What's Your Story?

And How Is It Effecting Your Results?

This article will show you how telling better stories can improve individual and team performance. Starting with a true life example, you will learn The 5 Elements of an Empowering Story. Next, you will discover the impact of some of the stories you may be telling yourself. Then, to get better results both personally and professionally, you will have some options for practical application.


noun: A true or fictitious narrative of conditions or events.

The Breathing Man Example

Once upon a time, shovelling the snow off his daughter's driveway, a 58 year old man ran out of breath. This annoyed the man. In his youth he had been a competitive swimmer. He had taken pride in being able to swim underwater longer than anyone else on his swim team. But that had been more than 40 years ago. He wondered how long he could hold his breath now. He decided to time himself.

The man sat down on the porch, took off his gloves, and opened a stopwatch on his phone. He took a deep breath. He sealed his lips, held his nose, and hit the start button. He closed his eyes. Started counting to himself. And instantly began to panic. Even without looking at the stopwatch he could feel every second ticking. He started counting faster. He squeezed his eyes tighter. Shook his head. Pounded his fist. Got up and paced around. Battling fiercely, the man held out for as long as he felt he could. Finally, gasping, he opened his eyes and hit the stop button.

42 seconds.

“What!” The man exclaimed. “That’s terrible!” He tried holding his breath again. 48 seconds. And again 32. And again 55. After several attempts, the best that he could manage was 57 seconds. And even that felt like he was about to die. “What the hell?” he said to himself. “I can’t do it! I can’t even hold my breath for a minute!”

Later that day, feeling angry and disappointed with himself, the man went online to see if he could learn anything to improve his performance. To his astonishment, he discovered that on March 27, 2021, Croatia's Budimir Šobat achieved the world record for an underwater breath hold. The record? 24 minutes, 37 seconds.

“That’s impossible.” the man told himself. “Nobody can hold their breath that long.” But then he researched further and found plenty of supporting evidence. Apparently it was true. Fascinated, he began looking around on YouTube. First he found a yogi who talked about suspending rather than holding the breath. A subtle but key distinction. Then he found a guy who was showing people how to suspend their breathing for extended periods of time…under ice water! The iceman’s name was Wim Hoff. On YouTube, Mr. Hoff had published several videos where many different people were claiming to have held their breath for more than 3 minutes.

Using the Wim Hoff method, after diligently practicing every day for a week, the man was able to work his way back up to a 2-minute breath hold. Probably about as long as he had ever managed in his youth. The challenge was, now he had evidence of other people’s success. Apparently the actor Tom Cruise had held his breath for over 6 minutes. And the actress Kate Winslet held hers for over 7. Inspired, the man said to himself: “Well, I did 2 minutes. I wonder if I can do 3?”

Fortunately, he knew enough about state management to ask a better question. Instead of just wondering IF he could hold his breath for 3 minutes, he began asking “HOW can I hold my breath for 3 minutes?”

For several days the man continued to ask himself that question. And because questions determine focus, he kept on finding answers. Alas, none of the answers seemed to work! Try as he might, 2 minutes always seemed to be his limit. Every single time, as soon as the physical convulsing started, as soon as the mental panic set in, his mind overruled his intent. It was usually right around the 90 second mark. That's when he started telling himself he wasn't going to make it. In his mind, those last silent screaming seconds always occurred to him as a life and death battle. One that ultimately, he could never win.

Then one day the man happened to speak to a Free Diver. Free Diving is the sport of diving underwater without the use of breathing apparatus. The Free Diver claimed to have held his breath for over 5 minutes. “Wow!” said the man. “How did you manage that?”

The diver smiled. “With a peanut-butter sandwich.”

"Wh-what?” stammered the man. “Whaddaya mean?”

“You have to tell yourself a story. Something to occupy your mind so it doesn’t think about your breathing. The trick is pick something simple and go into a lot of detail describing everything in the scene. I use making a peanut-butter sandwich.”

“Brilliant!” said the man. “I can see how that might work!”

That night, as soon as he got home, he decided to try again. Once again he opened up his stopwatch. He laid down on the couch. To prepare his mind and fully oxygenate his body, he did some of the breathing exercises he had learned. Then he took one nice, long, slow, deep, diaphragmatic breath. The one he would suspend. Once again, he sealed his lips, held his nose, and hit the start button. Again he closed his eyes. But this time he didn’t start counting. Instead, he imagined himself walking into the kitchen. And then something unexpected happened. As he imagined standing in his kitchen, thinking about making himself a sandwich, he decided to imagine paddling a canoe instead.

In great detail, the man began telling himself a story of paddling a canoe. Starting from right where he was. Standing at the kitchen counter about to make a sandwich. He imagined putting down the knife. Leaving the kitchen. Walking through the living room. Down the hall. Passed the driftwood lamp his grandfather had carved. Passed the old radio that he used to listen to hockey games on. He imagined turning the handle of the screen door. Going out the door. Walking down the hill to the boathouse. Then opening the boathouse door.

He imagined seeing the canoe hanging in its place above the window from two pulleys on the rafters. The criss-cross feeling of untying each rope from it's 2x4. The weight of lowering each end of the canoe down to the concrete floor. First the bow, then the stern. Detaching the 2 metal eye hooks. Tucking the ropes away. Then he saw himself picking the canoe up. Having to tilt it to maneuver past the ski boat and fit through the boathouse door. Carrying it out to the dock. Going back for a paddle. Putting the canoe in the water.

The man didn’t spare any details. He fully immersed himself in the sights, sounds, smells, feelings...even the taste of iron in the water when he imagined it splashing up on his lip. He thought about the feeling of the wooden paddle pulling through the water. The lonely sight of a loon in the middle of the lake. The sound of the loon calling across the water. The sun going down. The depth and stillness of the water.

And somewhere, way off in the distance, he felt a kachunking in his diaphragm. He held out a little longer. Ignoring his body’s protest, he continued with his narrative. He imagined the comforting smell of pine trees. The breeze on his bare feet. The pneumatic sound of a woodpecker. A horsefly getting set to bite him. Finally, the man knew he had to breathe. He opened his eyes and checked the time.

3 minutes 17 seconds.

Astonished by his own success, over the next few days, the man continued practicing. He began split-testing his results with a variety of stories, always applying the distinction of focusing on simple, high-definition memories to occupy his mind. His favourite scenario was imagining a walk in the park with his dog. Lots of unexpected details popping up to distract his attention from the fact he wasn't breathing. With practice, he was able to consistently hold his breath for over 3 minutes.

The moral of the story?

By intentionally changing the way the challenge occurred to him, from being "A life and death battle" to being "Just another walk in the park", the man was able to breakthrough his own limiting beliefs, and measurably improve his performance and results.

What Are The 5 Elements Of An Empowering Story?

In it's simplest form, a story is just a narrative describing particular conditions or events. In that sense, a story can be very short indeed. For example, narrating the words "I can" or "I will" or "I did" tells a completely different story than "I can not" or "I will not" or "I did not".

In the case of our Breathing Man example (Ok, I'll admit. It was me), we can see how the story I was telling myself developed over time. How? By adding Possibility and Distinction. Those two elements, combined with a starting point for the story, some inspired actions taken along the way, and a finish point or ending, that is all anybody needs to powerfully author any aspect of their own reality.

Let's summarize the steps, and then have a look to see how you can apply and benefit from them.

1. Original Lie or Fiction

The old, bullshit story that I once believed:

I can't do it. I can't even hold my breath for a minute.

2. Possibility

The thing I wanted to know, manifest or experience:

Holding my breath for 3 minutes.

3. Distinction

What I learned that made a real difference:

Tell myself a better story to fully engage my attention.

4. Plot, Path or Practice

What I did to apply the possibility and distinction:

Held my breath while imagining paddling a canoe.

5. New Reality or Fact

My own higher truth from personal experience:
It's a walk in the park. I've done it before. I can do it again. I can hold my breath for over 3 minutes.

1. Your Original Lie or Fiction.

Consider there is something you keep telling yourself that is no longer working for you. It is something you once upon a time believed, that in your mind, still hasn't been disproven. Even though you may consciously say it is no longer true, unconsciously, your actions are still subject to it. In a moment, we'll see if you can come up with your own example.

First, consider that if you want to know what a person thinks, listen to what they say. But if you want to know what they believe, look at what they do. Sometimes actions not only speak louder than words, they tell a completely different story.

Think of an area of your life that isn't really going the way you want. Or even just some little thing you want to improve or change. Whenever something isn't working for you, a good place to look is by examining where there is a lack of authenticity. In other words, check if you are being completely honest with yourself. Why? Because you don't want to put icing on top of shit. In order to authentically move in a new direction, you need a true and accurate measure of your starting point.

In a moment, I am going to ask you a question. If you choose to answer it, then I will show you how to use your answer as a starting point for telling a better story, and getting better results in every area of your life. Here's the question:

What is the earliest childhood memory you have of something being wrong, bad or hurtful?

Before reading any further, I highly recommend you take a moment to actually write down your answer to that question. Writing it down will make a bigger difference for you.

2. What Are Your Possibilities?

Sometimes, when something isn't going the way we want, it is difficult to imagine things ever getting better. We get so caught up in whatever is going on, it feels like the dark will never again turn to light. While some comfort maybe be found in knowing this too shall pass, there are some practical things we can do to make things better.

The first thing we can do is stop denying the reality of our circumstances. Why? Because refusing to accept the truth of something is often the source of mental anguish. Nothing causes more suffering than arguing with reality. That means the longer something takes you to accept, the longer you will suffer wanting it to be different. Choosing to accept what is, even when you don't like it, can help you rise above the drama. It's called radical acceptance. Knowing it's ok. Knowing you're ok. No matter what has happened. Yes, at some point you might change it, but first, you must see it as it is. No better. No worse.

Once you admit the truth of whatever is going on, then you can start looking at your options. Considering other possibilities. Depending on the circumstances, that might be a challenge. Getting what you want will sometimes feel unlikely. Possibly even impossible. Do not let that stop you. Being open to finding something new or better makes it far more likely that something new and better will eventually find you. Even if only new and better way of seeing something old. When something happens that you do no like, simply stop and ask yourself:

What else could this mean?

In your example of the thing that happened when you were younger, what did you make it mean back then? Looking back on it now, what else could you have made it mean? Or what might somebody else have made it mean? If you look close enough at your example, you will see how different meanings lead to different actions and results. You will see how the meaning that you give to things determines the direction of your story. Now you want to ask yourself:

What else might be possible?

3. What Are Your Distinctions?

The story of your life is simply a collection of stories about each day. To live a life you love, what will you love today? How will you show up today? Who will you become today? And how can you make sure your day ends the way you want it to today?

One way is to simply be aware of things that can make a difference for you. In other words, you can use distinctions. A distinction is the mark of something being separate, different or superior to something else.

Here are 3 simple examples of distinctions:

A) Birds have wings. Fish have fins. Wings are better for flying than fins.

B) Squares have 4 corners. Circles have no corners. Circles make better wheels.

C) If you want to make a lot of money, profits are better than wages.

Focusing on new possibilities will bring you new distinctions. Each day, as you embark upon the daily journey of your life, many things will come to light, and from many unexpected sources. You must practice being responsible. Being able to respond in way that really work for you. As you make your way, remember that knowledge isn't power. Knowledge applied is power. For example, looking back on what happened when you were young...

What is something you learned that you can still rely upon? And what are you discovering now?

4. What Is Your Plot, Path or Practice?

Your actions are based on the way that things occur to you. Working to surpass my 2 minute limit, the action of holding my breath for those last few seconds occurred to me as "A life and death battle." After learning to calm my mind during those periods of duress, I was able to get a 167% increase in performance. Just by telling myself a better story. Instead of the final seconds occurring to me as a "Life and death battle", I started thinking of them as "Just another walk in the park."


Whatever path you're on, two things will always impact your performance and results. Your context. And your commitment. I define context as the parameters that constrain meaning. A fancy way of saying your context is your filter and your limit. It determines how things can occur to you.

Your commitment, meanwhile, determines the actions you must take in the face of all resistance. Especially your own. Personally, I define commitment as a "a persistent way of being over time". That means in the authorization of my own story, as well as consciously choosing what I am committed to, I unconsciously attract and set in motion countless things that encourage and test the development of my character.

Here is another way of saying that:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”

- Explorer W.H. Murray, from the 1951 Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Today, what are you committed to? What are some actions that will show you are committed?

5. What Is Your New Reality or Fact?

Moving through all 5 elements of an empowering story, starting with the Lie, imagining a Possibility, adding some Distinctions, and then putting them into Practice, eventually we come to a New Reality. One with a greater understanding of what is most important to us, and what we are truly capable of.

In the end, to make any story meaningful, it is important to remember that questions determine focus. Whenever a mind is asked a question, then by its very nature, it is always compelled to respond one way or another. Even if only to run away and ignore the question!

Remember also that whoever is asking the questions is leading the conversation. This not only applies to conversations you are having with other people, it applies to the conversations you are having with yourself. Ask a better question, get a better result.

No matter what your story is, here are 3 simple questions you can always ask in order to learn and make the most of it: What. So What. Now What.

What happened?

So what does that mean?

Now what are we going to with that?

How Better Stories Get Better ResuIts.

Great stories have the power to inspire, motivate, and drive individuals and organizations to achieve their goals and objectives. Here are a few ways in which great stories can impact performance and results:

1. Stories Create a Shared Vision.

A great story can help to create a shared vision and purpose that aligns individuals and teams towards a common goal. This shared vision can increase motivation and commitment towards achieving that goal. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, individuals who have a clear sense of purpose tend to be more engaged and productive in their work.

2. Stories Enhance Learning and Memory.

Stories are more memorable than facts and figures alone. A well-crafted story can help individuals remember important information and concepts more easily. This is because stories activate multiple areas of the brain, making it easier to process and retain information. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who were taught using stories performed better on tests than those who were taught using traditional methods.

3. Stories Encourage Creativity and Innovation.

Stories can help individuals to think outside the box and come up with new and innovative ideas. By presenting alternative perspectives and possibilities, stories can stimulate creativity and inspire individuals to take risks and try new approaches. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, companies that encourage storytelling are more likely to have a culture of innovation.

4. Stories Build Trust and Rapport.

A great story can help to build trust and rapport between individuals and teams. By sharing personal experiences and emotions, stories can create a sense of connection and empathy that helps to build relationships and foster collaboration. A study published in the Journal of Business Communication found that storytelling can be an effective tool for building trust in the workplace.

5. Stories Increase Engagement and Retention.

Stories can help to increase engagement and retention in a variety of settings, including marketing, education, and training. By creating an emotional connection with the audience, stories can capture their attention and keep them engaged. A study by the Content Marketing Institute found that storytelling can increase website traffic, lead generation, and customer loyalty.

What To Do Next.

Now you have two options. You can either apply this information or forget about it. Forgetting it is really easy. Especially if you have never practiced it. Applying it however, means taking some kind of useful action. For that, click on either of the buttons below and I will show you the next steps.

The only thing stopping you from getting what you want is your story for why you cannot have it.

Mike Highstead

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