Tag Archives: story coaching

Building Team Dynamics through Drum Circles

 September is just a few weeks away and for most school administrators and many businesses leaders, it’s time to schedule in-services and trainings.  

These usually include lectures with some interactive elements. At some point in this process, cooperation and team building is often woven into the hours of training.

The thought of these half or full day training sessions is an inspiration to one and all…

…Then again, maybe not.  If you sit quietly, you might hear groaning.  Let’s face it, half the group dreads these sessions, and building a team through group suffering isn’t all that effective.

IMG_1427Training and ongoing education is essential for teachers and business teams, but you don’t build teams through talk, teams are built through doing.

I’ve been a storyteller and story coach for over 17 years, so I know the power of words, however not all stories are written, told, or heard. Some stories are experienced.  A few years ago, I added Drum Circle Facilitation to my skill set, and I use traditional drums to build and strengthen teams. 

I am continuously amazed when a diverse group of adults gather together in a drum circle.  Most people have never touched a drum before, a few hotshots want to show off, and a few are afraid to make a sound. 

Traditional African Drumming consists of three basic notes and can be taught in ten minutes.  Building a unified rhythm seems impossible at first, but it seems to magically evolve in less than an hour.  Everyone in the cIMG_1412ircle begins to take care of each other though eye contact, self-control, and focus. 

Adding a drum circle in the middle or end of an in-service builds excitement. Don’t talk about becoming a team.  Become a team. 

Contact me today and schedule a traditional drum circle for your next in-service or training. I serve the Mid-Atlantic States. Rivka@simplyextraordinarytales.com

The Risks of Living on a Junk Story Diet

By Rivka Willick

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We process and store the stories we hear and read just as surely as we ingest and process the food we eat. Stories, just like food, offer a wide range of benefits and risks. The best tales will challenge the mind, generate courage and hope to the heart, and inspire the spirit. Toxic stories, and yes there are many that act like poison, can generate fear, mistrust, hatred, hopelessness, cruelty, and confusion. During this month’s exploration, we will look at the stories that are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  I call them Junk Stories.  Enjoying Junk Stories in moderation is OK, but if you fill up on Junk your mind, heart, and spirit will suffer.

Let’s take a closer look at the negative effects of consuming too many junk stories.

Dumbing Down – Stories can fill us up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  When the content is challenging, curious, or inspiring we grow and flourish. However, if the content is pleasant or titillating but lacks substance, we can spend our mental and emotional energy with little in return. That’s OK in moderation, just as a handful of potato chips are also OK.  Problems arise when we take more than just a handful. Remember the old Lays Potato Chip slogan, “bet you can’t eat just one!” Focusing on just one type of story or binging for hours or days on a series are serious signs of a JUNK STORY DIET. Remember, there are structures used purposefully to ‘hook you’ and keep you coming back. The story in and of itself is OK, dependency isn’t.

Lack of Empathy & Narcissism – Stories are bridges and often become connectors between people, cultures, and different ways of life, but they can also act like a funhouse mirror reflecting how we see ourselves, often in a distorted way.  We’ve all met the guy at a party who monopolizes the conversation with self-aggrandizing tales; people will walk away or try to change the topic but he just doesn’t stop. Personal stories are now one of the hottest trends, but when these tales are solely focused on just the teller, often jumping from one gory or shocking event to another, narcissism has fertile soil to grow.  A diet of shocking stories can also reduce your ability to empathize.

Isolation – Some stories expand the world and others insulate the reader creating a bubble for the reader or listener to escape into. Vacations are good, imprisonment is bad.  If you feel entrapped by media, addictive novels, or your own stories, you need to turn those off and find stories that connect you to others.

Dependency – An exciting movie, novel, or performance can produce an adrenal rush. That heightened emotional state is thrilling and fun, but it can also become addictive. I remember a commercial featuring a zombie-like woman who begins to panic at the end of the last episode of a TV series. The spokesperson assured her she’d be OK if she subscribed to their service, they had lots of binge-worthy shows. The ad ends with her smiling as she sits back to zone out once again. Your natural curiosity and emotional growth can get stuck and that can lead to frustration and depression.

Spiritual Disconnection – Every religion and spiritual practice uses stories as a conduit to understand complicated and challenging ideas. Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist who did ground breaking work understanding the stories in folklore and comparative religion showed just how powerful the narrative format can be.  The opposite is also true.  Just as stories can connect us to higher truths and lead us to deeper meanings in life, other stories can desensitize us.  Junk stories can stifle our desire to stretch and push ourselves.  The easy story often fills us up making us reluctant to tackle challenging stuff.

Miscommunication & Lies – This category is closer to Toxic than Junk, but I decided to include it because dishonest stories often mascaraed as important or essential stuff even though it’s just junk.  Propaganda campaigns seek out stories which evokes emotional responses and appear to be true.  Once you ingest one of these “true” but dishonest tales it can get stuck in your mind as truth.  This form of junk is often delivered at political and sales events.  They also flourish all over the internet.

Do you have other ideas about the risks of junk stories? Leave a comment below.  If you’d like to explore the power of story, drop me a note.  I do one-on-one coaching, workshops, and performances.

Next Blog: How to Identify Junk Stories.

Are You Living on a Junk Story Diet?

 

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We  all know that junk food might taste great, is easy to find, and fun to eat, but a steady diet of fats, carbs, and processed sugars is unhealthy.  The health risks include obesity, cardiovascular disease and a long list of chronic health conditions. Habitual fast foods may also cause depression, headaches and even acne.  But I don’t have to list reasons not live on junk food, you already know it’s bad for you, but healthy  food takes a little more effort and focus. Kale, toss salads, and brown rice aren’t as easy or fun as french fries or candy but taking the time and effort to eat nutritious quality foods allows you to be both physically and mentally healthy.

 

 

Now let’s consider your intake of stories.

Stories are the stickiest form of communication. When information is delivered within a story structure it is remembered longer and understood deeper than any other communication format. We also like stories, we crave stories, stories are enjoyable. When we are young they are the building blocks of learning and connections.  When we grow old, stories tie us to our past and allow us to retain an identity even when memory fails. Stories propel religions, inspire beliefs, help politicians get elected, promote and increase sales, and build bridges to lasting and meaningful connections.

Stories are a constant.  We connect by telling them to each other and build an understanding of ourselves by owning stories (both positive and negative) about ourselves. We digest stories daily through movies, TV, books, blogs, comic strips, oral performances, and unscripted discussions.

We consume stories just as surely as we consume food, but not all stories are alike.  Just as food varies widely in nutritional value, stories also cover a wide spectrum in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual power.

Are you nourishing your mind, heart, and spirit with quality stories or are you gorging on a junk story diet?

Over the next few weeks we will explore different aspects of junk stories.

  • The risks of living on a junk story diet
  • How to identify junk stories
  • How many junk stories are too many?
  • When junk stories become personal
  • Weening off a junk story diet.
  • Where to find nutritious stories
  • Recipes for a whole story lifestyle.

I’d love to hear your questions and ideas. Please leave your comments.

Scary Stories: A Training Ground to Endure Discomfort

Horror, Suspense, Terror; let’s face it, we love scary stories. We even designate special times, (Halloween), and places, (Camp Fires, Hay Rides, Haunted Houses) to enhance these spine tingling tales. And it isn’t just stories; we go out of our way to experience fear. The longest lines at amusement parks can always be found at the scariest roller coasters and horror movies are sure bets at the box office. WHY? Are we a masochistic society or is there a reason we crave experiences that terrify us?

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Some might suggest that these scary entertainments stimulate our adrenaline and give us a rush, but I think there is a higher purpose. We are rational creatures and fear tells us to avoid perceived dangers, unfortunately new and unknown things feel strange and can be perceived as dangerous. If we allowed fear to direct our actions, we would never venture out of our safe space or dare to create new things. Scary stories allow us to experience fearful emotions without putting us in harm’s way.
Zombies, demons, and vampires can come at us through stories while we sit in the dark only warmed by a flickering flame. Our hearts may race, we might ever shiver, but we will survive. We’ll watch Psycho and scream, but we’ll continue to munch on our popcorn. Then the next day we just might ask for a raise, apply for a job, or submit art work to be judged. Last night we survived the ax murder so today we can risk rejection.
Remember, stories are sticky. They will hang around in your memory when facts and rationalizations disappear. You’ll remember the fear, but if you are smart and choose the right stories, you’ll also remember surviving.
So, is there a good scary and a bad scary? I think so. Scary stories help train us to endure discomfort and face risk, however they can also break down our defenses and convince us to avoid risks. If the story ends with survival and a sense of hope, the listeners, (and the teller) will internalize these ending values. If on the other hand, the story ends with death and devastation, we might internalize those outcomes. This is different than a tragedy, which often appeals to our intellects. Stories of terror just like the roller coaster stimulate primitive instincts and may act as an emotional training center.
Ultimately trust your gut. Be conscience of your reactions during and after the tale is told. If you walk away from a horror story, a zombie movie, or frightening novel feeling disoriented and raw, that scary experience might have caused more harm than good. If you feel empowered or exhilarated, you might be ready to take a chance tomorrow.

Natural Tellers

George is the one with the white hair.

George is the one with the white hair.

Everybody is filled with stories, and just about every has at least one or two good stories they enjoy telling, however there are a few folks who I like to call natural tellers. They might tell tales as they sit on the front porch or at the kitchen table, or they spin them as they do surgery or sell products. They love to tell and they seem to have an endless supply spellbinding stories, and most natural tellers seem to be very successful in one or more aspects of their lives.

Qualities of a natural teller:

• They have interesting/exciting lives and/or they come from interesting and exciting families.
• They use their stories as a way to communicate
• They willingly share their stories and allow others to pass them on.
• They are good listeners.

Now let’s meet a natural teller: George W. Appenzeller
George runs a llama farm in Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He’s in his seventies, has a head of pure white hair, and a smile that conveys a bushel load of encouragement. He takes small groups of kids on treks through the mountains and allows them to discover their inner strength. Challenge Adventures is a non-profit that focuses on kids who have faced trauma, abuse, poverty, and other challenges. He also does a few programs with scouts and other youth groups. I spent a week at the llama farm and in the mountains with a group of girls from Camp CADI, an arts and adventure camp for survivors of sexual abuse.

Caring for llamas and leading wilderness adventures seems to fit the first quality of natural tellers–interesting lives, but for George that’s just the tip of his story iceberg. He served in the military, worked in theater, got a degree in Russian history, then a master’s in social work. He and his wife have traveled the world doing environmental studies and they have a business evaluating the effectiveness of programs. Plus he has a llama farm. OK, he’s interesting.

On the second day of our llama walk in the mountains we all went on a 6 mile hike to a waterfall. After an hour or so, we took a break near a stream. George began to talk about the llamas, plants, and terrain for a couple minutes then rolled right into a story. Once he took a group of scouts with their parents hiking and they set up camp just where we were sitting. George and the other guides suggested moving the tents to higher ground, away from the river. The parents preferred the lower, flatter ground. That night it rained; George and the guides stayed dry, the scouts and their dads got soaked. George told the story with a sparkle in his eye and in a simple matter of fact style. It got a laugh and successfully demonstrated the wisdom of listening to guides (and the people in our lives that have experience and knowledge). No lecture, just a simple story. George uses his stories to communicate.

I got into North Carolina ahead of my group, so I had time to meet and chat with his staff. Natural storytellers are usually very generous with their stories and will tell for hours with no end in sight. I asked permission to tell a couple of George’s stories and he said yes right away. He’s willing to share his stories and pass them on.

Now most of the mountain paths are narrow and we each led a llama, so we walked single file. Mountain paths are rocky and I spent the majority of my time looking at my llama or the uneven path, but every now and again I’d look up and see George walking next to one of the girls, just listening. He didn’t rush people, he listened at their pace. Yep, George is a good listener.

People remember natural tellers because they tend to nourish a place in our consciousness that excites both our hearts and our minds. If you find a natural teller, clear some time in your calendar so you can just sit together and talk.

If you are a natural teller (or you know one), please take note. Natural Tellers tend to tell and not save their stories. A story coach, unlike a writing coach, will honor the spoken word process but still find a way to save these precious stories. Often told stories already have their form, but they are a bit like Jello, they wiggle a bit when you want to save them. Creating a structured time and setting goals is the best way to save stories so they can be passed on.

If you’d like to learn more about George and Challege Adventures check out his website at http://www.challengeadventures.com. I’ll be writing more about Camp CADI in my next blog. Check out this amazing program http://www.safegirlsstronggirls.org/ Both groups do amazing work and rely on donations so if you can, please donate.

 

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 4 session package.

Some Stories are Just Bullies

Some stories can be overwhelming and dominate everything else.

Some stories can be overwhelming and dominate everything else.

We are each filled with 10,000 stories.  We begin collecting stories when we are very young.  Some are tales that we’ve lived, some have been passed down, and some we read, hear, or see.  This constellation of stories becomes our personal tapestry which both guides and defines us. It is colorful, textured, detailed, and complex, but sometimes one or two stories will dominate a story tapestry.  When this happens the rich and exciting tales that help us put our lives in context become obscure and navigating through life can become a painful journey.

These gluttonous stories that try to take over come in different forms. Let’s take a look at where these domineering tales come from and what we can do about them.

A trauma may be a catalyst.   Since traumas are often dramatic and all consuming, it’s no surprise that powerful or loud stories often emerge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but as time goes by these bright spots on our story tapestry should merge into the pattern of our life.  Unfortunately the effects of some traumas linger and dominate everything we do.  A death of a child, sexual abuse, bankruptcy, or a terrible accident are examples of life changing events.  Although they will change us, if they redefine us and affect all things, all of the stories that came before and all of the stories that will come after may be distorted.

Both positive and negative labels can also take over. For example a person with a disability is often defined by that disability in all things and it is easy for the individual to see him or herself only as the disability.  A positive label can be just as bad.  The prettiest girl in high school is often discounted, chased, and hated all at the same time.  If the beauty label sticks, all of her stories and memories may be tarnished as time goes by.

Sometimes an event redefines a person.  For example October 14, 2003 Steve Bartman sat in the first row of seats in Wrigley Field for Game 6 of the National League Championship series; Chicago Cubs faced the Florida Marlins.  He reached out to catch a foul ball and deflected it from left fielder Mosises Alou.  It cost them the game and the series.  He has been called the most hated fan in baseball.  That happened a decade ago.  It’s the sort of label that can overwhelm, but Bartman took action to play down the event, avoid interviews and move forward.

One or two stories should not dominate our lives.  That fact might seem obvious, but dealing with the gluttonous story can feel overwhelming.  Here are a few suggestions for cutting those stories down to the right size.

  • Don’t go it alone: Seek out a story coach or friends to help you.
  • Give your other stories time to be seen and heard. Work with a storyteller to reclaime them.
  • Small stories are valuable gems, don’t overlook them.
  • If your domineering story sneaks into most or all of your stories, try to retell them, removing that story element.

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 3 session package.

 

Finding the Story

An Incident is not a story.  Something happens and you talk about it, that’s an anecdote.  If you simply restate it, it might be a plot or a news report, but it’s not a story.  It’s a bit like saying a skeleton is a person when in reality there is no life in the skeleton without muscle, flesh, and blood.

An incident or event is a launch pad for a story; it’s actually a launch pad for many stories, and your intentions, feelings, and characters will determine just which story will emerge.  Individuals infuse meaning, events do not determine story.

Let me give you an example:

A 20 year old goes to a party, decides not to drink, drives home, then he gets into an accident and calls his dad.  That’s the event, but it can inspire many stories.  Here are a few.

Story #1 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink.  There’s a lot of peer pressure and he’s called a slew of names but laughs them off. He’s offered a couple mixed drinks, but refuses them.  He’s tempted and almost gives in, but doesn’t.  He leaves the party a little early and heads home.  When he’s half way home he hits a patch of black ice, loses control of the car, and hits a tree.  He calls his dad and gets the car towed to their mechanic.  Now he keeps a picture of the dented front end of the car in his wallet.  It reminds him that sometimes doing the right thing has its own rewards.

Story #2 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink.  He was hoping to meet up with some friends but they never show.  The party just seems to drag on and on so he leaves a little early.  The weather is nasty and he just wants to get home and crawl into bed. When  he’s about half way home he spots a patch of black ice up a head.  His first thought is to swerve around it, but instead he hits the breaks, and regrets his action the second his foot depresses the pedal as the car begins to spin totally out of control.  Suddenly things seem to slow down and move in slow motion.  He wants to do something, but all he can do is watch the scenery through his window until the front end of his car collides with an oak tree.  He sits still for a minute, until he realizes he’s holding his breath.  He takes a deep inhalation and begins to shake. It takes him a few minutes before he reaches into his pocket and takes out his cell. Then it takes him a few more minutes before he calls his dad. He sat staring straight ahead; it was as if time just stopped until he heard a wrapping on the window.  He turned towards the noise and heard his dad’s voice which seemed to reset the clock.  Time began again.

 Story #3 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink. The weather is nasty so he decides to head home early.  When he’s half way home he hits a patch of black ice and spins out of control and collides with a tree.  He sits in the car for a few minutes before he pulls out his cell to call his dad. His dad had always been there for him as a kid, but things changed when he started high school.  He didn’t have much time for his dad and his dad didn’t seem to have much time for him.  College took even more time, but as he sat staring at the trunk of an old oak tree, he couldn’t think of calling anybody but his dad.  His voice quivered a little when he said hello and his dad knew something happened right away, but he waited and just listened.  He closes his cell phone and suddenly his dad appears.  He helps his son get out of the car and they go through some logistics. It isn’t until their home that he realizes that his dad never asked about the party.  He just trusted him.

 

That’s three very different stories.  One is about courage, the second is about trauma, and third is character driven about relationships.  All three stories came from the same event are unique. Infusing story into an event can heal, brand, or inspire. Work with a story coach to plant and harvest your stories.