The Impact of Repetition on Traditions and One's Story

Every culture - ancient and modern - has oral traditions, stories and songs they pass onto future generations. Their survival depends upon current and future ancestors hearing the stories and songs, copiously retelling them from the storyteller's memory and appealing to the person(s) receiving the stories. All stories and traditions have elements of purpose, meaning and connection to the past and future.

Cognitive scientist David Rubin notes in his book Memory in Oral Traditions, "If a tradition is to survive, it must be stored in one person's memory and passed on to another person who is also capable of storing and retelling it. All of this must occur over many generations ... Oral traditions must, therefore, have developed forms of organization and strategies to decrease the changes that human memory imposes on the more casual transmission of verbal material."

Some strategies that aid stories include purpose and meaning as well as powerful visual images that describe concrete actions connected to a tune or music. Patterns of sound include poetry, alliteration, repetition and rhyme. Rubin's own experiment showed that linking two words in a ballad through rhyme confirmed that college students remembered them better than non-rhyming words.

Mnemonics or memory aids are structured for easy recall of information. Music mnemonics is one way to combine information with a familiar tune that reinforces the information and transfer of learning of concepts, new information and even storytelling. Schoolhouse Rock!, a popular Saturday morning short animated show on television in the 1970's and 80's, is an example where songs like "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" become ingrained due to the repetition of the lyrics, music and visual imagery.

One modern storyteller is in the medical field. Dr. Arie Perry, is a professor of pathology and neurological surgery at UC-San Francisco, created lyrics paired with traditional tunes about the details and signs of health and neurological diseases that medical students and residents are exposed to in the hundreds of hours of lectures as a way to combat rote memorization.

As it relates to the importance of the telling of one's own story, Dr. Jim Loehr refers to this as the story that you tell yourself and others. We all have stories that we tell ourselves and others. Some are grounded in truth, however, many are considered distorted. We use these stories to reinforce our current thinking and situation.

Creating one's new story takes time to craft and repetition to embed it into one's memory. Investing in crafting a new story can transform your life and the lives of those that matter most to you. The potential effect on others could be immeasurable as they hear you retell your new story to commit it to memory. Moreover, there is also the impact your story may have on others, like family, as elements of your new story become part of their story. Loehr's final thoughts in The Power of Story: "Our stories are our destiny … requires commitment… and editing for as long as we are alive."

As you craft, refine and read your new story, even if it is not written to a catchy tune or rhyme, creating powerful visual images through your written words can connect you to your new story and what matters most.

Rubin, David, Memory in Oral Traditions, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Perry, Dr. Arie,
Loehr, Jim, The Power of Story, Simon and Schuster, 2007.