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  • Writer's pictureRain Bennett

Ep. 127: The Substances that Control Your Story with David JP Phillips

David JP Phillips holds the world's most-viewed TEDx Talks on storytelling with almost 10 million views among his three talks. His popularity comes from his unique scientific but still entertaining perspective on all his subjects within communication, self-leadership, and "Death by Powerpoint."

In this episode of The Storytelling Lab, David discusses the parts of the brain that are impacted most by stories, how to use them to make yourself a better communicator, and why the most important story you must focus on is the story inside your head.



We know so little about the human brain.

But luckily, we are learning more and more each day.

There are several substances—neurochemicals—in your brain that completely control so many of your actions and behaviors, yet most of us are almost oblivious to the impact that these neurochemicals are having on the way we respond.

Your brain craves the release of these substances.

And like a lot of things, chasing the release of those neurochemicals can be used to your advantage or it can ultimately be what leads to your demise.

The beautiful thing is, ALL of them are elevated and influenced by the innate power of stories.

David JP Phillips is an expert in communication, connecting with your brain, and telling stories.

He has delivered the three most popular TEDx Talks on storytelling and has now founded Headgain, an online skill library designed to help people and businesses with communication such as public speaking, leadership, and delivering presentations.

David famously studied 5000 of the world's greatest speakers to learn the 110 communication and storytelling skills that were the secrets to their success.

And he uses those tips to help you communicate better.

But the most eye-opening part of the conversation we had on The Storytelling Lab was by far how he helped himself change the story inside his head.

David struggled with depression for years and it was through his journey of meditation and trying to hack his depression that he truly learned the power of the brain and the substances within it.

That led him to a seven-year quest of studying neurochemistry and ultimately how to produce his own neurotransmitters and hormones on command so that he could rule over his own emotions, and therefore define the quality of his life.

Does that sound like something you'd like to do??

It sure does for me.

After David went came out of his battle with depression, he had new knowledge of how the brain works and a new skill of communicating in a way that hooks right into the brains of the people he sought to serve.

He started understanding that communication—storytelling—was at the core of everything.

And if someone understood how to be a great storyteller, they could make their presentations more effective, they could be a better leader, they could create more compelling content, and they could deepen their human relationships.

They could, in fact, lead a better life.

Everything that we see, our brain translates into a narrative. We're constantly simulating our future. That is what creates anxiety, because of the simulations of the possible outcomes of our future. And if we're not simulating our future, we are replaying our past, which can cause depression. The entire function of the prefrontal cortex is to simulate the future and replay the past in order to understand our present. So when I tell you a narrative, it just hooks straight in to the very core of how the brain functions. - David JP Phillips

The battle we fight to live our best lives and deepen our impact on the world through our work is daily. We have to show up to the fight in order to progress.

And so much of our success in that battle depends on the impact of these substances in our brains.

The five steps that David took to change the story he was telling himself were:

  1. Daily mediation (20 mins a day for six weeks)

  2. "Stress Mapping"

  3. Focus Questions

  4. Exercising Regularly

  5. Practicing Mindfulness

By doing these, he was able to change the narrative in his brain from a cortisol-driven "Devil's Cocktail" to a dopamine-driven "Angel's Cocktail."

And changing his perspective then changed his life.

If you are interested in learning about the six substances that can change your life, this is the episode for you!


Some of the highlights of our conversation:

  • after studying 5000 public speakers to find the top 110 communication and public speaking skills, what is his next quest

  • how depression led him onto this career path and how he beat it

  • his upcoming book, Six Substances That Will Change Your Life

  • the eye-opening revelation that he much teach what he learned

  • how sharing his story has impacted him the most in unexpected ways

  • the inspiration behind his successful TEDx Talks

  • why communication is the most powerful tool

  • the neurochemicals that power the brain

  • how dopamine (or several neurochemicals) can be both good and bad

  • the power of storytelling and how to do it effectively

  • how to change the story inside your head

  • how to hack depression

  • the difference between an Angel's Cocktail and a Devil's Cocktail

  • why the brain processes information in a narrative form

As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!

Peace and Love,



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For more storytelling tips and tricks,

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