Edited down severly from the original full article. The full article has stories and science based evidence.
Telling stories is not just the oldest form of entertainment, it's the highest form of consciousness. The need for narrative is embedded deep in our brains. Increasingly, success in the information age demands that we harness the hidden power of stories. Here's what you need to know to tell a killer tale.
Stories not only move us, they motivate us because we can see in them echoes of possibility for ourselves.
Stories, it turns out, are not optional. They are essential. Our need for them reflects the very nature of perceptual experience, and storytelling is embedded in the brain itself.
While we all feel ourselves to be unified creatures, that is not the reality of our experience or our brains. There is no central command post in the brain, says neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Rather, there are millions of highly specialized local processors—circuits for vision, for other sensory data, for motor control, for specific emotions, for cognitive representations, just to name a few modules—distributed throughout the brain carrying out the neuralprocesses of experience.
Because we tell ourselves stories, Gazzaniga says. There is in fact a processor in our left hemisphere that is driven to explain events to make sense out of the scattered facts. The explanations are all rationalizations based on the minuscule portion of mental actions that make it into our consciousness.
Desperate to find order in the chaos and to infer cause and effect, the left hemisphere—in a module Gazzaniga dubs "the interpreter"—tries to fit everything into a coherent story as to why a behavior was carried out. The brain takes information spewed out from other areas of the brain, the body, and the environment, and synthesizes it into a story. If there is not an obvious explanation, we fabricate one.
The psychological unity we feel emerges from the specialized system of the interpreter, our built-in storyteller, generating explanations about our perceptions, memories, and actions and the relationships among them. What results is a personal narrative, the story that confers the subjective experience of unity, that solid sense of self.
We literally create ourselves through narrative. Narrative is more than a literary device—it's a brain device. Small wonder that stories can be so powerful.
Further, stories can be a stand-in for life, allowing us to expand our knowledge beyond what we could reasonably squeeze into a lifetime of direct experience. Zacks has found that vividly narrated stories activate the exact same brain areas that process the various components of real-life experience. "When we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story," says Zacks. His studies, which use brain imaging technology, show that readers borrow what they can from their own knowledge, based on past experience, to mentally reproduce the sights and sounds and tastes and movements described in a narrative.
The ability to construct such mental simulations may be the tool that propelled human evolution. We can take in the stories of others who escaped life-threatening situations without taking on the risk; the safety of the retelling gives us an opportunity to try out solutions. Telling stories may also have enhanced survival by promoting social cohesion among our ancestors.
Which brings me to my final point about telling purposeful stories. Because they are so important, it's wise to prepare your stories in advance. But before you launch into your script, take some time to learn about your audience. What you discover will determine how you tell your story. You want to make sure your audience is with you. You can't get anywhere without them.