By Dr Rick Stevenson | Filmmaker, Philosopher, Listener, Author, Speaker at The 5000 Days Project
Andy tells his story
We all know the vast science around the benefits of written journaling. For the past 18 years I have conducted 5500 filmed interview with kids from 12 countries through the 5000 Days Project(5000DaysProject.org). I have found that the age old ‘oral’ tradition of telling your story verbally is even more effective than written journaling in raising EQ.
Witness Andy, my nephew. When he was nine years old, I was staying at his house and he asked if he could become a 5000 Days kids because his older brother and sister were in the project. I said yes, set up the camera in his room and asked if he was ready. He nodded cautiously then immediately burst into tears. I said, “Andy, are you okay? I haven’t even asked you a question yet.” He nodded and said, “I know but I know what you’re going to ask me.” I said, “Oh yeah, what’s that?” He replied, “You’re going to ask me about the last time I cried and why.” I nodded and said, “Well, that’s normally question seven but it sounds like you already know the answer to that question.”
He nodded and looked at his feet. He took a deep breath then proceeded to tell me about an event that had happened three days before in his classroom. He had been cast in the school play and the teacher asked him to stand and sing his solo in front of the class. As he tried to continue, he broke down again crying.
I looked at him feeling his pain and told him to take his time. I wanted to hear the story WHEN he was ready to tell it. He took a deep breath and tried again only to be overtaken by tears once again. Finally, on the third attempt, Andy was able to get the story out. Basically, what happened was that he stood up, sang his solo, the kids laughed at him and he ran out of the classroom in tears—the sort of childhood experience that would put you in therapy in your 40s as to why you are afraid to speak in front of the Rotary Club.
Just for stupid filmmaker reasons I ask him if he’d tell the story again loud and clear so that I could get it all on film. He did so and had no trouble getting through it. Suddenly, I got an idea. I asked Andy if he trusted me. He said, “Of course”. I said, “Okay, last time I promise. I want you to tell me the story one last but this time I want you to sing it.” He looked at me strangely then shrugged and started to sing his story. “I was in my class and the teacher asked me to sing my solo…..” In a moment he was laughing. Loudly. At himself. And this is when I saw, firsthand, the value of verbal journaling. In a very short time, I watched Andy take an event that was so difficult for him that he could not even get it out of his mouth….I watched him barf up his story, expose it to air and laugh at it. It’s just like when we eat bad food and have to vomit it up in order to feel better. While the process is painful, have you ever felt better relief than when you’ve thrown something up?
Emotions that go unexpressed gain power over us. A brain imaging study by Dr. Matt Leiberman of UCLA has proved that by verbalizing our feelings of sadness, anger and pain become less intense. HOW DOES THIS WORK? As Dr. Lea Waters explains, “As soon as you ask a child to verbalize their emotion, the child accesses their brain’s pre-frontal cortex, which is the part they use for language and to process what’s happening. It takes them out of their amygdala, the lower part of the brain which is responsible for those strong emotional reactions and helps them calm down because it controls their impulses.”
As they taught in kindergarten, “use your words”…