Why is Storytelling so Important?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin… said the BBC Radio presenter on Children’s Hour, the must listen program for kids in 1950’s England. We gathered in the parlour, my sister and I and we’d listen to a story being read on radio. I remember Little Women and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, tales of a group of girls at a private boarding school. Oh how I wanted to go to this school and have my own pony instead of my local village school housed in a slightly renovated medieval farm house.

My granddaughter has discovered words. At barely 2 years old she devours them and books and stories. Everything you say is repeated. I gave her a serviette with blue flowers on it… a Marimekko design. I explained that I loved Marimekko designed products. Marimekko design said a little echo….she seems to have skipped baby talk for the thrill of meatier words!

But are stories the domain of childrens’ books, novels, ” great reads”, good films and music? Yes they are but storytelling is so much more.

I was at a conference in Nova Scotia some years ago. The five day residential program explored authentic leadership. Margaret Wheatley was my class teacher every morning for the duration of the conference. At one stage she said…..Our experience is just the story we tell ourselves. We can change our story.

“It’s important not to deny our feelings but we have to realize that we authored our emotional responses. We made them up. So we can change them.”

and again Margaret Wheatley writes

“We walk around wrapped in our own stories…overtime we become packages of predictable responses.We forget that there is any other way to respond.”

I fought against this idea. Hmm…that sounds like we just make things up and then act on them! We create stories about the world and our experience that are just one way of interpreting the world around us. But I’m a rational human being and I act on facts and evidence… this story stuff sounds like fiction!

Over the next 20 years this very basic principle became the basis of my work in helping people make meaningful changes in their lives and develop leaders with this capability. As I learned more, I got the memo! Change the story and you change the thinking, feeling, actions and outcomes. The basis of good Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In workplaces developing leaders who can create different stories can lead to agile and flexible ways of solving problems. I explored narrative methods and created ways of working with people to unblock and re-script their stories about everyday events, who they see themselves as and what their life story is all about.

So what has this got to do with being a seventy year old woman with arthritic joints and staring at the sun in terms of the years I have left to do useful things? We are surrounded by so many stories of ageing………

  • We are a drain on the health system and we are a conservative force in the world
  • We are technologically inept
  • You’re only as old as you feel… (yes I feel 91 after a day in the garden!)
  • Death is preferable to being in an aged care facility
  • We must wear bright colours, large earrings. pixie haircut and red lipstick to look like we are ageing well
  • Turmeric will cure all nearly everything
  • etc etc

Everyday we act on the stories we have scripted to explain the world around us. We exist in the cacophany of opinions, facts, options, actions, feelings and decisions in the world around us and somehow we have to make sense of all this noise. The sense making are the stories we tell ourselves………

I can do this but I’m no good at that

When I’ve sold my house I’ll start eating well, join a gym and get fit

She doesn’t like me. She’s mean.

I’ll never have enough money to travel…

We need to unpick the stories we tell ourselves that limit us having good lives… especially as the years tick by in our older age. We need to identify the stories that no longer serve us well. We need to create new stories that open the space to more options and a better life.

Next time you roll out the same solution to the same problem. Stop. What is the story you are telling yourself about this person/ event? What are 45 other ways of thinking about this differently? Oh..Ok…. start with 5 different options……… which of these options opens the space for new and better ways of experiencing life? You deserve it!


9 March 2020 | Living Well


  1. Next time you roll out the same solution to the same problem..stop! I am going to pin this to my fridge door – it is so easy to roll out the same solution and stay stuck – thank you Nora for a great article which offers an opportunity to burst through old and be open to alternative ways of being.Inge

    1. Thanks Inge….. you are the inspiration and the trail that I followed to start my learning journey so many years ago. Staying open, finding 45 different ways to think about an issue and checking in on habitual responses are all seeds sown at the Shambala Authentic Leadership Program and the time spent with you in Canada.

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