Give me a story

The other day I realized I lost an opportunity to lead when one of my children asked me to give her a story. I have an endless number of stories (we all do), but I drew a blank – much like when my wife asks if I want anything while she’s at Walmart prior to her driving away, and I remember only after she leaves. Good thing we have smartphones. I made up for the missed opportunity the next day, when she asked to play a game.

Now, in addition to the normal rise-and-fall narrative, why not share an experiment? In particular, why not share one of the many social experiments that our most influential author-lecturers cite?

I’m still reading Focus (2013) by D. Goleman. With family over for the holidays, I find it challenging to actually focus on reading without some child asking me for something to eat or to play a game. Just the girls really; the boys understand that if I’m reading, I’ll get back to you when I’m done.


This morning, I was listening to a lecture by Daniel Goleman. In the one-hour lecture, he shares popular studies conducted at Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, among others.

The studies that he alludes to, he frames in the following format: two groups, question or hypothesis (presented after the setup rather than first – en media res), observation or results, and finally the lesson and call to further action.

These make for great stories. In his lecture, the Harvard study was the famous study about cutting in line at the photocopy machine. He didn’t say so in the lecture, but I’ve heard the same study cited with the impact of using the word because in triggering permission to cut to over 90%, regardless of whether the excuse given after the word because made any sense.

The Princeton study was the theological sermon study of the students preparing to preach about the good Samaritan, while bypassing a person in need on the way to the lecture hall. Did thinking about the good Samaritan story affect whether the preacher helped? No. Time pressure drove the decision.

The Stanford study was the marshmallow study, observing whether 4-year olds could control their own impulses to wait 15 min to receive two marshmallows instead of rushing to consume the one marshmallow in front of them. The noteworthy observation came 14 years later, when the children were now 18, and who on average scored 200+ points higher on the SATs as well as did better on stress management and academics throughout school.


My same daughter, after exhausting all the electronic distractions in the house, asked to play a game with me in front of a handful of other kids. I remembered the opportunity I lost the day before.

So, I led a memory game that goes as follows: I begin by saying, “I went to grandma’s house and brought with me a(n) [object 1].” Then the next person recites, “…[object 1], [adds an object 2 of her choice].” Then the next person recites, “…[object 1], [object 2], [adds an object 3].” If a player forgets or takes too long to recite the objects, she’s out. Winner gets high fives all around. My son, age 10, won the round.

At the end, I shared a brief lecture I heard from memory expert Jim Kwik on the method of loci. The brain finds it a bit challenging to remember lists. It did, however, evolve to remember places and routes; where there’s danger, where there’s safety, where to find water, food, shelter, warmth. So, in their imaginations, my kids could create places, and then place objects along the route to retrieve, to remember.

And of course, as they get better at the game, they strengthen their memories.