137: Shapes & Stories

137: Shapes & Stories

Togetherness 🫶

An 80 year old psych paper and a handy framework for telling better stories

Cultivating Resilience is a weekly newsletter about rebounding from setbacks and reinventing the future—by 3x founder and executive coach Jason Shen.

Do you stretch?

I am blessed with great flexibility genetics and so for a long time, mobility was never an issue. But as I enter my late 30's, I'm coming to realize the importance of actually stretching.

Sometimes after a long day, stretching helps loosen me up before I head to sleep. And the other day I actually had a professional stretching session at the gym and like a hard massage, it hurt and felt great at the same time.

So stretching: crucial or whateves?


🤔 Announcements

🧠 Apparent Behavior and The 5C's of Stories

Today I want to tell you about what 80 year old psychology study reveals about the human mind and the importance of storytelling. And give you a handy mnemonic to tell better stories.

In 1944, Marianne Simmel and Fritz Heider published a landmark paper called "An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior" where they showed a silent black & white film (which I've attached below) depicting a series of shapes and lines moving around to a group of participants.


When asked to describe what they saw to a second group of people who hand't seen the film, nearly every single participant described it in terms of a story with characters that had motivations, emotions, and conflict.

Their study has been cited in over four thousand papers for an important reason:

It reveals our very deep and innate impulse to tell stories.

And why does this matter? Because most of us fail to communicate our ideas using stories. Stories help us:

  • Empathize with the characters
  • Understand concepts better
  • Remember and recall information more easily
  • Persuade us to take action

You might be thinking—Jason, I'm not a novelist or filmmaker—why does this apply to me?

The truth is, we encounter opportunities to tell stories all the time. We meet someone at a party, we're on a first date, at a job interview, or simply connecting with a new colleague at work. These are all moments where a short, simple story can be important.

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm hosting a storytelling workshop on Tuesday night Jan 24th where you'll get to use my storytelling framework to craft a stronger narrative for your own life. But here's the gist:

I've found it helpful to break stories down into 5 elements that all start with the letter "C" (hence the 5C's)

  • Context—the background info necessary to understand the story
  • Character—the protagonist of the story (usually you!) and any other important people
  • Conflict—your main objective in the story and what keeps you from getting it
  • Choices—the choices you make and how they get you closer or further from your goal
  • Change—the external outcomes and internal growth that emerges in the aftermath of the story

And because we're conditioned to see our lives as one big story, it's important to note that this framework doesn't have to be applied to your whole life, or your post-grad life in a professional setting.

It's better to think of your life as a long running TV series, with individual episodes and seasons that have both continuity and thematic shifts over time. In most settings, we are telling the season recap of our most recent arc.

Telling your story isn't easy and we often have a distorted view of what happened, what's interesting, and what's worth sharing. As a coach, I'm actively working with several clients on telling their stories as they enter the next phase of their lives.

Anyway, hope this makes you think more about how front and center storytelling should be in your life. And join me on Tuesday if you want to do more live!

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