I’ve been thinking about what influences the way we tell our stories – in business as well as the every-day life stories we tell our families, friends and ourselves. In my work as a writer, I’m always looking for a better way to use words, to express the message I want to convey. But what power turns words into seeds that take root and grow into fresh ideas that flourish? How do we move people to buy our product or choose our service, how do we tell our story - without being manipulative - so people will hear us and feel inspired?
Sometimes it’s knowing how to tap into the Zeitgeist at just the right moment. Who remembers Hilary Clinton’s campaign slogan? It was easy to forget because it kept changing. And it kept changing because none of them took hold in the hearts of enough people. It seems that ‘Make America Great Again’ captured the imagination of enough people to get them to take real action and vote for the man who made that promise.
At other times, telling the better story is a kind of sculpting. Michelangelo famously said that creating a sculpture is a matter of carving away all the bits of stone that aren’t part of the figure. I’ve been working with a client for months, helping her chisel and shape her book, as she cuts out whole scenes, paragraphs and then just words, each time refining, honing and smoothing the edges so that what remains is only what truly belongs to her creation.
Another way to tell the better story is the sincerity, warmth and effort we put into our communications. Seth Godin, writer and promoter of permission-based marketing says:
‘Invest far more in each interaction than any rational human would advise. Do your homework. Invest more time in creating your offer than you expect the recipient will spend in replying to it. Don’t personalise, be personal. Create an imbalance of effort and care. Show up... The thing is, people can tell. And they’re significantly more likely to give you an interview, make a donation, answer your question or do that other thing you’re hoping for if you’ve signaled that you’re actually a caring focused, generous human.’
The idea I’m most excited about right now though, is this: Dr Mario Martinez, in his most recent book The MindBody Code describes how many of us play the role of what he calls a Cultural Editor. As parents, teachers, writers, business owners with influential social media voices, we already exert the power to shape and reinforce our culture, which in turn exerts the power to shape us. Culture is infectious and easily passed on. But what if we chose to go against our dominant cultural biases?
Studies in the Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) field demonstrate that feeling shame causes inflammation in the body. Participants were asked to write for 15 minutes about shameful incidents in their past. Testing revealed there was a significant increase in an inflammatory marker called TNF (Tumour Necrosis Factor) which is usually triggered by infection and immunological damage. He goes on to tell how in South American countries, the word for menopausal hot flashes is bochorno which in Spanish means ‘shame’ and embarrassment’. In contrast, women in China and Japan use the term konenki which means ‘a turn or change of life’ and in Chinese medicine, menopause is diagnosed as the second spring.
Did you feel that? A slight inner lift inside? A little brightening, a lightness that comes just from reading those words: second spring. Guess which women suffer more from menopausal symptoms? South American women who experience menopause as shame have significantly more inflammatory and painful symptoms than their Eastern counterparts who welcome menopause as a natural transition to a second spring in their lives.
It’s obvious that when it comes to menopause, entering a second spring is by far the better story because it leads to a better experience. This understanding shines a light on the inner workings of our cultural DNA so we no longer need to be trapped in distress we feel but cannot name.
As cultural editors, we have the power to influence the experience of our customers and the people around us through the story we choose to tell. It doesn’t have to be our old culturally inherited story repeated over and over; we can radically shift our world by telling a better one.