Story Power: Purposeful, Not Wishful, Thinking

Psychologists say that some of us spend up to 75% of our waking life day dreaming or immersed in a fantasy world. Fantasies typically fall into two categories: unhappy catastrophizing. This is where we expect the worst–losing our job, losing our home, losing our mate, losing our life, all sad, alone and eaten by German Shepherds (to recall the Great Bridget Jones). The other fantasies are pleasant pipe dreams. We are a rock star, a Victoria’s Secret Model, a Bernie Madoff client before he made off with everyone’s dosh.

Anyway, what are these fantasies if not stories that we tell either to scare or delight ourselves? Apparently we all know how to fantasize, so why not turn that wishful thinking into purposeful thinking. A brain workout is far less effort than a workout at the gym.

Purposeful thinking is really the act of taking those creative ideas, those stories you tell yourself about the things that you would like to happen, and making them happen. First step, write them down. Second step, identify one or more concrete steps you can take on the path to making your desired scenario happen. Dreaming about a new job in a new field? Find a mentor in that field to advise you, to help you gain entry and make your old skills relevant in the new setting. Turn idea into action.  No matter how seemingly inconsequential, do it.

Step three: protect your thinking from negativity. Purposeful thinking is not magical thinking–a childlike defense against harsh reality. Look at any great entrepreneur from Thomas Edison to Howard Hughes to Steve Jobs. Each of them took their wishful thinking and turned it into a purpose, putting action and energy around it, remaining resolutely immune to the naysayers inside and outside their heads.

And so we come to “The American Dream”.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is captured, initially, in the act of dreaming.  Dreaming is free.  And in America, it is permissible to pursue our dreams.  Dreaming is the engine that drives survival, innovation, prosperity, creative destruction, economic rebirth, and new generations of American strivers.

Story Power: Muhammad Ali’s Work Boots

A story about the importance of struggle and perserverence comes from Allen Bailey, founder and manager of the Harlem Gospel Choir, as we collaborate on his  upcoming memoir: Singing God’s Work: The Inspirational Music, People and Stories of the Harlem Gospel Choir, York House Press, September, 2009.  One of Allen’s favorite recollections is of his involvement in coordinating world-class entertainment for the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Zaire, the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle”.

Allen recalls his trips out to Ali’s training camp in Pennsylvania. The discipline and determination of the young boxing champ made a strong impression on Bailey. “No matter if it was snow, sleet or shine,” Allen recalls, “Ali was up every morning at the crack of dawn for his daily run. Those of us hanging at the camp had two choices come dawn: accompany Ali on the run, or stay behind to chop wood and fetch well water. Running with Ali was an exercise in humility. We all ran in lightweight sneakers, but Ali outran us in heavy work boots.”

Ali’s strategy was clear: after months of struggle, running in work boots, he would feel fleet-footed in the boxing ring when he faced his opponent; able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Which of us really embraces struggle and sees it as money in the bank paid toward future success? Struggle now can bring reward later. In tough economic or personal times, we are forced to develop fortitude, patience, discipline and vigilance, but these are qualities that pay off down the road. Building up strength and determination now means we can soar past a future winning post. This idea helps us to reframe any current struggle and see it for what it really is: a gift that we get to open later. And speaking of gifts, check out The Painter’s Gift . And look for spring publication of Allen’s Bailey’s memoir “Singing God’s Work” from York House Press.

Story Power: The Best Story Teller Wins

Once upon a time, there were three politicians: a charismatic African-American, an indefatigable female crusader, and a true-grit Vietnam Vet and former POW. Each one was striving for the office of President of the United States of American. Which story would the country like best?

We all know the ending, but did we all get the moral of the story–that story is everything or almost everything? Story telling is what captures our collective and individual imagination. And I don’t mean story telling in the sense of spinning a line to hoodwink the audience. I mean the ability to create a vision that leads to full engagement and is captivating enough to fuel passion, action and a movement. We are all consumers, voters and community participants, each with our ear out for the most compelling story about the product we should buy, the politician we should vote for, or the cause we should take up.

Corporate America, consider peeling back the layers of the corporate communications onion–all your sales and marketing endeavors. Get to the core of the matter, the true heart of your venture–the story of why you exist, what you are trying to do in the world and why. Now craft your story with care and tell it with passion, conviction and creativity…this is the way to earn a happy ending.