Power of the story

What are Stories:

Man is addicted to stories. Whether we are reading a narrative, watching a story play out on screen, or we are being read to, stories are a powerful medium to get our brain’s attention. We all have our unique favourite mediums through which we like our stories. Some of us prefer true stories some of our fiction, some prose others verse. Some of us want to be amused, others informed. The brain’s attraction and attention to stories are so complex that Netflix has set up 1300 recommendation clusters based on a user’s viewing preferences. Netflix knows that our brain is a story addict.

Stories have been an intrinsic part of our societies and culture, they have been in existence since historical records began. The ancient Greek author Homer, for instance, completed The Odyssey thousands of years ago. The story was originally composed as an epic spoken-word poem, passed down verbally from generation to generation, and was used by the Greeks to teach cultural values and preserve a common identity. Another example is Dreamtime storytelling, an ancient indigenous Australian cultural practice. Here, indigenous elders would harness the power of storytelling to teach children about the Dreamtime, a primordial time in indigenous mythology when the spirits created the land, people, plants, and animals.

In more recent times we see that most of our scriptures and historic events like Mahabharat, Ramayana, our fight for freedom, etc. are recreated time and again for people from all generations to remember the story. For years now we see repeatedly told stories based on a human tragedy like Hitler’s torturing of the Jews. Presently we see an increasing number of stories based on Black Lives Matter. Each time we tell a story we create a change in a system. Stories shape how we understand the world, our place in it, and our ability to change it. We innately know that stories are the most influential way of changing anything we care about.

Stories have a direct route to the part of the brain that triggers an emotional responses. Emotions heighten our ability to memorize experiences and so helps in information processing, storage, and retrieval. Emotions are a signal to the brain that what we are experiencing is important. Emotions are also something that leads us to motion if it is strong enough and this is the power of the story. The advertising world uses stories to trigger emotions that make you want whatever it is that they are selling. Every human decision is influenced by emotion. Stories sell.

Stores also connect people and their brains. Research shows that the listener of the story synchronizes the brain activity of the listener of the story. Watch enough of only Fox News or only CNN and the stories you build about Donald Trump will be diametrically opposite. When it comes to thoughts, beliefs, values, rules, and goals; the foundation of all of this is the story. It creates so many common emotional patterns in communities, which is why based on which news channel you watch you either love Trump or hate Trump. That’s the power of the story you get told.

We also tell ourselves stories at all times. What’s important is the kind of stories we are feeding our minds with. Are they negative or positive? Are they helping you move forward in life or keeping you stuck?

If you are telling your child they are shy, or your child hears you tell stories that you tell others about their shyness, they believe in that story and keep reinforcing this story in varied situations. The same if the story is about them being loveable or unlovable and all the stories in-between these two. So mindfulness about our choice of words and telling of stories to children is essential as they are building the base of their story about themselves. What you feed this will become an integral part of their story.

As per neuroscience, it is believed that the last twenty minutes before going to bed are essential and it is the best time to spend time with your children and narrate stories that are positive and meaningful. As parents and teachers, we should be conscious of the stories we tell our children in their foundation years as these stories are what they will believe and build their life around. Andrew Newman’s Conscious Bedtime Stories are a great way to end spend these last twenty minutes if you have young children.

Neuroscience research into memory highlights the power of learning through stories to help kids build understanding and wire information into their long-term memory, even in the most challenging or boring school subjects. When information, whether from algebra to history, is presented in the familiar story form, memory structures facilitate the brain’s retention of that information. Schools and teachers should use this information and work towards making subjects fun and engaging, this, in turn, will help children retain the information for a longer period of time and not just for examinations.

So, whether you are a parent or teacher, pick the stories you tell children consciously and wisely. Look at stories that are inspiring and build confidence in children.

Founder of Kangaroo Kids & Billabong High, Lina Ashar started her career as a teacher and today is one of the most renowned educators and edupreneur in India.