Most children will sit quietly when their attention is being held by a well-told story. Storytime in the early grades at school is one of the kids’ most favorite times. Storytime before bed is also a tradition in many homes because it quiets the kids down as their imaginations run wild with the descriptions of colorful landscapes and characters interacting. However, storytime is not something that only children enjoy; nor do most stories start with, “Once upon a time.”

When I reflect on some of the best times I’ve had with my friends and family, storytelling is always right in the middle of it. There are stories about the roots of our family traditions, times growing up, silly mistakes we’ve made, and even our future hopes and dreams. Stories connect us to others and help us ascribe meaning and purpose to a world that is filled with an overwhelming number of chaotic, bombarding events.

Scientists now report that storytelling has a very powerful impact on our brains. When we hear a complete story—beginning, middle, and end—our brains actually release cortisol and oxytocin. These are powerful hormones which influence our ability to act and bond with others. Stories are literally connected to our DNA, which is why we humans are storytelling machines.

We all have stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves (usually through our self-talk, whether positive or negative), and there are also stories we tell ourselves about others. These stories can be helpful, but only when they are true. Many of our stories are fictional narratives we have made up in our minds. Living in a false story is a the same as living a lie. It is destructive to ourselves and others. Here are two simple things we can do to become more aware of the stories in our minds:

  • Start thinking about your thinking. Learn to recognize when you are making up a story about someone, and then be humble enough to admit it and change your thinking.
  • Learn to “Fact Check.” Maybe the story you are telling yourself is true, but it may be false. Look for external evidence or accounts from others to corroborate or disprove your story.

Connecting more to the stories in our minds will improve our lives by helping us to sort out the true stories from the false ones we are telling about ourselves and others.