Amber is a mother of two, living with her husband in the middle of the country. Amber worked as a receptionist in an accounting office full time, but was, in her own words, “SO over it.” She was underappreciated, underpaid and was always stuck training new receptionists who were half her age with double her attitude and who quit as soon as they started. Amber felt stuck and hopeless, and then one day, a friend of hers introduced Amber to an amazing opportunity. Amber knew this was her way out, and she immediately got to work. She called all her friends; they called their friends; and they took off like wildfire. Everything Amber touched turned to gold. She won the trips. She walked the stage and was recognized on calls.
But then, something happened. Or didn’t happen. Or stopped happening.
It was not the kind of something that’s an event or a tragedy or out of left field, but rather something more… subtle. Amber couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Suddenly, when she tuned into the recognition call, instead of hearing her name or her team’s names and being excited—or hearing other people achieving higher levels and using it as motivation for what she could achieve next—every name that was announced sounded sour. She would see other women posting on social media and would immediately unfollow them, brooding about their success for an hour or two. “Well of course she’s doing great—she doesn’t have XYZ to deal with,” or “Duh…look at her Instagram following…of course she’s getting ahead.”
Almost as quickly as she found success, it fell apart. Or, at least, it stalled. And while it would be easy to blame the company, the comp plan, her upline or whatever else she could think of, Amber didn’t. Well, she did for a while. But when that didn’t help, Amber wondered if maybe what she was dealing with wasn’t a problem that stemmed from outside her. Maybe it was a problem from within her. Not a capability problem—she had proven she was capable—instead, Amber believed she had a storytelling problem.
And that is when I met Amber: Amber and all of the stories that were holding her back.
The “Other” Kind of Story
It was November of 2020. As a global population, we were still in the depths of the pandemic. As a nation, we were grappling with an election. And, as an industry, we were still making things happen without the magic of being together in person. For me personally, I was deeply immersed in research for my second book; Choose Your Story, Change Your Life: Silence Your Inner Critic and Rewrite Your Life from the Inside Out.
Like my first book, the new book is about storytelling—a topic that is certainly not new to you as there is no question that the direct selling business is a storytelling business. And for nearly a decade now, I have joined you at your annual conventions and stood in your stadiums as a keynote speaker. There, I’ve taught your industry’s professionals not only that they should be telling stories, but exactly how to tell them; and, sometimes most importantly, that no matter who they are, their story matters. However, while it is true that “facts tell and stories sell” and that they would be more successful if they were to simply tell more stories instead of listing features and ingredients, nothing is ever as easy as it seems.
If success really was as simple as “share your product story,” your job would be a whole lot easier. The truth is, when it comes to breaking through barriers and achieving greater success, there is a much bigger story at play: The story we tell ourselves.
Human = Storyteller
Humans are storytelling creatures by nature. We are WIRED for story. And while the earliest stories allowed us to communicate with other cavemen about the dangers of that particular berry or the lion crouching behind a particular bush, the storytelling skill—like humans themselves—evolved. Eventually, a new kind of story emerged: The self-story. The inner monologue. Researchers have determined that we use self-stories for a variety of reasons, like solving problems, motivating ourselves, making plans for the future, self-control and self-reflection. Our internal dialogue helped us stay safe, fit into the tribe and make sense of the world around us; in turn, these benefits helped us to live longer and ensured our safety and survival. And so the self-storytelling cycle continued.
Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, this self-storytelling habit became as automated as breath and blood flow, and now—fast-forward thousands of years—you have Amber and millions of women like her. Amber doesn’t need to be kept safe from poisonous berries or hungry lions, but that doesn’t stop her inner-storyteller from sensing danger a mile away in the shape of modern threats like rejection, failure, humiliation. In an effort to keep her safe, Amber’s self-stories immediately launch into action, replaying all the times she’s tried something and failed. They are as vivid as a movie on the big screen, and yet they are completely invisible because evolution automated them, replaying them subconsciously so that Amber doesn’t even know they are there.
If you’ve ever looked on, baffled, as one of your top leaders seems to self-destruct for no apparent reason—there is a self-story to blame. If you’ve ever watched in wonder as someone with all the potential in the world just can’t seem to take flight, it’s self-storytelling. You can talk about mindset or personal development all you want, but until you interrupt the automatic stories that are holding your people back and then help them to replace those stories with better ones, the Ambers will stay stuck.
If stories are what is holding us back, then only stories can move us forward.
Choose Your Story, Change Your Life
Could taking control of the stories we tell ourselves—stopping the automation and choosing to tell ourselves stories that motivate and encourage us, or at the very least stop the spiral of negative thinking—could that simple change everything? That was what I endeavored to find out through my research with Amber and a group of others, all seeking to break through barriers and limiting beliefs in various areas of their lives including health and well-being, money and finances, business and career, love and relationships and family and parenting. Over the course of 6 weeks, I walked the participants in the research group through a simple, four-step method to choosing better stories. It starts with identifying the limiting beliefs and the old stories propping them up and then analyzing those stories.
For Amber, her belief that she would never be “good enough” was keeping her stuck, and it was anchored by stories like when she didn’t make the dance team in high school. Or when she dropped out of college. There was an early divorce. Various mom-fails. She could remember, in detail, the wealthy women in her neighborhood who made her feel awkward at the community center holiday gathering. You name it, Amber had a story for it. Stories that were old and outdated, yes, but that her subconscious continued to play in an effort to keep her safe.
The only way to break free? Choosing better stories to silence that inner critic.
Amber (like most of the participants) found many stories that illustrated the opposite of her limiting beliefs, especially when it came to her direct selling business. There was the lake house she was able to rent for her family vacation with her side-gig income. There was the story of the first Christmas when she didn’t have to stress over whether she could afford the toys her sons so desperately wanted. Or the Tuesday afternoon that she went to the grocery store and, out in the parking lot with a cart full of groceries, she realized she didn’t take her calculator out once to make sure she had enough money— because she knew she did.
“I AM A BEAST!!” Amber shouted confidently and unprompted during our third session together. “Why have I been telling myself these terrible stories when I have so many great ones?”
It was a very good question. And asking it changed everything.
The Self-Storytelling Opportunity
In just six weeks, Amber reported feeling 50 percent more in control of her life than when she started and 150 percent more optimistic about her future—simply by choosing better stories. She revealed that even the people on her team had noticed a difference, commenting that she didn’t call and “Debbie Downer” them anymore. Amber wasn’t the only one who saw a change. The participants in the sample group as a whole were 225 percent more likely to report being “very satisfied” with life; five times more likely to report being “very optimistic” about their future; and 230 percent more likely to shift from a “fear of failure” focus to a “hope of success” focus.
The group size was small, so the results are only directional in nature, but if you have ever sat at your desk and—after all the training sessions, the incentives, the bonuses—you’ve still had a sense that something needed to change…look no further than the stories your colleagues are telling themselves. Change those stories, and everything can change.
Happily Ever After
During our last session, I read Amber’s list of limiting beliefs back to her, and she shook her head as I did. “I know I felt that way, so it’s not that it wasn’t real…. It just was never true. And now I’m actually more open to letting myself feel like I actually am doing good… and as a result, I’ve been doing more good… And I’ve come to realize, I’m actually pretty awesome!”
There’s no question that storytelling is an essential ingredient to success in this industry. My hope is that, in experiencing this book and what it teaches, the people you lead and inspire will come to the same conclusions that Amber and so many others did. That they will tell and retell themselves the stories of their successes—the stories that make them feel proud and brave and capable—and in doing so, rewrite their lives from the inside out.
KINDRA HALL is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Stories that Stick and her newest book Choose Your Story, Change Your Life: Silence Your Inner Critic and Rewrite Your Life from the Inside Out. She is a sought-after keynote speaker in the direct selling industry and beyond. Hall is based in Manhattan, New York with her two children, husband and puppy named Spacedog.
From the January 2022 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.