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Forbes article about narratives:

When scientists at Yale University followed adults for twenty years to uncover the secrets to a long life, they found one revelation that could change everything. People who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. In other words, if you say: “I think getting older is going to rock,” you’re likely to live 7.6 years longer than your friend who says: “I think getting older is going to suck.” Hundreds of research studies prove the life changing magic of a productive story. Are you going to get that promotion? Is your marriage going to make it through a rough patch? Is your company going to hit its projections for the year? The single biggest predictor

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for all these events is not the facts of your situation, but the story you tell. The bad news is that there’s an epidemic of rotten storytelling going on in our culture right now. The good news is that we have the ability to fix that. And the best news is that it’s not as hard as you might believe. As Dr. Carol Dweck wrote, “Small shifts in mindset can trigger a cascade of changes so profound that they test the limits of what seems possible.” Think of Winston Churchill, who at the height of the Blitz, when World War II was about to be lost, urged Londoners to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Five words, a simple narrative reset, that changed the course of history.

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But of course, not any five words will do. The secret is to identify the ideas that trigger a narrative reset, that get your brain out of a negative spiral, and into a productive mindset. Here are five strategies, grounded in science, to help you reset your own narrative. 1. Stop consuming junk stories. People take in average of 14 newspapers worth of information every day, and the vast majority of it is junk. This epidemic of junk storytelling is killing our minds just as surely as junk food is destroying our bodies. The single best thing you can do to reset your narrative is simple: don’t take in too much junk. How can you tell if you have a lot of junk in your storytelling diet? Junk stories are any kind of story that’s designed primarily to rile up your emotions. It’s the equivalent of eating tons of sugar and no protein: cable news, most of twitter, lots of clickbait. It’s designed to trigger an emotional response, but just like a huge ice cream sundae, there’s no nutrition in it, and the sugar rush is addictive, destructive and dangerous. Junk stories tend to create junk thinking, and it’s literally bad for our brains. 2. See the river, not the rocks. When I was first learning to kayak, I kept banging my boat into rocks. I said to my husband in frustration, “I am hitting every rock on this river!” He said, “Well then, stop looking at them!” Because that’s exactly what I was doing: going down the river, staring straight at the things I was most afraid of, and therefore, heading right for them. “Keep Calm and Carry On” originated during World War II, to help keep London strong during the... [+]

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We all tend to obsess over the things we’re afraid of, whether it’s nuclear war or a fight with your child. The problem is, in life as on the river, our boat goes where our eyes go. So, when you read lots of stories, and tell lots of stories, about how bad things are likely to be, you literally make that bad thing more likely. But therein lies the secret to changing this pattern: see the river, not the rocks. Instead of obsessing over all the things that could go wrong, focus on all the things that could go right. Tell stories, to your team and your family and in your own head, about all the open river ahead of you. We have a natural tendency to look at the rocks. Make a practice, instead, of looking at the river. 3. Expect setbacks, aka, Abyss happens. There is a critical corollary to a good mindset: the story you’re telling has to be true. You can’t deceive yourself with Pollyanna optimism when the world is falling apart. One piece of research showed that when women were coached to tell themselves every day how easy it would be to lose weight, their weight loss faltered. Of course, it did! Losing weight is not easy, and telling yourself it is doesn’t help. So, to say that you feel really positive about the culture in America right now, or to try to convince yourself that everything is going great when your business is faltering, is to deny reality. It creates a form of narrative dissonance: a disconnect between reality and the story we’re telling. And it will ultimately break down. The trick is not to deny suffering, or setbacks, but to accept the setback and the suffering and know that it will pass. Don’t tell yourself a story about how easy things are, or how good they are. Tell yourself a story that says: this is all part of the plot. After all,

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every single success story in history or in literature or in business shares one quality: that moment when the hero needs to decide, against all odds, whether or not to keep going. The research on this is overwhelming. Teaching low performing junior high school students about the growth mindset (we’re bad at everything before we’re good at it) helps improve their math scores. Giving new college students a pep talk before classes start, letting them know that struggling during the first year is normal, reduces dropout rates. Telling employees at the start of a project that failure is both inevitable and temporary, will increase the team’s likelihood of success. For me, when I’m feeling low, I remind myself: Abyss happens. And I keep going.

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4. Tell good stories about the people around you. Spend some time thinking about the stories you tell about other people because those stories are incredibly important, too. Worley Brown, for decades the CEO of Rock-Tenn, had created a Fortune

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100 company out of a tiny family paperboard packaging firm, and when I asked people about the secrets of his success, the response was unanimous: Worley saw the best in people. When he took over a plant that was losing millions of dollars, everyone expected him to fire the people and keep the machinery. But Worley met with every member of every shift, asked what they needed from him, and told them that he believed in them. Within a year, it was the single highest producing plant in the entire company, and stayed that way for decades. That’s known as the Pygmalion effect: for better and for worse, the stories we tell about people tend to become true. When teachers are cued to think good things about their students, those students do better (even if the teachers don’t say what they’re thinking out loud). When people are told, “you’re the kind of person who performs well under pressure” before doing a high-stress task, their performance goes up by 33%. Stories change brains, and behaviors. The lesson here is this: practice telling good stories, even just in your own head, about your spouse and your boss and your colleagues and your clients. You’ll find that when you change the story you’re telling about them, they will change too. 5. Don’t plan. Do one thing. I bet this sounds familiar: you’re overwhelmed with the size and the scope of a problem, and you figure if you can just write all down, think it all through, you can get a handle on it. But weirdly, the more you think about it, the more stressed out you get. And how often do you find yourself at the end of a really long meeting feeling frustrated that nothing has changed? It can easily turn into a negative story spiral.

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But there’s a simple trick to reset that narrative. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t make a plan. Just do one thing. It literally doesn’t matter what you do. Whenever you take action, any action, it resets the chemicals in your brain from overwhelmed to empowered. Research shows, for instance, that when people with huge financial debts pay off their smallest bill right away, they are much more likely to ultimately become debt free. Think of the brain as a binary system: you’re either frozen in fear, or empowered by action. So, if you have a huge to-do list, check off the smallest thing first. Talk to one person, make one call. The chemicals in your brain will change, and so will your story. Break The Future