Recently, I watched a great TED talk by Dr. Alison Ledgerwood, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. Her talk explored how easy it is to get stuck in negative perspectives and the effort it takes to get unstuck. We’re all familiar with that age-old divide between people who see the glass as half full and half empty, between more positive and negative personalities.
Ledgerwood conducted a study about this issue with two groups of people. The groups were told about a new medical procedure. One group was told that the procedure had a 70% success rate and the other group was told that the procedure had a 30% failure rate. As you can imagine, the group who heard about the success rate felt favorably about the procedure and the group who heard about the failure rate felt negatively about the procedure. The effectiveness of the procedure didn’t change, just how the information was presented. But that’s not what caught Ledgerwood’s attention.
When the group who heard about the high success rate and felt favorably about the procedure was then told that there was a 30% failure rate, all of the sudden their position on the procedure soured. The second group, who heard negative information first, still had a negative perception of the procedure even after hearing of its successes. Further studies began to reveal that once we begin to think about a situation or outcome negatively, that perspective tends to stay with us even when we attempt to change it. Our brains easily tilt toward negative perspectives.
Think about how much longer you tend to obsess over one negative comment from someone and the amount of time you can enjoy a compliment. It doesn’t matter that five people really liked the work you did recently on that project, you’re going to go home and lose sleep over that one person who thought it “was just okay.” Who do they think they are? Don’t they know how hard you worked? This is just another example of how no one appreciates your work. Even though we may tend to obsess over the negatives, there are ways that we can change our perspectives and reframe positively, but it requires intentionality and support.
The first way to get out of a negativity rut is to Practice Gratitude. One of the best ways that you can get unstuck is by taking time each day to write down or have a conversation with someone about the good things that happened to you.
We tend to think that if we just vent about the boss who drives us crazy or the friend who didn’t call us back that we will feel better. But more often than not, instead of acknowledging these negative feelings and letting them go, we just keep stirring things up. It’s important for us to stop ourselves, or give someone we trust permission to stop us, and ask, “So what was good about today? What am I thankful for?” I don’t think it’s any coincidence how often the Bible encourages us to include thanksgiving in our prayers to God, even in difficult situations, and to remind ourselves of God’s unending love. So how will you practice gratitude this week? Maybe you’ll make sharing what your thankful for part of the nightly conversation around the dinner table or maybe you’ll write a list as part of your daily devotional time. But find a way that works for you.
The second way we get unstuck is to Explore Our Purpose. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that our life purpose is not just our jobs, family responsibilities, doctor appointments or even our goals. Some times we need to step outside of our usual routines and responsibilities to gain that perspective.
We can escape our negativity rut when we do those things that make us feel alive, that help us to live into the people God has called us to be. Jesus loved to remind his disciples that we discover true joy and meaning in life when we help others. So take some time to think about what it is you love to do and the activities that you enjoy so much you lose track of time? What inspires you? How can you use those passions to help someone else?
We have some members of our church who are encouragers and people of prayer, they’ve committed to write cards and pray for the people on our care list. Members of our City Gate mission team lead an annual summer camp to give kids from the city the experience of being outdoors and hiking. Others volunteer at our afterschool mentoring program or serve in our children’s ministry. Find the intersection of your passion and the needs of others, and you will discover new joy and meaning this year.
The Good News today is that there is no situation, no place from which God cannot bring good. The Bible shows us over and over again that God seems to specialize in bringing new hope and new life from the most surprising situations and people. So may you commit today to intentionally seeking to practice gratitude and exploring your purpose, so that 2018 will be a year of growth and discovery.
[This post is adapted from Pastor Austin’s Sunday sermon. To watch the full sermon, click here.]