What’s Your Story? Using the Power of Story to Frame Your Life & Business
part 3 of 5
Is Your Desired Future Spelled Out in Detail?
If Not, Define it Clearly Today!
Stories Can Be Powerful
We love a good story. Stories entertain us. They inspire us. Hollywood uses stories to make billions every year.
Stories reach your emotions and draw you in.
And while you know how they can make you feel, it may not be obvious how you can apply that power of story to your own life. If you figure out the story of your life, your life will be more interesting to you and others. In this case, figuring out your goals for the future makes you more likely to aim higher and accomplish more throughout your life.
3 Elements of a Compelling Story
Three things make stories compelling:
- A goal to accomplish
- A challenge to overcome
- A reason why reaching the goal matters.
The power of Story comes when these elements are clearly established, so let’s examine each one a bit more closely.
1. A Goal to Accomplish
The overarching aspect of a story is what the Hero is trying to accomplish. Tension is created with the uncertainty of whether the outcome will be achieved. When Hollywood establishes a goal, there are a few key aspects to note:
The Goal is Specific
The nature of the desired outcome isn’t vague. It’s unmistakable and clear.
The Team isn’t trying to “play better,” they’re trying to win the Championship.
He’s not trying to marry “some girl,” he’s trying to marry that specific girl that just so happens to be engaged to his rival.
The Goal is Time Bound
Deadlines increase the tension and intensify the need for the achievement of the goal in a timely fashion.
The bomb to disarm isn’t going to go off “sometime this month,” it’s counting down right now.
They don’t just need to score the touchdown, they need to do it before time runs out in the fourth quarter.
The Goal is Clear, It’s Not Complicated
There aren’t bunches of different things the Hero has to deal with at any given moment. Instead, there are just a few very clear issues to resolve to achieve a very clear goal.
The detective needs to find and deal with the thief, and she’s not also trying to coordinate a dog-sitter or organize receipts for her taxes.
The fighter pilot is dealing with enemy planes to protect his forces, and he’s not also worried about where he’s going to take his family on vacation, or how his pay stub didn’t have his housing allowance properly calculated.
2. A Challenge to Overcome
If accomplishing the Goal is too easy, it’s not much of a story. The Hero always has challenges to deal with that make the outcome uncertain. Hollywood uses at least three aspects to the Challenges arrayed against the Hero:
1. Other People
Stories have Villains or Antagonists that are trying to keep the Hero from achieving the Goal. Different Characters may seem to be helping at some points in the story but may end up shifting roles as the story plays out.
2. Difficult Situations or Physical Limitations
Few things make for a better story than an “impossible” situation that a Hero encounters. Solving those problems and discovering a way through or around the difficulties enhances the heroic journey.
3. Self-Doubt or the Need to Change
Heroes can be reluctant to get involved. They often doubt their ability and end up with no choice but to rise to the occasion. The unexpected Hero, born through a trial, helps the audience see possibilities for themselves if they were somehow in a similar story.
Small challenges make for small stories. The bigger the challenge and the more elements aligned against the Hero, the bigger the resulting story and the magnitude of the triumph.
3. A Reason Why It Matters
Meaningful purpose to a story draws the audience in. Heroes save Victims from Villains. The audience draws on their sense of right vs wrong and good vs evil to take sides with the Hero against the Villain. The inherent sense of justice adds depth to the emotional content of the story.
Heroes, especially reluctant ones, simply can’t sit by and let injustice happen. They rise to the occasion to accomplish the Goal and restore the audience’s faith that good will overcome evil, that wrongs will be made right.
With this clearer idea of the elements of a compelling story, you can begin to craft a story for your Life and Business that can become your Hollywood adventure.
A Detailed Desired Outcome
Getting excited about your own story starts with understanding specifically what you’re trying to accomplish. This isn’t a trivial question and requires both thought and introspection. The good news is that you can put a few storylines together and see which ones capture your emotions. Note the ones that yield an emotional response. Those storylines can allow the power of Story to shape your life positively.
Step 1: List Categories
Start listing categories as you generate ideas to start the process. Make a list of some of the things that matter most to you so you can establish what Goals have meaningful outcomes for you to pursue:
- People, Things, Organizations, Achievements, Hobbies, Etc.
- List important aspects of your personal life that have significance for you.
- Work Accomplishments, Achievements, Awards, Positions, Etc.
- List important aspects of your work life that have significance for you.
- Relationships, Causes, Organizations, Engagement, Etc.
- List important aspects of your social life that have significance for you.
- Achievements, Health, Capabilities, Activities, Etc.
- List important aspects of your physical life that have significance for you.
Get as many things down as possible without worrying about editing as you go. The general areas overlap and that’s ok. Let the ideas flow and allow yourself to think big!
Step 2: Organize and Prioritize
Once you have your list, slowly start to organize it in whatever way makes the most sense to you. Group similar items in a way that feels right. Remember, this is your list. Don’t worry about what anyone else might think about it. Too often, we self-edit based on what we think are the “right things” we should want, or whether others might approve of our list. Just like our Self-Image, the Story we are developing is for ourselves and nobody else.
As you narrow your list, work to get it down to under 10 items. Prioritizing can be difficult, but it is necessary. Ultimately, narrow it down to the top 3-5 items as you head to the next step.
Step 3: Brainstorm the Details
For each item, list as clearly as possible what success means in that area. Take yourself to the future as you reach a successful outcome:
- How will you feel?
- Who will be with you?
- Where will you be?
- What will you have done?
- How did it take you to get there?
- What kind of person did you become along the way?
The more details you can list, the more vivid the picture you’ll have in your head. Having that compelling outcome in exquisite detail will start to make the story real for you.
Step 4: Build the Story for Each
Finally, with each item’s goal listed in detail, you can fill in the story elements that you experienced to get to that result:
- What was the challenge you overcame?
- Was there a Villain to conquer?
- What Wrong will you seek to make Right?
- Why was it important to you? Why did it matter?
Filling in the rest of the details helps make the story even more compelling. As you consider the challenges you’ll need to overcome and the reasons why it matters, the most important items will trigger an emotional response in you.
Narrow down your final list to the 3-5 items that reveal themselves to be most emotional and meaningful to you. That’s the starting point for you to live into this new Story you’ve written for yourself.
Getting emotionally involved in your own Story is powerful.
Once you establish a detailed picture of your future and build the story elements around it, your life will never be the same. You’ll be energized to live into your Story.
Regardless of whether you share the details with anyone, the folks around you will notice the change in you.
Big Heroic outcomes are not completed overnight. That’s part of the Story playing out. Next week, we’ll talk about how to use this story structure to engage your emotions in a way that keeps you inspired to live into your Story in your daily experiences.