Brain Activity: A Solution to the Obesity Epidemic Pt 2

by Barry Hill

brain activityWhy is STORYTELLING

           a powerful part of the SOLUTION

                             for solving the social problem of OBESITY?


If you’ve ever participated in “bed time stories”, you know the scene. Those little eyes looking up at you fighting off the impending exhaustion as he hangs on to every last word of Good Night Moon. Or the less sentimental scene of your CEO standing up at the holiday party, praising the team as he cites the Aesop Fable of The Ant and The Grasshopper:  “Thanks to your diligence and persistence throughout the year, I’m confident we’ll be in an advantageous position to weather any storms ahead. ” He goes on to compare the competitors to grasshoppers, who will suffer accordingly.

Okay, that last example might be a bit of a stretch but the point is to put your listener’s brain into “story mode” … in order to literally plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into their brain activity. Sounds powerful, eh?!  Well, there is science to explain this very simple, very human interaction that can be so powerful.

Brain Activity at It’s Best

Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Let’s think about this. If you were to dissect a story, you have a series of cause and effect occurrences, which is known as brain activity. Throughout your every day activities, just stop to think about all the cause and effect occurrences — you snoozed through your alarm, so you were rushing to your important meeting. And because you were running behind, you couldn’t stop to get your usual morning caffeinated fix, so you felt less alert and prepared at your meeting. Fortunately you received a compliment on your new boots you were wearing as you walked in the door, which caused a temporary boost of confidence just long enough to help you successfully get through the meeting.

If you were to give an oral presentation at the meeting, you could:

a) Provide a step-by-step, bulleted powerpoint presentation to communicate the key elements

or b) Convey the key elements via a story highlighting cause & effect (and, sure, the bulleted powerpoint would be a great supplemental piece for the story).

Which approach would be more effective in communicating your points and affecting behavior change? Need we ask for an answer?!

In addition to processing information via cause & effect relationships, we are wired to relate new ideas with our database of existing experiences. So if you’ve been in the situation of trying to convince your spouse or friend to become more fit, think about your strategy. Did you list the benefits? Did you tell them HOW to go about doing it? Both seem relevant (hopefully you didn’t just use a scare tactic!), but is that the most effective approach?

According to Princeton researcher, Uri Hasson:  “Storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.” This phenomenon is referred to as Neural Coupling. Hasson’s research shows how the brain activity between a speaker and a listener is mimicked – of course with the listener experiencing a slight delay for the particular brain activity.  According to Hasson, “… a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.”

Consequently, you’re more likely to succeed at convincing your spouse or friend to become more fit if you apply the scientific support of storytelling. You might try using your own experiences or those of someone you know that he or she can relate with to help make your points, putting your listener in the best frame of mind to integrate and “own” your suggestions. After all, “facts tell, stories sell.”

Going back to our social problem of obesity:  if storytelling can be used to stimulate a favorable response to living an active, healthy lifestyle, maybe we have more power than we realized.

If you have a story you’d like to share regarding your own health and fitness journey, or of someone you know, tell Fit After Fifty about it: [email protected]  (subject: Storytelling)



[email protected] TEDx presentation: Can we Crowdsource the Solution to Our Obesity Epidemic?


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