January 2018

The Transformative Power Of Stories

many stories

Our lives are a series of stories, and you define yourself with the stories you tell. You also represent others with the stories you believe about them. In turn, the world is the way it is because of the stories we all know.

On top of this, our brains have evolved to understand, appreciate and create stories.

Even our sense of time is a story. But, many of our stories wouldn’t make sense without our linear view of time. In this regard, our stories about time make other stories possible.

We often think of stories as something found in a book. But instead, they are an essential layer in our lives and concept of reality. Stories play a role in determining where we are, and where we are going. We can’t expect to get anywhere without a good story.

Stories As Explanations For What We Do

Often we do things for reasons that we can’t explain. At times, we may not even understand why we did them at all. Other times, we can not be sure about what happened. It is also easy to construct a story that dismisses our errors.

When we acknowledge something was our fault, we must also admit we were wrong. But even then we may tell a story that will absolve our responsibility.

But often or explanations only come after someone asks “Why did you do that?” This point is when we construct a story for ourselves, otherwise we merely except them.

Usually, we call others explanations excuses. This accusation is especially true if someone doesn’t come out and say “Yes, it was me!” We want to accept people for their mistakes, at the same time, we don’t want to know the reason for them.

Part of the problem is that, inside our heads, there is always an explanation. You closed the door because it was cold. You turned down the radio because it was loud.

But sometimes, things are hiding in our stories, things we don’t want to acknowledge. You closed the door because you didn’t want the bother. You turned off the radio because the song reminded you of your ex.

The point is that we need stories to connect what happens with what we did. A good narrative unites events together. A great story makes sense of things that made no sense before.

At times our stories are not beneficial to someone else when they are only looking for a sorry. But at its core, our stories serve as an explanation for what we have done, even if they aren’t true.

Stories To Excuse Other People

The same way we explain ourselves, we also use stories to describe other people.

We tell stories as excuses for what other people have done. In this sense, we see the things, that we assume happened before, being the cause of what happened later. But there is a choice about what events or points we add to our stories.

Again, we use a story to connect events in a linear order. The need for this stems from the way our minds work. We need explanations, and we need them now. The more straightforward a story is, the better.

The story we tell can go in both directions. We can use a story to explain why someone is evil and should be punished. Or we can use a story to describe why it wasn’t their fault and they aren’t guilty. Sometimes the same narrative can do both.

Either way, we use stories to justify our views of people and the things they have done.

You could argue that we are justifying our opinions and not the things that happened. But, we need our stories to connect the things that happen with the way we feel.

We Use Stories To Explain Who We Are

Often, we have an explanation or an excuse for who we are and why we did the things that we did.

To an outsider, our stories might be random or missing critical facts. A family member could see the events in a different light. They may value one thing over another. Our parents may have grand stories that explain everything about us.

We all have stories, and our stories interact with the stories of the people in our lives.

As we grow old, we forget some stories, while emphasizing others. We may not have much say, over which stories matter to us, our brains decide for us.

In time we have stories that we hold dear and accept that they explain who we are. These grand narratives determine which pieces are essential and those that are not.

At the same time, our stories may not be meaningful to anyone else. They don’t even have to be accurate. Our stories are often only for ourselves, and they play a critical role in explaining who we are and where we are.

Stories Explain Who We Want To Be

In another sense, we use stories to explain where we are going. These stories at their core are meaningful to us, they guide our decision making and tell us what we need to do next.

As an example, consider the story of becoming a doctor. From that, you believe studying is essential and that you can study hard enough to succeed. You also think that studying will get you into the school you want. From there you need to believe that your hard work will pay off.

These beliefs come from stories. You know doctors and assume they studied hard, graduated and passed their tests.

We use stories to tell us where we want to go. Then we use other peoples stories to tell us how to get there or justify them. At its core, there is a story behind every person and choice. We use narrative to explain and justify what we do.

Better Stories Make A Better Life

If we use stories to explain what we do, then we must assume that people who are successful, have better stories. If a story is excellent, then it gets spectacular results.

It is also true that people from wealthy families are more likely to be affluent themselves. The explanation for this may come down to the stories they have about what has happened.

Take the example of someone who grows up without a positive role model. They will not have stories that explain how they can get to where they want to go. If you’ve never seen success, how can you replicate it? How can you see the connection between actions and results without an example?

Someone whose parents create a business will hear stories that explain the success. In particular, what they did right and how someone could replicate the results.

In this sense, it’s obvious what a differences a story can make. If you know someone who did something, you have an account and are more likely to believe. If you have never heard a compelling story, you will not think something is possible.

We Need To Write Better Stories

If the story I have told so far is acceptable, then you can see the importance of stories in your life.

You can also see the difference a good story makes. Thinking something is possible, makes it so.

The first thing you must do is accept that stories matter. In this sense, writing in a journal is an excellent way to get your stories out. You should write about the events that were important to you, those that explain who you are and why.

From these stories you get a better sense of who you are because you have them written down. Having them written down lets you be more reasonable about them.

The next step is to read them and see what could have been different or what you had no control over.

From these understandings, you can gain insights into how to do things better next time. You may obtain the perspective that something wasn’t your fault. You can’t blame yourself for things outside of your control.

Finally, once you understand who and why you are, you also have an appreciation for the effects those stories had on you.

Later you can write a story about the future you want. If you’ve learnt from the past, then you know what is possible. Then you can write a compelling story that will guide you to where you need to go.

Once you’ve written a better story, you have an idea of what you need to do to get there. Think of the story as a blueprint, it tells you what to do, but not all the details.

From here you can write better stories about how to get what you want. Sometimes you may need to write stories about what will happen if you don’t take action. A lousy potential story at times can be enough to motivate you to live a better life.

If you believe stories matter, then you must write better stories for yourself.

The Double-Edged Sword of Agreeability

agreeable people

Agreeableness is a “Big Five” personality trait. It is characterized by kindness, warmth, consideration, and sympathy.

In general, it is a personality trait that helps us work together in a civil society. Agreeableness is essential because it helps us avoid conflict and escalated situations.

People who score high on agreeability tend to be altruistic, trustworthy and empathetic. People who score low, lack empathy, are less reliable and are often thought of as selfish.

It seems to make sense that most people are agreeable because in a social sense it makes everyone safer. But, with any trait, some people score low. With agreeableness, scoring low is often negative, but it isn’t always bad when it comes to success.

Agreeable Children Turn Into Agreeable Adults

It is hard to say where personality traits come from, but it is some combination of genes and environment. That said, children who are agreeable, tend to grow up and become agreeable adults.

Children with high agreeability externalize emotions, meaning they talk about them more often. Expressing feelings leads to better outcomes, by dealing with problems more efficiently.

At least in part because of this, they are also more likely to avoid confrontations and conflict. Avoidance, in turn, creates a more healthy sense of self and self-esteem.

Studies show that people with low agreeability are more likely to experience depression. Later in life, they are more likely to get divorced or have bad personal relationships.

Holding A Grudge or Getting Over It

Agreeable people are less likely to hold a grudge and more likely to avoid conflict. Not tending to engage in dispute, explains why they are more likely to be happy and have healthy relationships.

Holding a grudge is stressful and leads to adverse outcomes in relationships. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who never lets anything go. Resentment between the two of you would keep building over time.

Resentment could explain why divorce is common amongst people with low agreeability. It is hard to keep friends and have positive social interactions if you can’t get over the mistakes of the past.

One unexpected outcome happens during arguments. People who score high for agreeability would rather de-escalate and avoid the conflict. They will see this as a positive outcome because it avoided adverse effects.

But, people who score low, will see this outcome as a win for them. The same result will mean different things based on your score for this trait.

Agreeableness Leads To Longevity

Agreeable people, who are more likely to have healthy relationships also live longer. There is little doubt that healthy relationships are essential. Strong human connections are a basic necessity of life and a feature of blue zone people.

Poor relationships relate to the stress and depression found in people with lower agreeability. If you don’t trust people and they don’t trust you, you are always going to feel left out. As a result, you will dedicate more resources to stress than living well.

Stress has adverse effects on health. So anything that creates tension creates health problems and poor long-term outcomes.

People who experience a lot of stress or depression are more likely to abuse substances. Depression could explain the correlation between low agreeableness and substance abuse. Also, this demonstrates why people are more likely to have health issues.

Where You Live Matters

Studies have found that in the US, people on the coasts tend to score lower on agreeableness. While people in the middle of the country score higher, this is the idea of southern hospitality.

In smaller towns, it is easier to know the people you interact with on a regular basis. Knowing the people around you encourages camaraderie and a willingness to care.

But the cause of a lower score could relate to living in a city. The city is jam-packed, and there are always many people around, but you most likely do not know them.

In the city, it is more difficult as you are less likely to know your neighbours. At the same time, they are less likely to see you or care about your wellbeing. This lack of connection with neighbours leads to lower connectedness in general.

We could make a compelling argument for environmental causes causing agreeableness scores. Though, people low in agreeability may come to cities or places with lots of people. Reason being, the lack of community may be what attracts them.

What Happens At Work

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

People with low agreeability tend not to do well at work. Often because they are not great at relationships, leading to less stability. Part of the reason is that they aren’t seen as trustworthy and don’t trust their coworkers.

Interestingly, people with low agreeability sometimes do better in competitive environments. Notably, they are more successful in management. Success happens because people are unafraid of conflict and are willing to ‘win’ at the expense of being liked.

Put another way, people high in agreeability are liked at the office, but may not be respected. It is easy to approve someone who is kind and friendly. But it is also easy to take advantage of them because they will not do anything about it.

In these cases, disruption isn’t always harmful. If everyone in a meeting is agreeable, the problematic person gets to lead. In a sense, disagreeable people are more likely to make a fuss about problems. So in this regard, they are more likely to precipitate solutions.

Different Views Of Success

Disagreeable people make more money and are better managers if they can stick around. But people who are too agreeable will likely stay at the bottom of a company. At the same time, they are taken advantage of and keep silent about it.

More, being a regular worker may be suited for people with high agreeability. Management may be best suited for those with low agreeability.

In this sense, success can be characterized in two ways. First, the more traditional view where people gain power and pay. Alternatively, people are liked by the people around them.

A mismatch like this is a problem for people who are ambitious but lack the personality. It is difficult for an agreeable person to succeed in competitive environments when they can’t be disagreeable. In part, because they are not willing to cause conflict, they won’t take risks and move forward.

But this problem exists everywhere, and not only at work. Being too agreeable can be detrimental to your relationships. It is especially a problem when you don’t stand up for yourself.

Also, you may always agree with what other people want and forget what you want. With enough of this, your life could become unsatisfying because you don’t ever get what you want.

What Does This Mean

In many ways being agreeable is a great trait. It will help you live longer, have better social interactions and relationships. It will also give you a better chance at avoiding depression and substance abuse.

Being too agreeable means, you are more likely to be taken advantage of and do poorly in management. It also means you may not be considered an earnest person.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of control over our personalities by the time we are adults. But it is essential to understand the consequences of our traits none the less. This awareness is helpful, and we may be able to do things differently if we recognize the problem.

In this sense, it is essential to work on being a more disagreeable if you are too agreeable. You also need to learn to be firm about what you want and believe. The change will be difficult, but also life changing at times.