November 14


The Power of Story (Part 1) – The stories that we tell…

The Stories We Tell Influence Others

I had a long day of travel where I had a conversation with a lady sitting next to me who is thriving in her midlife years after a rough start in her life. I saw her put her phone in the seatback pocket as we got settled. It reminded me of two stories that I shared with her.

​The first was that I had left my iPad in the seatback pocket on a short flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles. I discovered it missing later that day calling the airlines, the taxi service, and the other places I had been that day. No luck.

And then a month later, I got a phone call from American Airlines in Honolulu saying that they had found my iPad! I shared that what saved me was that I taped my business card to the back of my iPad. I also do the same for laptop.

​Then I shared that many years ago I was traveling with three of my children. My youngest son had a PSP (Sony PlayStation Personal) that he had gotten for Christmas. We told him not store it in the seat pocket. However, when we were driving from airport at our destination he said, “Dad, I think I left my PSP on the plane.” We called the airline immediately and they checked the plane. However, we never got it back.

​I told her that I had also donated a book or two over the years to other travelers who happened to find the book I left in the seat back pocket. And as a result of these stories, I am now very careful as to what I put in the seat back pocket, and always check it before I leave my seat.

She promptly put her phone in her backpack instead of the seat back pocket.

Stories Teach in Ways That Facts or Directives Cannot

​Later she told me that if I had told her to not put her phone in the seat back pocket, she wouldn’t have listened. However, because I told her stories, it had an impact on her that caused her to take action.

​In talking some more, she shared how she had quit school after the 8th grade. At age 18, her boyfriend remarked that she didn’t even have a high school degree. Within a week she had taken and passed her GED (Graduating Equivalency Degree).

​By age 21, she already had two children. So, she decided to pursue a college degree. She walked into the local community college and signed up for classes. She received her bachelors and has continued to take classes every few years even repeating classes to hone her skills.

The Power of a Growth Mindset

​I explained to her that she was the perfect example of a person with a growth mindset. She told me she had never heard of that concept before, but it made sense to her. She also said that she had been unknowingly working on her boyfriend to improve his fixed mindset.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford, spent much of her career studying the concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.

A person with a fixed mindset believes that talent and intelligence are fixed and that performance that falls short of expectations is a failure. A person with a growth mindset, however, believes that talent and intelligence are not fixed but can be grown through learning and skill development. The growth mindset also believes that failure is a natural part of the learning curve.

You see, the difference between this lady who is thriving at midlife and her boyfriend who was stuck was their mindset. Somehow, in spite of her rocky start in life, she had developed a growth mindset that has helped her continue to grow through the years. She has a long list of achievements and has also imparted her growth mindset to her children.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

​The growth mindset versus fixed mindset isn’t usually an all or nothing thing. It is a continuum for most people. People also segment areas or parts of their life with growth or fixed mindset beliefs.

​Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, I’m just not tech savvy.” Or “I’m not a good reader.” Or “I’m not athletic.” Or “I’m not a good public speaker.” Oftentimes, these statements are followed by “…like you” or someone else. Meaning, that they are comparing themselves to others.

This is the sure sign of a fixed mindset, and it is based on the stories we tell ourselves. When we tell ourselves that we are not good at something or do not possess a particular trait, we reinforce our lacking in that area. And by telling ourselves this story, we also give ourselves permission to not try.

​Many times, the fixed mindset developed because you tried something that didn’t work the first time, your parents, teachers, or friends made fun of you or told you could never do that. So, you accepted what they said and have been telling yourself the story of “I’m not…” ever since.

Do You Tell Yourself Limiting or Empowering Stories?

What are the stories you tell yourself? Are these stories limiting you or motivating you? Are they making you feel resigned to your current place or empowering you to do more and be more?

​Here’s a simple test to determine if the story you are telling yourself in any given area of your life is limiting or empowering:

When you tell the story out loud, how does it make you feel? Does the story raise your energy or lower your energy? Does the story feel light or heavy? Does the story make you feel better or worse?

Here’s the Midlife Lesson:

​If the story lowers your energy, feels heavy, or makes you feel worse, then the story is not true, and it is not serving you well.

​Think about how you can change the story that allows you to grow instead of staying fixed where you are. For example, change “I’m not tech savvy” to “I’m learning to get better with technology.

Do you see the difference? Do you see how the second statement feels better and encourages you to try things and learn?

Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself and the stories those around tell themselves. Are they empowering or limiting?

Here’s the Mighty Challenge of the Day: 

Pick one story that you tell yourself that exhibits a fixed mindset and is limiting in some way. Change the story to something more empowering, and start repeating it to yourself. Tell your spouse, friend, or co-worker to help remind you!

Bruce Fleck, PhD

About the Bruce Fleck, PhD

I help professionals overcome a health, career, or relationship crisis and make it a turning point for building a better life.

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