One of the most important ingredients of a successful story is momentum. When you mix momentum with mindset, you root for the achievement of the goal. Many TV shows and films make the mistake of not having enough momentum and not having enough character development. Understanding the use of these two things will help you to elevate your story both in life and on the page.
I’ve been studying and analyzing story for over twenty years. I am an author of three books, a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC and a story/career consultant for writers. I read and analyze an average of two to three scripts a day. One of the areas of story that I’ve noticed can make or break a strong script is momentum. How do you create strong momentum? You start your story with a strong trigger incident that leads your central character into a powerful dilemma. Then, the choice made in the dilemma is what defines the external goal. You add momentum to this formula when you set up the personal dilemma and the stakes. We should always be clear about what the worst that can happen is if the goal is not achieved. It’s when we don’t know what’s at stake or why we care that the story loses momentum.
With regards to mindset, I’ve often taught the idea of ego versus spirit. In the first three quarters of the story, the central character wants to achieve the goal for ego-related reasons. It is in the last quarter of the story, after hitting a number of obstacles that the character’s motivation shifts to spirit. They now want to achieve the goal for the betterment of the greater good. I am currently reading an incredible book titled “Mindset” by Carol Dweck that made me take a deeper look into this idea. In her book, Carol discusses the idea of the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset”. Carol writes; “The fixed mindset creates the feeling that you can really know the permanent truth about yourself. You don’t have to try for such-and-such because you don’t have the talent. You will surely succeed at such-and-such because you do have the talent.” She goes on to talk about the growth mindset. She writes; “By the way, having a growth mindset doesn’t force you to do something. It just tells you that you can develop your skills…. The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be the most valuable.” I love this! Even though she discusses it in relation to real life, it also applies to story. When you shift the mindset of your character from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you add depth and momentum to your story.
Recently, I watched a show that had a very strong first season. This was due to a very strong season arc as well as strong episode arcs that built in momentum as the season went on. By doing this well the first season, the writers established an expectation from the audience. Then, during the second season, I’d say that the biggest mistake that was made was that you didn’t care about the season arc. There were three co-protagonists. The wounds/personal dilemmas were well developed for two of the three characters. The third character whose wound was developed the least was the one who had the most at stake within the season arc. Since we didn’t know enough about this character’s wound or understand his shift in mindset, we didn’t root for or care about the outcome. With the other two characters that were well developed, we rooted for them to find their peace but their stakes were not reflected in the season arc. If there had been more momentum in the season arc and we had understood the mindset of that third character in a stronger way, it would have made all the difference in the success of the season. I choose not to name the show simply because I admire all writers that put their heart and their soul on the page so that we can all use it to learn.
In life, momentum is the fuel that leads us toward our goals. When we understand how to utilize the idea of “what is the worst thing that can happen if we do not achieve our goal?” we ignite our possibility. When we allow our mindset to evolve from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we open ourselves up to more opportunity. This thinking not only helps us to achieve more of our goals, but it also opens us up to find more fulfillment in the process. Momentum and mindset are key ingredients in our success in life and in the stories that we tell.
Do you want to change your story in the New Year? What do you want your story to look like? What if you could learn to use the tools of story to create the life that you want? I’ve been obsessed with understanding and studying how people change their lives. I like to believe that we all want our story to reflect the type of life that we want to live. I feel that by being the active protagonist in our own story, we can create change by aligning the actions that we take with the outcome that we desire. I am going to share four actions that I took that led me toward personal change and changed my story in the process.
Since writing my book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Success, I’ve been really conscious of the things I wrote about in my book, how action equals outcome when it comes to changing our story. For me, all of the change that I wrote about in my book was focused on the professional side of my life, rather than the personal side. After hitting what I see as my “all is lost” moment, when I lost my job of 15 years, I was able to clearly see that to produce the type of change that I wanted, I needed to take action. I outlined all the steps I took to turn my “all is lost” moment into the best thing that could have happened in my life. I found success again, only, this time, I was a conscious author as I created and redefined my professional path. I understood from being a studio executive/story analyst for all of those years that personal actions equate to outcome. When the wrong actions are being taken, you don’t get the outcome that you desire. So, I aligned my actions in the business world with the outcome that I wanted. My focus was on stopping isolation and creating community through the telling of story on a global level. Everything that transpired over the last 7 years, as I built my business, falls under this umbrella. My focus was clear and my actions aligned with my outcome. Everything in me wants to teach people how to be the active hero in their own story so that their story can reflect the type of life that they want to live.
I was motivated to write this blog was when I received an email from a reader. They wrote:
“I’m reading Change Your Story, Change Your Life, and it’s as if you wrote this book just for me. I have often wished I could be a character in one of my stories so I could just rewrite my life and reading your book makes me think that I really am. Only that story is my life.
I’m at one of my ‘all is lost’ moments, so it’s hard for me to see very far down my road, and I’m hoping your experience will help me map out a course of action that will let me breathe again.”
I loved the truth in this person’s message. They wanted to know how to create change after going through an “all is lost” moment. While in my book, I go into actions that I took to change my professional story, what I teach also applies to your personal story. Here are some actions that I’ve taken to change my personal story.
These are four actions that I recommend taking to change your story: take a wellness vacation, create a healthy eating system, create a workout routine, and connect through internal desire. These actions can foster change on a physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional level.
- Take a wellness vacation – I went to Rancho La Puerta.
- Create a healthy eating system – I did Paleo Delivers and Isagenix.
- Create a workout routine that garners results – I started doing 10,000 steps a day.
- Connect through your internal desire – I fell in love.
Take a wellness vacation. I would say that one of the biggest actions that I took this year that created change was going to Rancho La Puerta. This is a place that focuses on the idea of “renewing your mind, body and spirit on a journey to true wellness.” This choice, this action, is what led me to a greater consciousness of understanding change from within. This is everything that my brand for my business is about. It is also something that blends into my life. The development of story comes down to the development of self. So, by participating in the activities, exercise classes, nutrition and health classes, hikes and meditations, at Rancho La Puerta, I was able to bring it home with me and learn to take stronger actions that led me to greater outcomes. What I learned was that taking a vacation that allowed me to purely focus on wellness was one action that could bring about very positive results.
Wellness Options at all budget levels – Esalen, Miraval, Canyon Ranch, Willow Day Spa, Argyle Salon and Spa.
Create an eating system. Another action that I took that brought about healthy change was I tried different eating plans so that I could pinpoint a system that worked for me. I did Paleo Delivers. I actually did this before I went to Rancho La Puerta. This was an action because it allowed me to really understand food, portion size and healthy choices when it comes to my daily eating habits. The food was outstanding. It opened up my time wise because I didn’t have to worry about cooking, shopping, and figuring out calories and nutrition. I did this for a few months just to see how it made me feel and to learn. It definitely took me a step in the right direction. When I got home from Rancho La Puerta, I started doing a system called Isagenix. I learned about this from Sherry Catlin, who created the Body Bar. I met her when I was at Rancho La Puerta. What I learned with Isagenix was that I had a system in play that worked for my life and supported my desire to be in the best physical shape possible. I needed a system like this. I found that the products tasted so good and the outcome took me in an even stronger direction.
Eating Systems for all budgets – Veestro (vegetarian), buy a Paleo book by Danielle Walker and prepare food at home, Zen Foods Diet delivery, Healthy Chef Creations
Create a workout routine. I learned at Rancho La Puerta that movement is the key to staying young. One action that I took when I returned was that I got a Fit Bit and an Up By Jawbone. This way, I was able to track the steps that I took everyday. I set a goal for 10,000, and I was able achieve this. This simple change in action has changed my life in a monumental way. It helped me reevaluated my exercise routine. I began driving less and walking more. I figured that in NYC, they walk. Why not walk in LA? By walking instead of driving mixed with my exercise routine, I am able to attain my goal on a daily basis. I also started a combination of spinning and yoga. I spin at Soul Cycle. This has added a whole new level of physical activity to my life. My favorite instructors at Soul Cycle in West Hollywood are David, Angela, and Rourke. Their words motivate me from spirit. They make me want to do the physical work even more. With yoga, my favorite instructors are Jake Ferree at Equinox and Aura Yoga and Matthew Reyes at Yoga Hop in Santa Monica. The last action that I took with my physical regime was that I have a personal trainer, Yancy Berry, at Equinox. I found that this helps me to keep a physical routine in place with weights. By taking these actions, I’ve been able to better align with the physical outcome that I desire.
Workouts for all budget levels – Walk, do the stairs at Montana and Ocean in Santa Monica, do weights at home and get some Body Bar DVDs
Connect through internal desire. I fell in love. One action that I took to attract the kind of love I was seeking was that I started focusing on what I wanted internally with a relationship versus just externally. I wanted spirit, intellect and joy. By understanding my internal desire, it helped to attract the type of relationship that I knew I wanted to experience. I like to believe that the universe hears us and brings us what we need when we’re ready. I met Chris when I was speaking at The Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii. I knew him for two years before we started dating. One of the things that I love about our love story is that had I not lost my job, I would never have created a business that led me to speak at The Big Island Film Festival, and I would not have met the love of my life.
In closing, there are so many actions that we can take to illicit change in our lives. Many of these actions involve little to no money and just doing the emotional work from within. I share my personal stories with you in hopes that they can inspire you to create the change you want in your own life. The key to changing your story is aligning your actions with the outcome you desire.
Where is our gold when it comes to telling strong stories that connect us to our audience? How do we learn to tell stories that touch our spirits and make our hearts come alive? Compelling stories often come from a truthful place that lives and breathes inside the emotional well of the storyteller. Your emotional well is your gold when it comes to bringing your truth to the page and learning how to fictionalize it. This is not about coming from an autobiographical place. It is about coming from an authentic place, connecting with your life experience and bringing your voice into your characters. History has shown us that rewards come to those gifted writers who know how to delve into themselves and bring their truth to the page.
An excellent example of this is the Oscar-nominated film The King’s Speech and its writer, David Seidler. As a child, Seidler used to stutter. When I watched this film, I felt more emotionally connected to the plight of this character than any other recent film’s protagonist. I was totally mesmerized by this character’s journey. When King George VI (played brilliantly by Colin Firth) approached the microphone, I felt his fear. I could feel it in my throat. I rooted for him. I wanted him to arrive at the ‘light bulb’ moment by doing the work with Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). I related with his sheer terror. Having personally experienced the challenges of public speaking and learning how to move past the fear as millions of us do, I wanted to see Prince Albert (on the road to becoming King George VI) succeed at his speech. I was on the edge of my seat because I could relate to and connect with his experience. The fear of failure, another life experience that drives most of us, was conveyed flawlessly in this film.
Discovering that David Seidler personally experienced stuttering in his childhood helped me understand why he was able to hit a pitch-perfect portrayal of this character. He drew from his own personal well of experience and emotion and brought it to the page. This allowed the audience real insight into the vulnerability of the film’s central character.
This concept is something I explore heavily in my new book Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story. The book is about learning how to add fiction to your truth. It is also about learning that the stories we experience in our own life have tremendous value. They happen for a reason. And only by doing the challenging emotional work, do we gain the tools to move past the pain and then pass our stories onto others.
In Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir Resilience, I found that she dug deep into her emotional well and came from such a raw and real place. She writes, “Each time I fell into a chasm – my son’s death or a tumor in my breast or an unwelcome woman in my life – I had to accept that the planet had taken a few turns and I could not turn back. My life was and would always be different, and it would be less than I hoped it would be…. I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and the end of what I did but it is only a slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality.” Think about the words “…an unwelcome woman in my life” and “it would be less than I hoped it would be.” These are powerful admissions and they prompt an emotional experience that millions can connect with.
Resilience reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. The King’s Speech is an Oscar nominated film. Both stories come from a place of truth and conviction. Both writers draw from their emotional wells and bring their truths to the page, giving their audiences a chance to really see them in their stories. I encourage you to draw from your emotional well in your writing. You never know what can happen.
Do you ever wonder what drives you to do what you do? What are the intentions behind your actions? Why is success so important to you? What rewards do you expect to earn? These questions led me to read the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” written by Daniel H. Pink. Daniel writes, “If we want to strengthen our organizations, get beyond our decade of underachievement, and address the inchoate sense that something’s gone wrong in our businesses, our lives, and our world, we need to move from Type X to Type I. Type I behavior is fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones. It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.”
I was fascinated by this book because it really spoke to me on a deeper level. I was in the fast paced world of being a corporate climber. I got to the rung of the ladder that I set as my goal. I made it to Vice President. After my climb came to an abrupt stop and my job ended, I started my own company. Suddenly, I was no longer driven by the salary, title, bonus, expenses and the benefits, I was driven by the work. I was driven by building something from scratch, doing the work that I love and seeing the rewards in the clients I help guide. It was a definite transition and one that I had to embrace daily. I discovered that my pride now came from a different place. I had to learn to let go of things that I began to see were connected with my ego. Instead, I had to connect with my spirit and the idea of simplicity. I was doing what I loved and I was succeeding in a whole new way.
Then, recently, I had an opportunity come my way that could have led to a very big job. This job was the dream job that I had previously always seen as my life’s direction. If I was successful at it, like I knew that I could be, it could be huge. However, if I were to accept this job, I would have to close my company, the new adventure I had only just embarked upon a few years ago. I’ve put my heart and soul into this company for three years and I’m anxious to see it continue to grow. It’s showed me the value of intrinsic rewards. I knew my decision had to be about more than just the external security and external rewards this other position could offer me. I had to really look inside myself and decipher what would offer me the most internal security. Even still, the decision was very difficult. Both were amazing opportunities. Ultimately, what I discovered was that, at this moment, I find my greatest internal security in staying with my company and watching it grow. Right now, it’s Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc. that makes me feel most intrinsically complete.
Daniel goes on to write, “For Type I’s, the main motivations the freedom, challenge, and purpose of the undertaking itself; any other gains are welcome, but mainly as a bonus.” I had found that I was moving into what Daniel describes as the “Type I.” I was inspired when I read, “Type I’s almost always outperform Type X’s in the long run. Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than the reward-seeking counterparts. The most successful people, the evidence shows, often aren’t directly pursuing conventional notions of success. They’re working hard and persisting through difficulties because their internal desire to control their lives, learn about the world, and accomplish something that endures.”
Since I know that millions are going through the type of change that I am going through, I figured that these words could inspire and empower you like they did for me. I find that by identifying what drives you internally and what you connect your rewards to, you can make the choices that will lead you to find success both personally and professionally in a whole new way.