My Mother Was a Genius! Inspiring Story & Writing

I created my Turning Points Personal Narrative Process after being challenged by a group of sixth graders who told me they did not like to write. As a young teacher, I discovered the literacy connection between speaking, reading and writing. My students learned to embrace writing because I allowed them to “orally write and edit” their stories before physically writing them down. But I had learned how powerful the storytelling and story writing connection was many years before I became a classroom teacher. It was actually the genius of my mother when I was a young struggling student that turned me into a confident writer. Here’s the story…

Mom, I’m Bored

Enhanced-Story-BoxIn third grade I had a teacher who used a big red pen when she graded our writing. I was struggling as a young writer and the red markings on my work did not do anything to build my confidence. At the end of that school year my language grades were low and so was my self-esteem.  My mother knew that I was struggling with writing and she knew she had to do something to help me before I entered the fourth grade. I didn’t know then that my mother was a genius.

On a hot July day, the summer that I was entering fourth grade, I made the mistake of walking into the kitchen where my mother was making sandwiches and saying, “Mom, I’m bored!” Usually, when I told her that I was bored she would hand me one of two things; the toilet brush or the vacuum cleaner. That day, she didn’t hand me either of those things. Instead, she went into her closet and handed me a hand-painted, wooden box. “What do you want me to do with this?” I asked. “I want you to go outside every day this summer and have an adventure.” She answered. Puzzled, I said, “What do you mean?” My mother explained, “I want you to go outside each day and try something new…something you have never done before, but don’t get hurt, and don’t get in trouble! When you try something new, I want you to choose an object that helps you remember what you did, put it in this box, and bring it home to me. I will try to guess what you were doing.

I was very excited about this idea.  I was going to try to stump my mother so she never knew what I was up to.

Each day that summer, I went out seeking adventures and each day, I put an object in my box. At night before bed my mother would attempt a guess but she never succeeded. I would have to tell her the story of my adventure and then write about it. By the end of the summer I had twenty-two objects in my adventure box and twenty-two stories in that journal.

On the morning of the first day of school, I walked into the fourth grade classroom with the adventure box in one hand and my journal in the other. I held them both out to my new teacher and announced, “Mrs. Stebbins, I’m a writer!” She said, “That’s very good to hear.” I said, “No, you don’t understand. When I left third grade I wasn’t a writer, and now I am.” That dear woman took my journal home with her on the first day of school and read every story that I had written during the summer. On the next blank page there was a note from Mrs. Stebbins and it was NOT written in red ink. It said, “Jenifer: Not only are you a writer, but you are a good one. I look forward to reading more of your stories this year, in the fourth grade.”

Read longer version of  this article called  MOM, I’m Bored written for Families First Monthly Magazine.

I may not have known it then, but that was truly the beginning of my career as a teacher, storyteller, writer and Narrative Consultant. If you would like to discover and write your personal story, contact me to schedule consulting or a Turning Points Workshop.

Discovering The Power of Story

It was teacher survival instincts or maybe just human instincts that brought me to the Power of Story!

Discovering the Power of StoryMy 6th graders were struggling with adolescence AND academics (some of them with abusive homes).

They needed more than just a curriculum, they needed a community!

I started to TELL, (not read but TELL) them traditional stories that conveyed universal life lessons.

When I TOLD my students stories, something remarkable happened!

  • Time stood still
  • The classroom walls vanished
  • Their most pressing issues disappeared
  • They stopped talking and actively listened!
  • They were inspired to tell their own stories

When my students started to TELL their stories, a transformation occurred in my classroom. Not only did their writing improve, but they developed a deep sense of empathy for each other and a better understanding of themselvesThe Turning Points Narrative Process was born in that 6th grade classroom.

Presenting personal narrative to 6th gradersI left my teaching job that year, but my consulting work continues to be propelled by the Power of Story to defines us, connects us, and allow us to communicate our experiences, beliefs, and desires to each other.

In a fast-paced and quickly changing world filled with the distraction of electronic media, STORY still has the power to educate, inspire, and transform our lives!

Here’s Why!

  • Storytelling is our universal human language.
  • We think, learn, and retain information in narrative images that we translate into meaning.
  • We remember information better if there is a clear beginning, middle and end.
  • Our lives consist of a continuum of stories based on our experiences, memories, and perceptions.
  • 50% of the stories we tell about our past contain truth, but are not entirely true.
  • Telling and listening to personal stories helps clarify and validate our life experiences.

Discovering the Power of StorySo, lately I have been spending a considerable amount of time visualizing and intending future events that I would like to see materialize in my life (with some success, I might add) and I have started to think about STORY in new ways and here is what I’d like you to ponder.

If we change our perception of events that happened in the past, we can tell new or different stories and change how we think and feel about our life.

If we create the STORY of the future we wish to live, and we tell that story repeatedly to caring and active listeners, that story could eventually become reality.

Let me know what you think!

Why Story Sells: The Brain Science Behind a Well Told Tale

Dog-looking-from-around-a-cornerI have never been a fan of the game of football. In fact, for years I proudly attended an annual Non-Super Bowl party with friends who shared a mutual dislike of the game. But this year, with over 120 million people watching, the 2015 Super Bowl would be the most viewed television program in history so I agreed to gather with family to watch the game.

I decided to focus on the time-honored and much talked about commercials. Since each 30-second advertisement cost 4 million dollars and would be aired to the biggest T.V. audience ever, my plan was to carefully scrutinize and rate each ad for its ability to sell a product with a good story.

I was not even mildly impressed until the Budweiser lost puppy commercial aired. When it ended, I rose out of my chair, pumped my fist in the air and yelled, “Touchdown…they really nailed that one!” Not only was it a well-told tale but in under 60 seconds, Budweiser used pure brain science to successfully deliver their sales pitch. How so?

The human brain is hard-wired for story. We think, learn, and retain information in images that our brain translates into meaning. Ancient cultures communicated and taught with stories long before the introduction of logic in the 15th century. Through stories, our ancestors vicariously learned the value of mistakes, created social rules and belief systems, and made sense out of life’s chaos.  In his book, The Storytelling Animal, Johnathon Gottschall calls us “Homo Fictus” (fiction man) and states that “Humans are creatures of story, so story touches nearly every aspect of our lives.” Our human brain has evolved for the purpose of influencing others and we do that best with stories.

When we experience a story we use our senses to engage with characters and events. That data is translated into electronic impulses or images that travel to the sensory cortex of our brain. The stimuli are broken down as short or long term memories according to other similarly wired patterns of experiences in our brains. We interpret story by reaching into the memory files of our own real-world experience and connect the story to what is already familiar. At the same time, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, beliefs, and desires is also activated.  Neuroscience has determined that the human brain is anything but reasonable which gives us an advantage when it comes to sales. It is not external experiences, but what we think and feel about them that determines our response.

Like our ancestors who listened to cautionary tales, stories allow us to mentally entertain new experiences without actually going through them ourselves.  Neuroscientists have discovered a particular kind of nerve cell in the brain called a mirror neuron. These neurons fire whether we are performing an action ourselves or watching others and mirror not only the action but the intent behind it. Through story, we can “rehearse” how we think and feel about an experience before we adopt its message but that’s not all. Mirror neurons are also responsible for allowing us to empathize or “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” A good story can deliver the experience and the message.

So why did Budweiser “score” during the 2015 Super Bowl? In his book, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Storytelling, Stephen Denning says, “The effective use of storytelling in organizations involves crafting and performing a well-made story with a hero or heroine, a plot, a turning point, and a resolution.” Budweiser used an ancient and familiar formula to appeal to our oldest and deepest beliefs, values, emotions and universal human truths. The protagonist is an innocent puppy wanting to belong; he becomes the victim of a crisis. The quintessential every man or “regular guy” is a cowboy who tries in earnest to find the puppy. While attempting to return home, the puppy encounters a villain (the big, bad wolf), gets rescued by the heroes (Budweiser Clydesdales, of course) and is escorted back home to be reunited with his “Best Buds” for a happy ending.

If you want to convince anyone of anything tell them a story that appeals to their emotions and capacity for empathy. If you deliver a well-crafted tale, you can transport a client from a perceived problem to a solution that your company or organization can provide.  Through personal stories, your clients will connect more solidly with you, your product, and your mission making you the one who scores in service and sales.