Research has shown that willpower is like a muscle – the more you train it, the more powerful it becomes.
In a study published last year, Dr. Mark Muraven at the University of Albany had a subset of participants spend two weeks practising acts of self-control. these were things like resisting eating unhealthy food. These participants subsequently excelled at tests of self-control compared with their own baseline performance. By contrast, no such improvement was observed among control participants who merely spent the same time completing maths problems, a task which, although boring and challenging, doesn’t depend on the ability to resist impulses.
I realised this concept of “building your willpower muscle” underpins the latest campaign here on Australian TV about stopping smoking called “Never Give Up Giving Up”.
People will only change their behaviour if they feel it’s worth it (motivation) and they know they can do it (ability). Studies like this are really showing that will power is not something we are born with, but something we can develop, i.e. an ability we can learn.
This ability to develop and practise skills around willpower is therefore a key elements in helping people develop the ability to create real, meaningful and sustainable change. For any ex-smokers like myself out there, I am sure you have all got your own stories about how you failed a few times to give up before you finally succeeded. We now know this was just us building our willpower muscle!
We are always on the lookout for good stories. I found this one today on the PassionHR list on YahooGroups:
As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.
At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners… he is a joy to be around..”
I am constantly surprised of the most unlikely places and situations where you hear great stories.
Last weekend the family and I were over in South Melbourne doing some shopping. I was standing in the queue to pay for an item (see, I know my place in the shopping process!) and was reading a handwritten sign behind the counter which read; “Every 3rd Hawker will be shot. FYI, we’ve already had 2 today”. The lady standing in front of me saw me reading the sign, we made eye contact and smiled at each other, and then just started telling me this story:
My son got offered one of those door to door sales job but he turned it down to do a telesales job instead.
Me: “Sounds like a rock and a hard place! How did he get on?”
He’s just left school and was very excited to have a job. It was all about trying to get people to swap electricity suppliers and he was impressed he got a whole week of training.
On his first day of actual selling he was taken into the Supervisors office just before lunch and told that he wasn’t selling enough and they told him a few ‘pointers’ that he was very unhappy with, didn’t think were legit. and just didn’t seem above board. He didn’t go back after his lunch break.
When he came home and told his Dad and me what happened, we couldn’t have been prouder. Maybe we did bring him up right!
What a fantastic ‘values in action’ story. When you talk about integrity as a value, this for me is a story that brings it to life – it takes the abstract concept of integrity and makes it concrete and ‘real’ through a story.
This very brief encounter was yet another reminder to me that stories are all around us, all we need to do is be open and conscious to hear them.
My friend Donal O Duibhir keeps an eye out for story-related tidbits for me (thanks Donal). Today he sent me this 5 min video of Scott Berkun describing how to deliver an Ignite talk (sounds just like a Pecha Kucha). He starts with “I think storytelling is everything …” Nice. You have my attention Scott. He then builds on the idea making the good point that we are all natural storytellers. It’s just part of the human make up.
A little bit of context here. I’m half way through Scott’s book The Myths of Innovation, which is a terrific read. He tells some good stories in it so I’m waiting for some stories in this video. I’m waiting, and waiting …
Scott’s advice for would-be Ignite presenters is to tell stories (right on!) and Scott says there are three places to look to find these stories.
1) Things you love and are passionate about
2) Things you hate and despise
3) And if you can’t find a story, tell the story of not finding it. He calls it a meta-story
Still no stories …
I reckon Scott’s advice has about a 50/50 chance of getting stories told at Ignite because you could just as easily share your view on what you love or hate as an opinion as comfortably as tell a story. And because we’re such natural storytellers and they are so ubiquitous many of us don’t really know what a story looks like. Add to that our habit to privilege rhetoric when we get a little formal. Stories suddenly evaporate.
So building on Scott’s advice I would add this idea:
Think about an event, something that happened, to you or someone you know, that illustrates your love or passion for the topic, or the hatred, and tell that. You’ll know you’re telling a story if you start it at some point in time like “just the other day,” “a while back,” “in December 2001…” Here’s a little example (that a grabbed from our story finder) of a story:
Since we started Anecdote in 2004 our local Kwik Kopy in Coburg has printed most of our posters and workshop materials. Kelvin does a great job. Always high quality, delivered when we need it despite the outrageous time frames we sometimes impose.
That was the case up until this Wednesday. We’d created a high-quality handbook to support our Influence Change workshop and I picked them up from Kelvin at 4.30pm ready for the next day. At about 6pm I open the box and my heart sunk. The workbooks looked shoddy. Some of the pages were in the wrong order and all of them had edges that weren’t trimmed and aligned properly. Very unusual for Kelvin. And I needed them for 7.15am the next morning.
I called Kelvin. I could hear the concern in his voice and he came over to my house right away. He apologised, kept extremely calm and said he would set it right. He went back to his store and personally re-did our handbooks and arrived back at my place at 10pm with a perfect set.
And with that little nudge I think you’ll get stories. No need to talk about plot structures, character development and all the wonderful things you can learn from the likes of Robert McKee.
It’s been a few years since we publicly ran our workshops in Australia. We’ve been focussed on delivering them internally to our clients. But in May this year we are running Storytelling for Business Leaders workshops in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. Click here to find out more and to buy your tickets. Lots of different early bird prices to take advantage of.