3 Stories for Improving Your Thinking, Feeling, and Doing


3StoriesToImproveYourThinkingFeelingAndDoing The stories we tell ourselves can limit us or enable us.

In any given situation, we’re telling ourselves stories about other people, the situation and ourselves.

In these stories, we can play the victim or we can be the hero.

Victim stories focus on our own pain and challenges and wear us down. Hero stories lift us up and enable us to make the most of the situation and play our best moves.

In the book Be the Hero: Three Powerful Ways to Overcome Challenges in Work and Life, Noah Blumenthal writes about 3 types of stories and how to change our stories to improve our results.

People Stories, Situation Stories, and Self-Stories

The following table summarizes the 3 stories, according to Blumenthal, and the victim and hero perspectives for each:

Story Victim Hero
Other people Victims tell stories that focus on their own pain and tell stories that blame others. Ask, "what would the hero see?" to build empathy and connect with other people’s challenges.
Your Situation Victims tell stories that focus on the worst in their lives. Ask, "what would the hero see?" to build gratitude and connect you with what is positive in your life.
Yourself Victims tell stories where they can’t change themselves or the world around them. Ask, "what would the hero do?", to build hope and discover what actions you can take.

Improve Your Effectiveness Through Stories

You can shift from victim stories to hero stories by asking, “what would the hero see?” or “what would the hero do? “   As simple as this sounds, it combines multiple key skills:

  • Mastering your stories. (This helps you avoid fight-or-flight mode and improves your emotional intelligence.)
  • Changing focus. (Asking yourself questions changes your focus and puts you in a more resourceful state.
  • Finding the positive. (You adopt a positive mindset vs. learned helplessness.)
  • Distinguishing between you, the situation, and other people.
  • Empathic listening. (This is the # 1 communication skill according to Stephen Covey.)
  • Changing mindsets. (This is a simple way to change state without knowing NLP.)
  • Reframing (This is a simple way to turn your problems into challenges and opportunities.)

By telling yourself better stories, you can be the hero, one story at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

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Photo by immortalice.


  1. Good frame!
    I must ask someone “what would the hero see!” right now!!!!
    thanks – seems to be very effective and promising.

  2. Storytelling is such a powerful skill. It’s used in fiction (of course), marketing and advertising, and even in political campaigns. It’s amazing what a compelling story can do!

  3. Finding the positive reminds me of a post from the Happiness Project:

    A Happiness Lesson from Actors: Find the “Yes.”

    Isn’t there a villian or some other role besides hero and victim? I am just wondering as there doesn’t often seem to be many cases in the world where things are black and white. Usually it is all shades of grey and perspective can be a powerful thing.

    When I’m having an off day, where I seem to make more than my usual number of errors, I tend to make it into a story of, “Now, what could I do next time to not be in that situation?” which works some of the time. Some mistakes will happen every so often like making a typo, or taking the wrong turn, but sometimes that leads to some fun in life.

  4. My mind is of often fully aware of needing a mindset / focus change, but my heart sometimes needs a little more encouragement to make the switch. That’s why the hero in me enjoys going for a brisk walk or doing some other vigorous physical activity, and before I know it my heart is right where it needs to be too!

  5. What you have presented here is important for our growth. However, people must know their stories and acknowledge it as such, only then they can make a change. It will take time and effort if one is to really dedicate himself to materialize a new framework of mind. 🙂

  6. @ positively present

    Thank you. The book was a fun read – simple and pragmatic.

    @ Alik

    I think it becomes increasingly effective as you fill your head with examples and models of different heros for different situations. It gives you more to draw from.

    @ Fred

    You put it well … it’s a refocus.

    @ Melissa

    Storytelling really is a skill and I like that we can improve our stories through deliberate practice.

  7. @ JB King

    I think the key is the focus on the positive and empathy. The hero doesn’t focus on the villain as a villain … instead, it’s empathy and understanding.

    Turning your mistakes into learning opportunities and stories is a healthy practice.

    @ Jannie

    You stumbled on an important secret in life … action often precedes motivation (yet so many people wait for their inspiration.)

    @ Walter

    So true, and inspiring stories can help you find your motivation and dedication for change.

    @ Juliet

    I like the metaphor of life-long patterns and stories. I think it’s compelling to write our life stories a chapter or page or a paragraph at a time. It’s a great way to zoom in and out and see the forest from the trees.

  8. Hi JD .. Good comments we all need to look at things from a different point of view – being positive etc.

    Recently I heard quite a well known author, who had had a pretty difficult life – his mother was murdered when he was a youngster – and other things – and he was asked how he adapted .. he just said he could never look at his life as a disaster or great sorrow, but always looked for an opportunity that would arise from that particular situation.

    Thanks – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  9. Hi J.D. –I was carefully studying your latest post ,where although some although some NLP,
    techniques were principally summarized it struck me that it was all about types of problems we tend to run into and problem treatments in particular. In my modest opinion there is no such thing as a marketing, production, financial, personnel, or distribution problem. Such modifiers in front of the world “problem” tell us absolutely nothing about its nature, but they do tell us something –Just be the Hero and things will sort themselves out. Browsing through the table summaries does not seem to tell us what kind of problem was this – medical, economic, emotional, or architectural? Actually maybe none of these. It was just a problem.
    The adjectives are indicative only of the point of view, the mind-set, of the person looking at the problem. Wherever problems appear they should be looked at from as many different points of view as possible before a way of attacking them is selected. The best place to solve a problem is not necessary where it appears.
    There are four ways of treating problems: Absolution, resolution, solution, and dissolution. To absolve a problem is to ignore it and hope it will go away or solve itself.
    To resolve a problem is to do something that yields an outcome that is good enough, that satisfies. Problem resolvers take a clinical approach to problems; they rely heavily on experience, trial and error, qualitative judgments, and common sense. They try to identify the cause of a problem, remove or suppress it, and thereby return to a previous state. To solve a problem is to do something that yields the best possible outcome, that optimizes. Problem solvers take a research approach to problems. They rely heavily on experimentation and quantitative analysis. To dissolve a problem is to eliminate by redesigning the system that has it. Problem dissolvers try to idealize, to approximate an ideal system and thereby do better in the future than the best that can be done now. To problem dissolvers problems are opportunities, not threats. By redesigning the systems with problems, a better performance than the best currently possible can be obtained. This involves creativity also. Everyone would like to be creative, but what is creativity? It is my belief and the school of thought that I represent that it is the ability to identify self-imposed constraints, remove them, and explore the consequences. Unfortunately, knowing what creativity is does not help much in any effort to capture it. The principal difficulty lies in identifying self- imposed constraints; we are generally unaware of them. There are many ways of raising them to consciousness or avoiding them even without raising them to copiousness. Among them are lateral thinking, brain storming, synectics, conceptual block-bursting, and idealized design, the last of which, I believe is the most effective.
    An idealized redesign is one prepared on the assumption that the system was destroyed last night but its environment remains intact. It is this assumption that removes most self-imposed constraints. The product of idealized redesign is a design of a system with which the designers would now replace the system assumed to have been destroyed; that is, if they were completely free to do so. The only constraints placed on the design are (1) that it be technologically feasible, to preclude science fiction, and (2) that it be operationally viable, capable of surviving the current environment ‘If’ it were brought into existence. However, the design need not be capable of being brought into existence. Nevertheless, the designers are always surprised at how closely their design can be approximated. The reason is that the idealized design process clearly reveals that that many constraints thought to be externally imposed are actually self – imposed. The above reasoning can be easily backed up with many practical examples.
    To idealize is to think without constraints. To think without constraints is to think creatively.
    Not all ideas presented to management are good. Defenses against the bad are necessary, but they tend to be applied to the good ones as well. This makes it difficult to innovate in many organizations. I will very briefly identify some of the most commonly used defenses:
    – Has this idea ever been applied successfully?
    -The idea is a good one but it doesn’t apply to our kind of business or in our kind of environment.
    -Have any applications of your idea failed?
    -This is nothing but…
    -We tried it a long time ago and it didn’t work then, why should it now?
    – (Such and such a ) company tried this idea and it didn’t work there. Why should it here?
    Lastly I would like to cover problematic proclivities. There are too many of these traits to start treating here , so I’ll focus on the seven (covered in detail in the Hunt and Gilovich books and in other scientific literature) that I believe have the greatest adverse effects on our ability to analyze problems:
    -There is an emotional dimension to almost every thought we have and every decision we make.
    -Mental shortcuts our unconscious minds take influence our conscious thinking.
    -We are driven to view the world around us in terms of patterns.
    -We instinctively rely on, and are susceptible to, biases and assumptions.
    -We feel the need to find explanations for everything, regardless of whether the explanations are accurate.
    – humans have a penchant to seek out and put stock in evidence that supports their beliefs and judgments while eschewing and devaluating evidence that does not.
    – We tend to cling to untrue beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence.

    The formidable power of the listed mental traits is illuminated by a quotation from a biography of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The quotation appears in Bolles’s book A Second Way of Knowing: “Georgia was suddenly struck by the realization that her feelings governed the way she saw the scene. It was a momentum of transformation: the entire visual world, she realized was dependent on the emotional world.” Said Bolles:
    That day she learned the artist’s secret; what you perceive depends on who you are. Analytical thinkers have generally assumed that we perceive reality as it is; they then use a process of abstract reasoning to interpret the perception. O’Keeffe realized that the perception is the interpretation. It rests on the internal reality that governs the meaning we find in our sensations.

    The internal reality Bolles speaks of is, in fact, controlled by the mental traits I and many others have been discussing and talking about. Thus, it is these hidden traits that determine the meaning we find in the information our senses pick up and transmit to the brain. This is an alarming phenomena because we have no direct awareness of, or conscious control over these traits.

    When we consider these traits and a host of others we haven’t discussed, acting in combination, is it any wonder that we humans, as Alexander Pope observed over two centuries ago, are prone to err? We view the world through a dense veil of burdensome, though – warping emotions, biases, and mind – sets. Through this veil we sometimes perceive cause –and –effect and other “patterns” where there are none. We are prone to grace
    these nonexistent patterns with self – satisfying explanations into rock hard beliefs that we defend in the face of incontrovertible contradictory evidence.
    Ladies and gentlemen, sharing the pleasure of your company…….Homo sapiens !

  10. This is an interesting post and I would like to write it again putting in how stereotypes might effect the perception – In particular I am thinking that in counseling women were expected to tell victim stories most of the time, this was seen as a lack of empowerment…over the years I have come to see the victim story as a huge emotional release that can be turned into the hero’s story very quickly and empower the teller into action.

    Just a thought…

  11. @ Hilary

    I think a really important question to ask ourselves is, “what do you want your life to be about?” Your story of the author exemplifies this. He chose to write his story forward and focus on opportunity over tragedy.

    @ Dr. Michael

    I like your point on attacking problems from multiple angles and perspectives.

    I think the strength of shifting from victim stories to hero stories is it’s a quick way to reframe, become solution focused, and leverage your emotional intelligence. It’s really easy to get into fight-or-flight mode and react emotionally to problems. I think the power is using emotions as input, and then using techniques such as Six Thinking Hats to slice and dice the problem from different angles, as well as leverage precision question and answering techniques.

    Good points on how it’s easy to make our minds up and make emotional decisions, ignoring input and data that can help us make more informed decisions. I think just knowing this helps us get more mindful about our decision making and analysis.

    @ Patricia

    That sounds like a great use of stories. I think it’s especially powerful helping people go from victim to heroes in their stories. The right stories really can set the stage for effective action.

  12. J.D,
    I completely agree with the points you make on the potential for a quick re -frame and using emotions as input for the application of the listed techniques to slice and dice the problem from different angles, as well as leverage precision question and answering techniques. It is a great intellectual pleasure to study your blog, learn and try to apply
    so many neat ideas, insights and techniques that you make us aware with ease and elegance.To me this is a terrific learning experience.Thanks.

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