The stories we tell ourselves and others

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Reflections upon the use of narrative

Great teachers know exactly how to grasp an audience’s attention by using captivating narrative to tell a story.

As students, our most memorable learning experiences are often associated with teachers who have been able to sustain a consistent, engaging and inspiring narrative.

Narrative is a term often used to describe the process of communicating a set of logical ideas (and their underlying beliefs and assumptions).

Narrative is an effective form of communication across a range of contexts, including teaching and learning.

It is a skill that can be developed over time through reflective practice – with an emphasis on the term “reflective”. Teachers should be conscious of their narrative to ensure that it consistently engages and inspires learners.

Creating awareness of our own internal dialogue and narrative

The term narrative can also be applied to the internal conversations we have – otherwise known as self-talk. These conversations are critical to the way we see ourselves. They identify and articulate perceptions of our strengths and abilities, vulnerabilities and shortcomings. When these conversations are repeated over and over in our head they begin to develop a gravitas that is difficult to challenge. But, here is the rub – they are not always accurate and they may be creating and substantiating false perceptions.

To further complicate matters, these conversations can often occur in our subconscious. We may not even be aware that we may be creating narrative that is not only inaccurate, but is damaging to our sense of self. As such, we could be sabotaging our self-confidence and our capacity to take on new challenges.

How supportive internal self-talk reflects and promotes a growth mindset

Erika Anderson* categorises self-talk into “supportive self-talk” and “unsupportive self-talk”. Supportive self-talk reflects a growth mindset that promotes curiosity and optimism.

Unsupportive self-talk can create aversion to new challenges through developing misperceptions of reality, undermining confidence and creating arbitrary, self-imposed limitations.

Anderson suggests we should be making self-talk conscious and focus on generating supportive self-talk.

Here are some examples of turning unsupportive self-talk into supportive self-talk:

Unsupportive self-talkSupportive self-talk
I don’t need to learn this…What benefit would I get from learning this?
I’m already OK at this…I could do even better with learning this…
This is boring…I wonder why others find this interesting?
I am terrible at this…If I keep practising I will make fewer mistakes…

Are you becoming more aware of your internal narrative? What is the predominant nature of your self-talk? How does this narrative influence you taking on new challenges and new learning? How could you generate more supportive self-talk?

Learning to Learn
*Erika Anderson, Learning to Learn, Harvard Business Review, March 2016