beings love these “triumph of the human spirit” stories, then why is it so very easy for words of caution (read discouraging words) to come out of our mouths? If we dig on this triumph stuff, why isn’t that the worldview that we live from in our regular lives?

Have you ever had someone give you a “word of advice” when you were about to try something new or different, only to have them pretty much tell you that if you continue on this path, you will be sure to fail. I’ve been in that situation, even fairly recently. That is why challenging the status quo takes so much courage.

Have you given this kind of “sage” advice? For some reason I think we sometimes get some weird hidden pleasure out of popping someone’s bubble. Before I started immersing myself in a strength-based culture, I remember catching myself falling into that trap.

Negative comments hit us hard. I have had my share of negative things said to me over my lifetime, and I know that it takes so much personal, self-work to get past it. Let's commit to being more mindful of how we choose to speak to someone. How our words will shape their story, or the belief they have about themselves. 

We need to realize that we see other people through our own worldview. The cumulation of our life experiences influence how we see the world. So even though we think we see things “objectively,” we don’t. We are seeing just a mere piece of the puzzle. Who are we to think we can foresee someone's life path? Who are we to criticize someone’s dream? We have no idea how the future will pan out. So why do it?

If instead we gave words of encouragement to others and truly believed that their inner expert/teacher will sort things out for themselves, how wonderful the world would be!

Knowing that someone believes in us is so amazingly significant.

I have a personal story of encouragement that has influenced me in a profound way over my life. When I was in grade 9 (or Freshman year, for my American friends), I was on the track and field team at my school. My dad was an athlete, and I always wanted to have that natural ability.

The truth is that I wasn’t very good. I’m not an athlete. I realized this again a few years ago when I tried roller derby, and had to quit a month later after hurting my knee pretty badly. I didn’t even get a chance to pick a cool derby name, or really play the game…but I digress, back to track and field.

I have asthma, so that wasn’t in my favour as far as becoming a great runner. I really tried. I went to every practice. I participated in every track meet. I gave it my all. However, I never won anything. I didn’t win one race. Once I got a 3rd place ribbon, but the lame thing was that there was only three of us running. I didn’t tell anyone that. I just proudly displayed my ribbon for the rest of the event and taped it up on the mirror in my bedroom afterwards.

One day at a track meet my coach came over and sat beside me on the grass. He said, “Jenn, if everyone on the team was like you we would have a winning team”. I looked at him incredulously. I wasn’t one to swear at the time, but if I had’ve been, that would’ve been an opportune time to drop an f-bomb. I was thinking, “Why the heck is he saying that…? I’m clearly the worst on the team”.

Then he said, “You show up at every practice. You are dedicated. Even though you aren’t the fastest, you have the attitude of a winner. Our team would be one of the best if everyone had the kind of attitude you have”.

Wow. I still get emotional when I think of this story. I realize it’s highly unlikely that several decades later my coach remembers me in the slightest, or the fact that he said those words to me. Regardless, what he said had significant impact on me. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

He could’ve very easily given me a different message, and a lot of us wouldn't have faulted him in the slightest if he had. He could’ve said, “Jenn, I think you might be wasting your time here. You’re trying hard, but you just don’t have natural ability to be a runner. Have you considered finding something else you are good at? Perhaps theatre?”

I ended up  figuring out for myself that theatre was my place, but I'm really glad that I gave track and field a try. 

I’m so grateful that my coach chose to speak those words of encouragement over me. At the stage of life I'm at now, who cares if I won ribbons for my high school track team. It really doesn't matter at all. What matters is that I felt empowered.

All those seemingly small words of encouragement I received throughout my life have added up to give me the courage to own my story. They've given me the courage to be the best me I can be. 

When I think of this, I am not sure if it’s a chicken or an egg moment. Perhaps he saw some great truth lying within my awkward, gangly 14-year old exterior. Another possibility is that those words helped to shape me into the person I am today. I don't know.

He spoke them over me & hearing those words helped to form the belief or story I began to believe about myself. For those who know me, you know that I am a fairly tenacious person. I wasn’t always this way, I think that this moment was one of the many moments that helped me to “find” myself, or discover my voice.


Narratives are powerful.

Words compose our narratives.

The Center for Appreciative Inquiry has a newsletter called “Words Create Worlds”. As we speak, the words we use are simultaneously creating the world we live in. Sit with that for a moment.

What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of conversations do we wish to have? What messages do we want to share with others?

Do we want to live in a world where people feel discouraged, judged, and fragmented? Or encouraged, connected, whole, and aligned?

If the worlds we create are dependent on our words, then what words will we choose to use? Will we choose to see the glass half full? Will we chose to see strengths rather than focus on perceived deficits?

Will we continue to root for the underdog—the Luke Skywalkers, the Steve Jobs and the JK Rowlings of the world?

I know I choose to live in a world where I feel inspired, alive, joyful and expansive. Holding grace for myself and others.

I choose to believe in the underdog.


I choose to believe that the impossible is possible.

I choose to believe in you.

I choose to believe in me.

What do you choose to believe?





Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."     

~ Steve Jobs

 

 

My Adventures with Appreciative Inquiry (in Las Vegas)

I first heard about Appreciative Inquiry years ago, on a Google rabbit trail.

You know what I’m talking about.

I'm talking about the rabbit trail that sometimes leads us to discover information about botched celebrity plastic surgeries, or some random tidbit of 'knowledge' about the lifecycle of a weevil or bed bug.

Vegas - the city where it's not unusual to see stormtroopers, Olaf, or Chewbacca hanging out on a sidewalk. Of course the intent is that you pay to have your picture taken with them...I snapped this shot on the down low.

Vegas - the city where it's not unusual to see stormtroopers, Olaf, or Chewbacca hanging out on a sidewalk. Of course the intent is that you pay to have your picture taken with them...I snapped this shot on the down low.

Well, the Google rabbit trail I wandered down all those years ago was a gooder. It didn’t lead me to a bunch of useless, negligibly interesting information that tends to clog up my already trivia-filled brain. It led me to learn about a concept that has had huge positive, life-changing, paradigm-shifting implications in my life. It led me to taking a recent trip to Las Vegas, more on that in a bit. 

First off, I think that some people might find the term “Appreciative Inquiry” a bit dry and technical. If that’s where your brain went, I assure you, it’s not a dry or technical concept.

I like to equate the word “appreciate” to value, prize or revere. Those words feel rich to me. "Inquiry" is about discovering, envisioning and dreaming with innovation about what can be—right now.

 

The truth is the western culture focuses so much on deficits. What’s wrong? How can we fix this problem? What’s stopping this from being the best it can be? Why aren’t I/you living to my/your full potential?

I could go on and on here, but I’m sure you’ve heard similar queries. Basically I’m saying that the whole idea of problem-solving is flawed. This mindset, or paradigm, is based on seeing the glass half empty. The truth is that when we approach things from a problem-solving paradigm, we keep ourselves tied to the problem.

Freedom is big for me.

There is no freedom when we are tied to a problem. 

I find it really interesting that I can receive such positive encouragement and feedback from people, but if I hear one or two negative things, my mind ruminates on it for hours, or days—sometimes longer, especially if I feel that the comment is based on conjecture. If I’m not intentional about letting it go, I can let myself become plagued by the negative thoughts, for a really long time. I can feel the negativity in my body, the hairs on the back of my neck get prickly, or I get a knot or pain in my gut. I know I’m not alone here, I imagine a lot of you can relate.

The fact is that there is science behind this phenomenon. The reason why it’s very difficult to let that kind of negativity go, has to do with the brain’s limbic system—the primitive brain. But more on that in a future blog post.

So basically Appreciative Inquiry (AI) flips this whole negative paradigm on its head. It’s brilliantly simple, yet it can be quite complex to learn to see things differently and to integrate strength-based thinking into our "glass half full" brains. We all have a way of seeing the world the through the lens of our thoughts, experiences and feelings, shaping our reality in the process. If we see things through a positive lens, we will be creating happiness and wholeness for ourselves.

AI is about exploring, discovering and building on strengths. It’s about seeing the positivity, the beauty, and the profound in our lives, workplaces and communities.

Let’s first notice these things, explore them, and build on them, so that we can create a new paradigm for living happy, satisfying lives in the present.

In the philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry there is a strong focus on the present. So it's different than goal planning or writing a mission or vision statement.  The philosophy draws on strengths so that we can live fully now, not six months, or a year from today—right NOW.

We, as individuals, organizations, and businesses can focus so much on goals and reaching goals-outcomes measurement. But what happens when we achieve those goals? We simply check the goal off the list and then make new ones. As Shawn Achor says, "if happiness is on the opposite side of success, then we will never get there."

The truth is if we are always living for the future we are never fully, mindfully living in the present. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life."

 

My interpretation of this, in relation to positivity, is that “Simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity" happens when we focus on strengths, and build on them. It's very simple, yet we as human beings really like to overcomplicate things by unconsciously adding layers of barriers that prevent us from seeing from a strength perspective.

 

So back to my Google rabbit trail…

I discovered Appreciative Inquiry years ago. I wasn’t brand new to the idea of building on strengths, because my work in mental health was really grounded in the recovery movement, which is also very strength-based. However, the idea of taking these ideas to the workplace and our communities was revelatory for me. I was a manager at that point, so I tried integrating some of the ideas into my work, but I always knew I wanted more.

These are some of the goodies we had to play with at the training. How fun to have a table full of stickers, toys, pipe cleaners, paper, glue and markers to play with. We adults need more play in our lives, I think.

These are some of the goodies we had to play with at the training. How fun to have a table full of stickers, toys, pipe cleaners, paper, glue and markers to play with. We adults need more play in our lives, I think.

I discovered an AI Facilitator Training held by The Center for Appreciative Inquiry, in Las Vegas. When I wrote my business plan back in December, I already knew that I wanted Appreciative Inquiry to have a large role in my business, both in the overall philosophy and in the service Luminate Wellness provides.

I hummed and hawed about when to take the training. Before I started this business venture, I really had no idea how complex and expensive starting a business was. Still, I knew taking this training was a priority for me. It took me almost two years to make the really spontaneous decision to sign up, and book a ticket to Las Vegas. 

I hopped on a plane last week, and it was an amazing experience. (It was my first time in “sin city”, and really, I could write a whole blog post just on the oddity and grandiosity of that place. It was interesting to say the least.)

The facilitator training was a fantastic experience, with amazing people—people who became my friends by the end of the short, intense, and really fun week. On Monday morning we were a group of strangers with all different backgrounds, and by the end of the training on Thursday afternoon we were engaged, connected and expressing gratitude for each other. Strength-based thinking is profound, really. It can change life trajectories. Actually, it's more like WE change our own trajectories when we choose to look at the world through a lens of possibility. 

I'm very excited about where this journey is going to take me, and really about the process, because I want to be engaged and enjoy every twist and turn.

Last week was such a gift! It was certainly an investment—a investment worth every penny.

 


I wanted to share this TedTalk video we watched at the training. It’s by Shawn Achor and it’s called “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” It's not a long video, but it's profound. 

At the end of the video (spoiler alert) he shares some research on how people have trained their brains to be more positive by doing the following practices on a regular basis; 

  • Practice daily gratitude. Express thankfulness for 3 things a day.

  • Journal one positive thing a day.

  • Exercise

  • Meditation - allowing our brains to focus without multitasking.

  • Practice random/conscious acts of kindness. 

I'm making an effort to do these practices with my family regularly. Last night we were thankful for face painting done by a neighbour kid (which my daughter paid $2.00 for), good food, and an engaging meeting.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Enjoy the video!