StoryWatch: My Weapon of Choice

Spiders catch insects to survive. We catch our stories. (Photo by Dan Greenwald)
Spiders catch insects to survive. We catch our stories. (Photo by Dan Greenwald)

I had no idea there was one thing that controls all of my success. 

I’m talking about success as a parent, entrepreneur, spouse, leader, provider, teacher, student, writer, farmer or quarantiner.

The industry calls them limiting beliefs and poets refer to the voices inside.

I call them the stories in my mind. Here’s how I learned to control and harness them.

I grew up with a stutter.  I learned about the power of my stories early on. The majority of my life I was “in my head.” I existed in a daily identity crisis of stuttering my face off or avoiding shame and the situation entirely. From age six I knew something was holding me back.

Everyone is given a “stuttering” life circumstance. It’s the source of the most valuable and painful stories holding us back. This is with every human creature, whether we stutter or not.

 I’m now 43 and for the last three years, I’ve been practicing StoryWatch. It’s training to own the stories in my mind and keep me out of my own way. StoryWatch takes our innate abilities, provides a rational structure and a practical process to capture the negative stories in our mind before they morph into (in)action.  The more I practice it, the stronger I become, the more productive and better equipped I am for each day.

I now run StoryWatch trainings. Here are the three core concepts StoryWatch is built on.  


Concept #1 – All Human Creatures are the Same

We are creatures. Every creature has a superpower. Dogs have their amazing sense of smell, unmatched obedience and an ability to connect deeply with humans. Hawks have their sharp eyesight, razor talons and speed for attack. Squirrels are champion climbers, bird feeder destroyers and know the optimal time to gather autumn nuts. Explore any creature and you will find their superpower.

This guy turned me into Caddy Shack Bill Murray

What is the creature power of humans? 

A quick exploration gives us a baseline understanding for how all humans are the same, and it starts with the human creature’s mind.

The primary purpose of our mind is to keep us alive. It does so in three ways:

  1. Moderates our bodies to ensure its balanced for homeostasis and survival
  2. Archives experiences and memories for when we need them
  3. Creates stories that drive our actions to keep us safe

As human creatures, our minds keep us safe by creating stories that drive our actions. Whether or not we’re aware of these stories, they trigger us to act. That means our actions, good or bad, are determined by the stories our mind creates.

To keep us safe and drive us to act, our mind creates stories in the form of fears. 

Examples: 

  • Smoke cigarettes and you’ll get cancer 
  • Don’t get too close to the edge or you’ll fall
  • Wear masks and wash your hands often or you’ll get COVID
  • Don’t start a business. Do you know how much time and money you’re going to waste?
  • Or the classic, don’t go outside because you might get eaten by a saber tooth tiger

When the mind believes our survival is at risk, it’s on guard for what to fear. The way all humans combat fear is to find what we can control. This is the reason for the great toilet paper panic of spring 2020, and why there’s an instinct to consume constant news during a pandemic. Regardless of a global plague happening, the mind is constantly activating stories to keep us “safe.”

The mind is a storytelling machine of fear activated when faced with any difficult situation.

“Your minds are designed to stop you at all cost from doing anything that might hurt you.” 

Mel Robbins

The primary mission of the human creature’s mind is about survival and not a happy or fulfilled life. 

So when we attempt to build a business, write a book, speak in public, be vulnerable to someone we love, post something we wrote or anything a human creature finds difficult, the mind creates stories to avoid doing it. To our mind, what is hard is not safe.

All humans experience stories that impede our growth and achievement. Our mind is in default mode when creating stories of fear. As a teen consumed with my stutter, my “safe” story was “Don’t worry. You’re a good driver. You could drive a truck so you don’t have to speak much.” My stutter was an endless source of limiting stories. 

“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”

James Allen

After my senior year of college, I had enough. I was ready to face any wall that was holding me from growth. That summer in Boston, I dove into a month-long stuttering modification program that guided me in deconstructing and then reconstructing how to speak – physiological and psychologically. It took another 18+ years of constant self-work to activate the courage and the choice to be true to myself. Had I known about StoryWatch, it would have cut down that time. 

For the human creature, the terms “safety” and “fear” are flip sides of the same coin. Safe is important, but it also keeps us from growing. 

Here are some classic stories the mind creates to keep us “safe” when difficult actions stand in front.

Example #1: “I’m going to workout, but

  • I don’t have the right sneaks.”
  • I have no one to go to that class with.”
  • I can’t work out at home.”

Example #2: “I’m going to post some writing every week, but

  • It’s not good enough.”
  • What are they going to think?”
  • What makes me an expert?”

Human creatures are not solely mind and intellect. We are also “heart”, referring to being emotional creatures with powerful yearnings. This yearning is ingrained into our survival. Neuroscientists have packaged this emotional reality to live in the amygdala of our brains.   

This emotional yearning lights our inner power to push through our fear and take risks beyond our safety. My mother was a child Holocaust survivor in the Czech woods and a great teller of her story. When speaking to students, she would start by looking at the crowd. Lean into the silence for a few more moments and say, “You’re all stronger than you think.” 

The creature power of humans is made up of this imperfect balance of mind and heart. The mind works to keep us safe, while the heart’s emotional yearning pushes us into vulnerability so courage can emerge to conquer what’s needed. 

Having completed the month-long stuttering intensive, and determined to strangle out all the negative power rooted in my stutter, I landed my first teaching job in Washington Heights, NYC. Driving a truck wasn’t my only option. 


Concept #2 – Everything Starts with STATE

If all human creatures have the same creature power, then why do some succeed over others?

There’s a practical concept I heard Tony Robbins simplify. I paraphrase it like this:

STATE → STORY→ACTION

State is the vitality or energy a human engages life with. 

The state a person is in dictates the type of stories their mind creates, which drive the type actions they take. 

State is made up of our mental, physical and spiritual health. When one is weak then so is our state. 

It looks like this – when I’m in a strong state, I have strong stories, which lead to strong actions.

When I’m in a shitty state, my mind creates those shitty stories, which results in my shitty actions.

When I’m not in a strong state, everything I’m doing feels like I’m hiking uphill with a 60lb pack in flip flops. 

The inverse is also true. When I do the work to consistently farm living in a strong state, the subsequent stories propel the actions that show me I am stronger than I thought. 

Once I saw this, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know. It was a Morpheus moment. 


Concept #3 – Every STORY serves a purpose

We now understand why all human creatures create their stories. It’s about survival. Even the negative stories we look to avoid serve a purpose.  All human creatures experience negative stories, and while they’re designed for survival and safety, they can be destructive and inhibiting for humans looking to achieve more than just survival. 

There were times in my life the negative stories pushed me to a breaking point of saying “ENOUGH!” 

Using the structure of  STATE→ STORY → ACTION, what if there’s a way to capture the stories before they turn into action? What if I was up all night with 6 month old Hannah, and I was able to recognize that those shitty stories flooding my sense of self existed because I was in a shitty state, not because I’m incapable of balancing life business and family. 

What if human creatures were able to recognize this cause and effect, identify the “shitty” story and then use their powerful intellect and ask,  “how is this story serving me? Would I like to change this story?”  Would their actions be any different? 

What if human creatures were given the ability to quickly recognize not only their own stories driving their actions but also those of others?

This is how StoryWatch works and something I work on daily. StoryWatch is a skill like a sport, learning an instrument or a language. Like at the gym, the more you put in, the more your StoryWatch muscle grows. Having been working on my own StoryWatch over the last few years, and sharing it with other ThirtyTenZero users, StoryWatch literally becomes a superpower.


Here’s an activity we work on in the training. 

Activity: How’s this Story Serving Me?  

Here’s how to apply this concept of STATE → STORY → ACTION to anything you’re navigating.

Identify a challenge. Maybe something that’s consistently showing up for you. What’s the story around that challenge? Write it out. I use Evernote or the Done app.

  1. Ask yourself with radical honesty, “when the stories around this challenge show up, how’s my STATE?” Rate it from 1-low to 10- strong. 
  2. Ask yourself out loud “How’s this story serving me?” Remember, your story exists because your mind is looking to keep you “safe.” Our stories are always serving a purpose. Decide if you want to keep this story as a driver for your actions. If so, you’re good.
  3.  If not, what story do you want to put in its place? What actions do you need to do to activate this new story being true?

StoryWatch is the first step of the ThirtyTenZero framework. Only when we’re able to recognize the stories that get in our way, are we able to rise up to our 30,000 foot view and identify our target for what we really want. 

Photo by Mike Kleba @30,000 ft. – La Grande River, OR RiveOROR

Stuttering was my training. StoryWatch is my weapon. Every day I’m on guard hunting for these stories. No longer am I haunted by them. As I’m alive they exist. The more I find the stronger I get. My stutter is now a light on my dash, informing me I’m in a weakened state.

The stories our mind creates are the one thing that will make or break all of us

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