The stories we tell ourselves
And a look at John Mayer's songwriting process
Looks like we’re going to smash through 20k World Builders before the end of July. My goal was end of August so wanted to say thank you.
Today’s piece drills in on the stories we tell ourselves with a bit of a marketing lean. You can read last week’s piece here.
This one takes ~4 minutes to read.
I heard this quote and immediately started thinking about the stories I tell myself. Some I’ve told myself since I was much younger have become core aspects of my identity.
- I’m an introvert
- I'm a good writer
- I'm a quick learner
Other stories, while still having become aspects of my identity, are more negative.
- I'm bad at sales
- I don't enjoy large groups
- I'm bad at sports with wheels
I’d challenge you to think about the stories you tell yourself, specifically the ones that have become so hardened you think they’re unchangeable. What are those stories for you? Why and when did you start telling yourself them?
I guarantee you have some. They can be uncomfortable to unpack. But the stories we tell ourselves are important. They’re powerful.
For example: Adults love to blame our adult-ness for being unable to learn languages.
If I wanted to flip that story on its head, here’s what I’d do. Let’s say I want to learn Japanese, these are the steps I'd take:
- Establish the goal – become proficient in Japanese in six months
- Break it into component pieces – vocabulary, grammar, conversation
- Establish daily routines – study 50 flashcards on Mondays, speak to a person fluent in Japanese for 45 minutes on Tuesdays, practice 1 new verb tense on Wednesdays, etc
- Use metrics – how many times did I revert to English in those 45 minutes? How many vocab words do I know?
- Flip the story in your head
Suddenly the story has gone from “I can’t learn new languages as an adult” to “It may be tough, but these are the daily steps I’m taking to become proficient in Japanese in the next six months.”
You can’t just decide to change a story you’ve told yourself for years. You have to intentionally lay out the framework for how you're changing that story, step-by-step.
1/ Think in stories first
One-off inspiration is great but it rarely leads to an extensive library of content that performs for decades.
That’s why I prefer to think in stories. Let’s look to marketing for an example:
In 1984 Nike signed a young basketball player named Michael Jordan. Their story became “if you wear our shoes, you’ll play like Mike.”
What makes this a story?
It’s expandable. Nike still uses the exact same concept today – if you wear our gear, you’ll jump like LeBron, hit like Serena, or drive like Tiger.
2/ Make it emotional
The cliche “people remember how you made them feel” is cliche for a reason, it’s true.
Think about your favorite books or movies – I’d bet they elicited a strong emotional response from you. A few tips to bring out the emotions in even the most stoic dude:
- Be specific with word choice – use powerthesaurus.org.
- Vary your descriptions – even the best descriptor becomes stale after a few times.
- Build up the emotions – think of it like a step function rising to a mountain top as you get deeper into a story.
- Journal – yes, you keep a journal. Write about your own emotions. It’ll make mixing emotion into your stories 10x more natural.
Emotion is a big part of what makes great stories so sticky.
Marketing Examined by my friend Alex Garcia is one of the best marketing newsletters bar none.
Speaking of stories we tell ourselves… One thing to think about as a marketer – what stories (and dreams) do your customers have for themselves?
If you can tap into those, create a pain point around them, and then position your brand as the elixir to that pain point… you may have just struck gold.
Here’s a perfect example from Alex’s recent piece on “An above the fold that earns the scroll:”
This video of John Mayer creating a song live blew my mind. But what I want you to focus on is his willingness to “just send it.”
As he says, it’d be easy to sit there, hum along to the melody, and think about what the lyrics should be. Instead, John jumps in, makes up the lyrics on the fly, and actually sings them.
Then he iterates the same process a few times. After two minutes, he’s got a solid foundation for a new song.
It's incredible to watch. And shoutout to Julian for showing me this video.
One Rabbit Hole
Our World In Data is one of my engineering brain’s favorite sources of data-driven storytelling. Check out their charts on how the world has changed over the last 200 years:
I loved this piece ‘On Longtermism’ from co-founder Max Roser. It’s a masterclass on big picture thinking and data-driven storytelling.
I hope you enjoyed that.
If so, check the referral program below and bring on some new World Builders. I'll send you 10 pages of frameworks and resources to make you a better storyteller if you get just one new person on board.
See you next week,
What'd you think of today's newsletter?