Monday, September 09, 2013

Do we need stories to change our mind?

Wow big election weekend over. It was great to take part in the democratic process of choosing the next Australian government in a range of ways.

I lobbied for issues that I considered important in the weeks leading up to the election. My Senate vote was below the line, took some care with 80 odd possibilities. I handed out policy scorecards for GetUp encouraging people to make their choices by taking into account important social and environmental issues rather than personalities and I handed out how to vote cards for my current favourite political party.

All of this happened in an atmosphere of relative peace and consideration for others. Mind you I did witness one voter give supporters of one party a really violent tongue lashing outside a polling booth. It was quite a surprise.

How do people change their minds and do something different to what they normally do?

Here's an interesting article that suggests that people need appropriate stories to encourage that shift from the habitual to the new. It suggests that people are reluctant to change stories. We invest a lot in our chosen stories and are reluctant to step out of them. We use stories as guides to action.

I don't agree with everything that Shawn Coyne says about those changes but it is worth a read.

It is clear to me that stories can help us change habits or help us make a decision or reinforce not changing, not surviving.

What would make an effective change story?

I suspect that the story should be one in which the listener can see themselves as one of the characters in the story. That character should be one that cuts through the accumulated distress, addictions and well worn grooves of life. It might remind the listener of the person they once were before they got trapped in their current persona. It might remind the story listener of the person they dream they would like to be, if only ....

Karl Döringer CC Wikimedia
A narrative for change could even just show someone easily overcoming a  problem or challenge and succeeding in change.

The example that Shawn Coyne quotes from 'The Examined Life' by Stephen Grosz is of the woman who survived the Twin Towers destruction because she was prepared to leave all of her personal baggage behind in the office and exit as soon as possible while others went back to try and save personal effects or stick to prearranged commitments. It is a good story to demonstrate effective change behaviour.

I like the Elizabeth Kubler Ross change curve diagram as well. It shows that we may have to go through emotional change in order to change stories.

I wonder what story the new Australian government managed to tell those people who voted for them? I find it a bit hard to crystalise but it seemed to revolve around how bad the central characters of the old government were for the country. It worked even though the previous government had actually had a good economic record, achieved positive change with some major projects and served a full term in a challenging minority government situation. There was another story about jobs being more important than climate action as well.

Often we can find that other stories can make it harder or easier to accept a potentially important narrative. These can be narratives that we've used to say 'this is the sort of person that I am'. So sometimes a reminder of those stories will be enough for us to decide to stay 'in them' or to keep valuing them or to get really frustrated about having to let them go.

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