Quit Your Storytelling

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

I’m a great storyteller. I’m not talking about blogging or writing an actual story. I’m talking about everyday life. I’m talking about when someone asks me a question, I’m good at going into storytelling mode. I’m good at telling a story so you understand what I’m trying to get at. I’m good at giving you all the background information I think you need to know so that you understand where I’m coming from or why I did such-and-such or said “blue” to so-and-so. This is great when you’re actually telling a story, but when you’re trying to get at the core of who you are, there’s one simple rule to follow:

Rule #1: Quit your storytelling.

Storytelling is about shaping words into paragraphs and making sense of them. Stories are about what’s happened. Stories get us from one point of understanding to another by way of a very windy road. Storytelling is not the quickest way to get from point A to point B.

Getting from point A to point B, by way of windy mountain road

Here’s an example of storytelling:

Coach: What’s keeping you from getting where you really want to be in your life?
Client: I really wanted to get my Master’s Degree, but then we had kids, and then I had to keep working to make ends meet and provide for the kids, and then that put stress on the relationship and we got divorced, so now I’m a single mom with two kids and I can barely keep up with everything, and now the kids want to go to college, but I just don’t see how I’m going to afford that, I’ll have to get another job and then I won’t have any kind of social life and I’ll just go home and go to work and won’t even be able to see my kids at all and…..

This is the kind of story I’m talking about. True, that’s a fabricated conversation up there, but the essence of it happens to us when we get asked why we’re not where we want to be. We come up with external factors, we get ahead of ourselves, we fall back on who we used to be and what used to drive us. In short, we forget about the very moment we’re in right here and right now.

What’s keeping you from getting where you really want to be in your life? You. The choices you make right here and right now. Are you moving toward your goal or are you moving away from it? There can only be one answer to that.

This example begins in the past, which makes it difficult to bring around to the present:

Coach: What steps are you taking to move toward your goal?
Client: Well, I took a course a couple of years ago, but I haven’t been able to find the time to take one recently. There’s just so much going on, and between my job and the kids and the….. (you see where this is leading, right?)

When you ask yourself, “What steps am I taking toward my goal?” it’s okay if the answer is “nothing.” As long as that answer comes from right here, right now. This answer gives you a starting point from right here, right now.

This example begins in the present, and veers off in thought, eventually attempting to qualify the answer:

Coach: What steps are you taking to move toward your goal?
Client: I enrolled in a course for this Spring, but it hasn’t started yet, and I just don’t know how I’m even going to make the time for it, but I”m committed, and I really want to make it work.

Even this is a story. The answer to the question is “I enrolled in a course for this Spring.” Bottom line, end of story. None of the other stuff matters. None of the other stuff is in the present. None of the other stuff has happened, nor predictable that it will happen.

Direct route from point A to point B

Here’s an example of a present and direct answer:

Coach: What steps are you willing to take in order to make the course successful for you?
Client: I am willing to make a schedule that allows time for the class and for the homework for the course.

No storytelling in that answer. No qualifying, no veering; it’s simply what the client is willing to do.

It’s in our nature to create a story, even around the things that are so important to us. We want to make it comfortable and feel like home. And what we need is to step into the discomfort of the bottom line sometimes. The bottom line is the answer to the question. The bottom line is in the present. The bottom line is you and what’s really there in your present.

So how do you quit your storytelling?

Awareness.  First, become aware of yourself and your storytelling. Notice when you tell stories to fill the space. Notice when you tell stories to avoid truths. Notice when you tell stories because you don’t want to reveal (or dig into) what’s really there. And then practice getting to the point.

You know when you’re storytelling, even when others don’t. If you catch yourself, congratulate yourself for your awareness. Awareness is the key. First you create awareness, then you practice bottom lining. Practice leaving out unnecessary details. Practice giving short, concise answers to convey what you mean. You can even try giving yourself a word limit. Let’s try it now: In 10 words or less, what’s keeping you from being who or where you want to be in your life?

Easy, right? Not at first, maybe. At first, it requires thought. Notice what your tendency is. Notice if you immediately try to fill the space, the silence. Notice if you are uncomfortable with the silence. Notice if you are uncomfortable with the question. Notice if you’re comfortable with the silence, and take your time to answer the question. Notice where your mind takes you for the answer. Notice if the answer comes easily to you. Simply be aware of where you are in the present moment of answering the question. And practice that in your conversations. Not all conversations will work with this bottom lining, but notice the impact that it has on the ones that do.

When you practice this awareness and bottom-lining, you may find yourself in some discomfort. This discomfort is change. And what is change? Change is growth.

Open Book photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/honou/ / CC BY 2.0

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kellyg1137 May.11.2013 at 7.07 pm

As I read this I just kept saying, “Wow!”, then another “Wow!”, and then another. To the Universe or whoever else is listening: I apologize for being a storytelling. I’m baaaaad about it.

Dian Reid, CPCC May.14.2013 at 4.04 pm

I doubt you have anything to apologize for, Kelly … I’m totally a storyteller, too ;o)

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