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The Transformational Power of Story

I recently presented at the annual conference of The Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine – held in Auckland (Tāmaki-makau-rau) New Zealand (Aotearoa). It was a brilliant time not just of learning but of connection and friendship with our brother and sister health and wellness professionals.

On the morning of the final day of the conference, it was a delight to hear from Dr N Margarete Ezinwa, the Director of the Lifestyle Medicine Global Alliance. She spoke of the power of story to change and told a moving story of her own showing the power of Lifestyle Medicine to change lives. No spoilers, but the story was of someone very dear to her who had his own journey from Olympic champion to declining health and then incredible recovery. At the conference dinner the evening before, we were treated to an amazing story of redemption from a Māori man who set his own vision for better health at the point that he weighed over 600 pounds (275kg). He is now a champion of health behavior change in his own community.

I want to tell you another story. I’m not going to name the individuals, not because I think they’d mind, but because I want to make sure the message of the story is paramount.

On the Friday late afternoon of the conference I chanced upon a delegate. We got talking and it turned out he is a final year med student, born in Canada and studying in Australia. He was attending the conference through a collegiate connection but with perhaps some degree of skepticism or at least reserved judgment about the evidence behind lifestyle medicine. We spent the next hour or so chatting and connected over our own stories (including both sharing the same former occupation!) and he told me that this was the first ever medical conference he had attended.

We connected briefly a couple more times during the conference and he indicated that he was enjoying his time.

Fast forward to the last day of the conference – I was chatting with a Physician who has his own incredible story of recovery from near death and who had appreciated some input I had had at the conference. By way of gratitude, he gifted me a book he has written, inscribed with a personal message. I mentioned to him during our conversation my new colleague and that this was his first medical conference –  a Lifestyle Medicine conference! The response: “I want to give him one of my books too”. About 20 minutes later, I was handing over a copy of this book inscribed personally and with the message “Welcome to the Club”.

As the conference concluded on Sunday afternoon, I farewelled my new medical student colleague and we agreed to stay in touch. As we parted, he said “Thank you for making me feel so welcome…” and then added “I think this conference has changed the course of my life”.

I’ll admit to having a small tear rolling down my cheek as I write this, knowing that the power of story to change lives – personal and professional – is extraordinary. It appears that the worldwide movement of Lifestyle Medicine has a new member. And I’m confident that in time, he will have his own stories to tell to encourage the healing and enrichment of other lives.

The stories our clients have about themselves and the stories they want to be able to tell about themselves are extraordinary. Our job as health coaches is to listen, to hear them and help to amplify the elements that lead to re-visioning and redemption, harnessing the genius, power and magic that lies in story.

Simon Matthews is the CEO of Wellcoaches® Australia. He’s a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, IBLM Diplomate and Member of the Australian Psychological Society.

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