Last week I shared some initial thoughts about the use of storytelling as an excellent mentoring technique.
I explained some common limitations in how most mentors & educators think about telling stories, and shared a more unconventional approach that’s actually easier to do and gets better results.
You can read the complete part one here… (I recommend you do because today’s post probably won’t make much sense if you don’t have the background in that previous article).
Here’s a quick recap of important points so far:
- Most people think about storytelling as a very formal thing, where everyone sits quietly and listens to an eloquent speaker… but this is not necessarily the most impactful way of using stories as an educator/mentor.
- Human beings are natural born storytellers, but most people tell their stories unconsciously (without realizing it).
- People will reveal everything you need to help them learn & grow through the blindspots of their casual everyday stories. All you have to do is listen, ask questions and share your organic wisdom.
- Storytelling is a sensory skill that can be trained through practice & repetition. It has real, measurable effects on the brain, and facilitates long-term shifts in perception that bring greater freedom throughout life.
- The ideal context for training sensory awareness is nature, but you can apply this method in any skill or environment to accelerate learning & facilitate growth in your students.
There’s a lot more to say about this topic, so let’s get right down to it and today I’d like to share 6 benefits of listening to sensory-based stories from your students.
Starting with stories as biofeedback…
#1 Getting A Peak Inside Your Brain
Have you ever heard the idea of biofeedback?
Biofeedback is typically thought of as a measuring device that you attach to your body to measure things like brainwaves, subtle changes in sweating or heart rate.
And it’s all done in real time in order to assess things like emotional state or stress levels as you answer questions or engage in certain exercises.
This is how scientists measure things like meditative states or stress levels.
But the real magic is when you feed that information back to the person being measured. It’s a very effective way to gain more flexibility over responses that are typically unconscious.
This can be used to help people meditate deeper, or manage anxiety, etc.
So what does this have to do with storytelling?
Well, the amazing thing is that stories and the language used to communicate through storytelling is like a primitive form of biofeedback.
It’s a bit more subjective than putting probes on your head, but much less invasive and still very effective!
This is because through the words you use to communicate, it’s possible to know what kinds of mental imagery, thoughts & feelings are happening in your mind.
For example: I might notice that you tell all your stories with an emphasis on visual information, while completely ignoring the sounds and overall atmosphere of the landscape.
Or I might notice when you talk about nature, you have tremendous awareness about birds and plants, but you’re completely oblivious to what’s happening in the larger ecological context through the forested landscape.
In order for you to even talk about birds or plants, your brain has to call up certain mental images and memories inside your mind, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to talk about them!
So when I hear you tell a story, it’s like stepping inside your mind and through your language, I can see what’s there and what’s missing from your awareness.
I can detect your blindspots and find the holes in your knowledge & perception.
Then I can feed-back ultra targeted questions to build a more complete picture, and lead the conversation towards levels of awareness that are less comfortable or familiar for you.
Over time this is what expands your capacity to think on many different levels and gather information using all sensory systems together.
This method of storytelling helps your students to develop flexibility and a wider lens on life so they can think more clearly and spot patterns that most people miss.
If you think about the implications in any education or mentoring context, it’s pretty astounding!
If you have very motivated students, this technique can produce very dramatic shifts with skills & attitudes transforming in a single conversation.
Even if you have completely unmotivated students, it will still work… It would just take longer for the results to manifest.
#2 Building Your Memory
Another important thing to realize is that every time you tell a story, you instantly make it stick more firmly in your mind.
One of the easiest ways to reinforce your ability to learn is by sharing your learning experiences with a mentor who listens without judgement.
Very often there’s an appreciation that lessons are transmitted simply by listening to your students share what’s really on their mind.
That might sound a bit weird if you’ve never experienced it before.
So here’s a quick experiment you can try out:
Just think of any recent learning experience… What’s something that happened to you recently that got you excited, interested or curious?
It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it was meaningful to you in some way.
Now go share the story with a listener.
Not just on a surface level! This is really important… I mean really start at the beginning and set up some context before getting to the punchline.
- What were you doing?
- Where were you going?
- What happened?
- What did you observe or discover?
- Who else was there?
- What is this experience teaching you?
Then after you’ve shared that story in a really complete way, notice that you’re thinking about the situation differently.
Notice how just by sharing that story, it reinforces the lessons, and gets you to reflect on a deeper level.
This happens almost in spite of yourself, as long as you really do share the story.
Just think about how many stories & experiences you’ve probably had that faded from memory simply because you never reinforced the memories!
In my work as a nature mentor, I’ve noticed that many people who have deep experiences in nature will often forget within a week or two if they don’t get to share the story in a really complete way.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the experience where at the start of a mentoring session, I’ll say
So what’s been going on since we last spoke?”
And the response comes,
Oh not much. I’m bummed that I haven’t really done much. I didn’t really see anything outside.”
So I probe a bit more…
Well, let’s just start with what you have done. Just pick one thing and tell me a little bit.”
Then they start talking and at first it’s slow… but then gradually they start having aha moments as chunks of their memory start to come back.
Oh yeah! I did actually have a cool experience with some deer. I totally forgot about that!”
And now we’re cooking.
It might sound crazy, but people really do block some of their most amazing stories from memory, probably because their brain is too full and they aren’t taking enough time to reflect.
Sharing a story completely means starting at the beginning and really taking your listener on a journey so they can truly appreciate the moment.
I find one of the toughest thing is just getting my students to acknowledge that they have good stories, and helping them identify where the story begins in their memory.
The lessons are typically much deeper than they realize at the start.
Most people really don’t get nearly enough time to share their stories with someone who will reinforce continued growth.
Or, even worse, the only stories that get reinforced are negative…
Oh man, I have to tell you about this horrible thing that happened to me…. Just wait till you hear how stressful MY day was!”
If you have a good listener then sometimes sharing your “horror” stories can help you process and let go.
But more often than not, I notice most people will tend to join you in the negativity and actually make it worse.
It’s important that you take time to tell stories that reinforce positive learning. That’s one of the great things a mentor can give you.
#3 Awaken Your Ability To Solve Problems
You’ve heard the saying, “two heads are better than one”.
It’s because everyone has a different perspective on life. We all see things differently and thus tune in with different aspects of the world.
I like to think about dialogue and especially storytelling in the context of dialogue as a medium for direct transmission of perceptual abilities.
By listening to your stories, I can suspend my own reality and catch a glimpse into how you see the world, then my own awareness points out obvious solutions that you aren’t seeing yet.
This is why community learning is faster and more effective than studying in isolation.
The key about elegant solutions is that they always feel simple and easy.
Most people try to solve problems by busting through and forcing things to change, rather than seeking awareness.
It’s easier to think creatively around a challenge than to think through it.
Typically, what seems like a big problem to one person, might be a simple solve for someone else.
Have you ever thought about x or y?”
No I haven’t, but that’s a brilliant idea… I could totally do that!”
There is great wisdom in crowdsourcing and surrounding yourself with people who have the knowledge and skills you desire.
Listening to the “problem stories” told by your students will enable you to help them far more than almost anything else you could do.
#4 Effective Communication
Communication is one of the most important skills for success in life.
It’s the ability all people have to connect and share in a way that has impact.
Communication is not about having good grammar, or presenting your ideas in a perfectly polished, linear fashion.
It’s about tuning in with what’s truly interesting and alive for you, and transmitting that feeling to someone else through stories & ideas… especially in a dialogue (because you invoke biofeedback).
I like to talk about how everyone has their own bubble of awareness.
Your bubble of awareness is the sum total of all your perceptions, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests & desires.
Anything inside your bubble of awareness is what you are currently capable of knowing or perceiving. Anything outside your bubble of awareness is what’s currently beyond the edges of your perception.
Communication that has real impact on another person is when you directly transmit awareness from your own bubble into someone else’s bubble, so their bubble expands and gets bigger.
There’s something almost magical that happens when two or more people come together and share their bubbles with each other.
It simply requires listening and sharing together with an open mind.
In these moments, it’s like there’s a 3rd bubble of awareness that forms as our perceptual fields temporarily meld together and facilitates the transference of perceptions, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests & desires.
This is effective communication.
I’m aware of the world in a way that’s different from you, and it’s given me certain skills & knowledge that you don’t have.
You also have your own unique way of viewing the world.
When we come together and share, our bubbles can merge temporarily and expand consciousness. You get to perceive something new from my bubble, and I perceive something new from yours.
That’s when you know there’s good stories being shared.
#5 Promoting Self Awareness
One of the biggest things people do to keep themselves stuck over long periods of time is
holding their ideas, thoughts & stories locked up inside their head.
The problem is that you can’t see things clearly when you’re caught in mental loops in your head.
It’s very easy to skew the truth or convince yourself that you understand something, when in fact you only know the surface layer.
Getting your ideas, stories & thoughts out of your head by sharing them with a good listener who wants to help you grow, enables you to hear yourself in ways you’ve never thought of before.
It’s only when you try to explain something to someone else, do you realize how many blindspots you really have.
This is part of the magic behind my nature memory journal program. It gets your stories & observations out of your head so you can take a more self aware position.
Journaling isn’t quite the same as talking with a live person, but it does still provides many of the same benefits.
In many cases, simply sharing your stories with someone who is listening from a place of genuinely wanting to hear… not judging you for your ideas, or critiquing your communication abilities… that alone can completely change your relationship with the experiences.
This is why so many mentors and coaches talk about how the solutions are already inside you.
You’ll notice that every time you share an experience, you tell it a little bit differently.
Each time you emphasize different parts of the story, and new memories bubble back to your consciousness.
The result is new perspectives and seeing life differently with repetition.
#6 Develop Your Senses
I like to say that the 5 senses are your only real physical connection to the outside world.
In order to get new information into your brain, you need to use your senses.
Yet most people have pretty much zero sensory training.
Most people walk around completely lost in their thoughts, not paying any attention to their actual experience in life.
And then they wonder why their life gets stuck in rut!
If you want to create change, then you have to constantly feed your brain with stimulation!
Sensory training is one of the core methods that helps therapists relieve challenges of autism, attention deficit & sensory processing difficulties.
Music, sports or physical exercise, drama, visual arts… these are all sensory skills that have been shown to have dramatic effects on the development of complete human beings.
I’m constantly encouraging my students to train their senses directly because it leads to higher intelligence, emotional stability & social confidence.
I do this explicitly by sharing sensory awareness exercises & teachings to train their sensory acuity.
We can also do it more ninja style through storytelling and asking questions.
Stories let me measure your sensory awareness, so I can point you towards the blank areas and help everything connect together on a sensory level in your brain.
Very often people think they’re applying their senses, when in fact it’s only like 10-20% activation.
One of the hardest things is helping people to realize they’re only using a small percentage of their potential. Many people don’t even consider the possibility there might be more beyond their bubble of awareness.
The only way to really know for sure what’s getting into your brain is through linguistic biofeedback.
If you can’t describe in language what you heard, saw, felt through storytelling afterwards, then truly you haven’t actually seen it yet.
I’ve said many times, there is no better context on this planet for training sensory awareness than nature itself.
Nature is an endless buffet of opportunities to learn by seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting, watching, listening, observing.
Each of these situations create ideal opportunities to engage your senses and therefore engage your brain.
The more you support your students in sharing stories that engage the 5 senses, the more you’ll see them maturing into healthy, happy adults with the skills they need for success across all areas of life.
- Do you take time to hear stories from your students?
- How often do you share your own stories with a good listener?
- What are you doing to engage your senses on a daily basis?
- Who can you mentor through storytelling this week?