The Mysterious Power of Stories

How telling your story can heal or inspire someone else.

Posted in , Apr 5, 2016

How telling your story can inspire and heal someone else.

The other day I came across a story in The New York Times Magazine about Google’s mission to build better teams in the workplace. Google found that the best teams aren’t necessarily formed when great minds come together. But rather when co-workers feel “psychologically safe” with one another.

That’s something Google manager Matt Sakaguchi discovered first-hand after a survey showed not all of his employees felt fulfilled at work. Matt met with his team outside the office to go over the survey results. He asked his employees to open up by sharing something personal and kicked things off with a revelation of his own.

 “I think one of the things most people don’t know about me is that I have Stage 4 cancer,’’ he said.

His team was stunned. Apparently Matt had been undergoing treatment for quite some time. They had no idea. Matt’s story turned out to be a lightning-bolt moment. Others on the team shared deeply personal stories too. By the end of the outing, they could discuss their work grievances with greater ease, hopefully solving some of the issues that the survey uncovered.

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There’s a scientific reason that Matt’s team responded so positively to his story. Did you know that stories can actually affect your brain’s activity? Dr. Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, has studied the impact of storytelling on the brain using functional MRIs. He found that when people listen to stories, their brain actually “synchs up” with the storyteller’s brain. In other words, the listener and storyteller feel the same things. Heartache, surprise, joy. It’s called “neural coupling.” No wonder Guideposts stories so often move readers to tears!

“Stories alter brain chemistry that in turn triggers empathy in your audience,” writes Carmine Gallo, author of The Storyteller’s Secret, in a recent Business Insider article. “When the brain hears a compelling personal story, it triggers a rush of chemicals including dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin, the 'love molecule' that makes us feel empathy for another person.”

I’ve seen countless times just what storytelling can do—whenever I work with an author on a Guideposts or Mysterious Ways story. To have someone truly understand what you’re going through, so much so that their brain synchs up with your own? That’s powerful stuff. Yet another tool God’s given us to connect with one another.

So keep on telling your stories. They just might help you heal or inspire someone else. And that’s a wondrous thing. 

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