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Stop Hurting Yourself


I was counseling a patient last week who was having trouble with proper boundaries in his relationship with his girlfriend. He had a new job opportunity that he wanted to pursue, but his girlfriend thought it would take too much time away from her. “I really want to do this, but I don’t want to hurt her,” he confessed to me.

“YOU are not hurting her by making this choice,” I explained. “SHE is choosing to hurt herself.” I went on to explain that she had the power of choice, and she was making the choice not to support him, and to feel hurt. She could choose differently. She could choose to be happy for him, to be willing to be positive, to be willing to see what would happen, to be willing not to take it personally. All these were options open to her, and were her choice to make.

He could not choose for her, and he could not live his life trying only to figure out what would not hurt her. He had to make HIS best choices. Of course he needed to consider her feelings and the impact of his choices on her, but he still needed to take the responsibility for his choice, and she needed to take the responsibility for hers.

Afterwards, I started thinking not about the advice I gave him, but the advice that I would have given her. I would have said, “Look, I know you’re hurt, or disappointed, or frustrated with this situation, but how you react is STILL YOUR CHOICE. You can choose anger, or bitterness, or despair, or you can choose hope, or forgiveness, or perseverance instead. You are only hurting yourself by choosing a painful emotion.”

So, how about you? How are you hurting yourself with bitterness, or anger, or despair? Be honest. There are few people who don’t have some area in their heart where they are choosing to hurt themselves.

If you look, your heart will say, “But I can’t help but feel this pain— look at how painful this situation is.” But choice is always yours: Helen Keller could have chosen bitterness when she lost her sight and hearing, but she came to choose gratitude. Victor Frankl could have chosen despair in a Nazi concentration camp, but he chose hope instead. Thomas Edison could have chosen frustration the first 900 times he tried and failed to perfect the electric light bulb, but his dogged choice over and over again of persistence changed the world.

You have the same power of choice. You can choose to look at your life & look at your heart. You can choose to let go of emotions that only hurt you, and choose a better path.

“But I just can’t, I can’t let it go,” you feel your heart say. It really is a matter of the heart, isn’t it? That’s where God comes in: He is the One who knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves, and He is the only One who has the power to change our hearts. Even when we feel our heart can’t change, our hope can still be in God to change our hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26 God says,

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Has God given you a new heart through Jesus Christ? Then you have the power to choose the path of love & life. Have the courage to ask God for the wisdom and strength to choose that better path today.

Seven Rules to Get You Moving Again

Have you ever felt stuck?  Had a decision or situation or place in your life where you felt that you just couldn’t move?  Felt like your wheels were spinning but you were just getting deeper in the hole?

Sure, we all have been there.  We’ve all felt stuck before. And maybe that’s where you are right now in your life: you feel just as stuck as that poor car in the picture.  The question is, how do you get unstuck?  How do you get yourself moving again?  Just follow these seven rules and you’ll be moving again today:

Rule #1  Remember You’re Never Really Stuck

The first rule of getting unstuck is to remember that you’re never really stuck, you just feel like you’re stuck.  The mere fact that you’re human and you’re conscious means that you have the power of choice.  You always have the power to make a decision, take a step, and move forward.  Until you realize you have that ability to choose, no matter what your situation, you will never get unstuck.

“But I really am stuck– you don’t know my situation…”— your mind may be saying that, but don’t believe it!  Everyone has the power to choose, no matter what.  Just because you don’t have the power to choose what you most want doesn’t mean you have no power to choose at all.

You may be out of a job, and say, “I don’t have the power to choose to go to work this morning”— but you can choose to get out of bed.  You may be out of a relationship, and you may not be able to choose to go out with the date of your dreams tonight, but you do have the choice of going out by yourself and smiling at a perfect stranger, or staying home and calling a friend you haven’t caught up with in years.

No one has unlimited choice; no one can choose their exact perfect choice 100% of the time; we all have limitations.  But we all can make a choice.  The first step in getting unstuck is to convince yourself that yes, you can get unstuck.  Yes, you can make a choice.

Rule #2 Leave Your Past in the Past

It’s so easy to get stuck in the past.  There’s so many miry pits that seem to swallow us up.  A thought of the past will wander into our thinking, and it seems to swallow us up like quicksand.

But as long as we’re living in the past, we’re (guess what?) living in the past.  We can’t move forward until we leave the past behind.  Living in the past comes in three flavors: blame, guilt, & glory.

Blame: “He did this to me.”  “I was never able to do this because of her.”  “If only this hadn’t happened to me”  The voices all say the same thing: there is some choice we wish we could make that we cannot, because of the action or inaction of someone else in our past.  Well, here’s the bottom line you tell yourself:  “It’s in the past!”  Leave it, let it go.  Yes, there’s choices no longer available to you, but you still have options, and the only way you can truly fail is if you choose to do nothing.

Guilt & Regret: “If only I had…”  “If only I hadn’t…”  All of us have those whispers in our thoughts, because we’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all had failures and missed opportunities.  Guilt & regret can paralyze us just as much as blame, and the solution is the same: Let it go, and move on.

Glory: This is a more subtle flavor of living in the past, because you’re living in something wonderful that used to be.  “I had the best spouse ever before they died.”  “That was a great vacation.”  “I couldn’t ask for a better friend than she was.”  Although it’s good to enjoy and be grateful for the past, don’t let it prevent you from living your present.  Your journey hasn’t ended yet; you still have new experiences and joys that you can’t even imagine IF you’re willing to get moving & grow.

Rule #3 Forget the Future

Don’t fall prey to “Someday My Prince Will Come” syndrome.  It’s tempting to spend all your mental energy on your dreams, imagining how things will get better, how that ideal relationship or job will someday appear, how you’ll have the house by the lake or the idyllic retirement.

Well, none of those futures will just magically appear.  To get to that future destination will require you to make smart choices now, and get going.  Focus on what you need to do today, and the future will pleasantly suprise you.

Rule #4 Dump Despair

Everyone has discouraging days; everyone has times when they think, “Well, what’s the use?”  The problem is not if you have discouragement, but what you do with it.

First, simply acknowledge it.  Say out loud, “I’m feeling discouraged right now.”  Next, realize that discouragement is just an emotion, it’s not a statement of fact.  It is your emotional interpretation of a situation, and you can choose a different interpretation.  Your discouragement is not you, and you can change it just as you can change your clothes.

There are whole books written about the how part of how you can turn around discouragement, but remember to (1) Take care of your body with healthy food, exercise, and sleep (2) Spend as much time as you can around supportive, positive, clear-minded people (3) Take care of your spiritual health by spending time with God every day and (4) Realize that persistent, worsening despair should be evaluated by a physician.

Rule #5 Dispel Doubt & Fear

The twins doubt and fear have kept many frozen in their tracks, unable to move, both literally and metaphorically.  Although we laugh when we see doubt and fear played for laughs in characters like Barney Fife, it’s not so funny or even recognizable when the character is us.

Sometimes we try to camoflague our fear by saying we’re being conservative or cautious, or that we just don’t like to try new things.  Doubt can take the form of “I’m just waiting for more information” or “I’m planning on getting to that next week.”

Don’t let your life be wasted by these emotions.  There’s no such thing as a sure thing: life is risk.  The only sure bet is that you’ll miss out on everything if you stay where you are.  Plunge ahead, take the chance, and live your life.

Rule #6 Deny Difficulty & Diversion

When the way is hard, it’s easy to “stop & take a breather.”  “I’ll just lay off the diet for today.”  “I’ll start exercising again next week.”  “I’ll talk to my boss about that tomorrow.”  “Maybe I’ll call her later…”

Maybe those excuses sound familiar, because they’re (guess what!) excuses! There’s not a sound reason in the bunch.  You’ve got to stare them down and say, “No, I’m going to keep going and do what I promised myself I would do.  The decision has already been made.

More alluring than difficulty is diversion.  It seems to give even better excuses than difficulty.  “The sale is only on today.”  “I didn’t know that movie was on tonight.”  “Oh, look at this I could do instead.”  and the dreaded “I haven’t checked my facebook for over an hour!”

As any productivity expert will tell you, the only way to knock down a target is to keep hitting at it. The time to accomplish that goal is NOW.  If you have to think twice about whether you should take that “break” (whatever it is), then don’t.  Focus, focus, focus.

Rule #7 Stop Procrastinating & Start Moving Now!

Are you all out of reasons to not get moving?  No??? Well this should take care of all the other reasons in your hat:  JUST DO IT!  Seriously.  At some point you’ve just got to pull your face out of your navel and do it.

So, here’s your plan:  Pick something that you’re stuck on.  Go ahead, I know you have something.  Pick it now.  Ok, now choose to do something about it TODAY.  You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest, just pick one simple action that you can do today.  Ok, now DO IT.  Promise yourself right now that you won’t take no for an answer, that you will do this before your head hits the pillow, NO MATTER WHAT.  And once you’re moving, congratulate yourself and celebrate by sharing this post with someone else who needs to get moving again.

How Is Your Faith Tested?

two paths by RyanBSchultz via Flickr

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

 

When you think of your faith being tested, what comes to mind?

Faith that God will heal a loved one?

Faith that God will open a door so you can get a job?

Faith that God will (insert supernatural outcome) to (bad situation I want out of)?

I think there is a problem in always thinking of the “testing of our faith” in this way.  Yes, God is still in the business of doing truly supernatural things, but that’s not how life is day to day.  It’s also important to realize that many times we put our faith in some good outcome we want, but not something that God has actually promised.  If we put our faith in a supernatural outcome that God hasn’t promised to us (that new job, a healed loved one), what happens when the job doesn’t come, or when the loved one dies?  Even in the great faith chapter in Hebrews, it speaks of people being tortured, dying, and even “not receiving what was promised.”

So what is the testing of the faith that James speaks of?   He says we will meet “trials of various kinds”– like we would run into tests of faith all the time.   What kind of tests to our faith would that be?

May I suggest that it the testing that all of God’s people face every day, the test of choosing the narrow gate:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Every day we must make choices that test our faith.  Do we make the easy choice of passing by the person in need, or do we take the narrow gate of helping the person who can never repay us?  Do we make the easy choice of looking at that inappropriate internet site knowing that “it’s harmless”— or do we take the narrow gate of having the faith that a life of integrity will be blessed by God?  Do we run that stop sign or be late for that meeting?  Do we speak with love toward the person that hurt us?  Do we put down the right numbers on that income tax form, knowing there would be more money in our pocket if we don’t?  Do we stay in that marriage that we are miserable in, knowing that getting out would make us happier?

All these are tests of faith: tests for us to answer that entering the narrow gate, following the path of a disciple, will be best, even if our fallen reasoning & desires urge us otherwise.  Only by passing these tests day by day will steadfastness be produced in our hearts.  Only by choosing the narrow gate, day after day, will we one day be perfect & complete.

A Reason Beyond All Reasons

“I have my reasons.”

All of us have heard that phrase, whether in the movies or maybe from our own lips.  Even if we’ve never spoke the words, we’ve thought them.  In fact, we think those words continously, every day, whenever we think or feel or act.

When we look forward to going into work, we have our reasons, whether we have them written down in a list (like I have) or not.  When we are angry because we lost out on a bonus.  Disappointed over a relationship.  Anxious about a test result.  Grieving from a loss.  For every single emotion & act, we all have our reasons.

You see, our “reasons” structure our entire lives, exerting a great influence over all that we think and feel and do.  We can call them reasons or mental models or self-talk or whatever we like— they are constantly at work, though often subtly, behind the scenes in the deep places of our souls.

Although we don’t like to admit it or may not even realize it, many of our reasons in life are shallow or self-centered or just plain wrong.  They make us feel foolish emotions and cause us to take foolish actions.  We reason “I need to feel secure” and so we strive to accumulate money for ourselves instead of meeting the needs of others.  We reason “I’m lonely” and end up in a relationship that we knew was wrong.  We reason “I’m empty” and fill up on food or drink or something more damaging.  We reason that we need to be in control and manage to make ourselves and others miserable in our futile attempt to have everything perfect.

Our reasons always seem, well, reasonable to us.  We are daily using our mental models to justify our behavior. If we get a higher paying job opportunity away from family & friends, we’d be foolish not to take it.  If that church project would make us give up a summer vacation, well, of course we need some time to relax.  If we really love each other, it doesn’t matter whether we’re married before we sleep together.

Don’t automatically assume that all the reasons operating in your mind at this moment are right, just because you are a Christian or love God or are a “good person.”  In fact, I can guarantee that they are not.  We all have many faulty mental models, both from absorbing the warped world all around us and the twisted thinking of our own sin-stained minds.

We all need work, a lot of work, to renew our minds.  Part of how we grow more like Christ is the process of taking on the mind of Christ, having our thought processes align with His.  Paul speaks of this in several passages, especially 2 Corinthians 10:5—

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

Hebrews 4:12 speaks of how the Spirit uses the words of Scripture to open up even the deep places in our souls:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It would be great to have “five simple steps” that would give us a mind perfectly aligned with Christ, so that every thought and intention of our hearts becomes pure and perfect.  The only problem is that there is no such list.  The renovation of our hearts is not so simple, not so easy.  It is a lifetime process for all of us.

But as the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  So here’s one step you can take today:

Look at how the Apostle Paul lived his life.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul described his thoughts and reasons for his life and his actions.  At the end in verse 23 he summed it up by stating:

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

That was Paul’s reason for all that he did— “for the sake of the gospel.”  Paul was single-mindedly fixated on making Jesus Christ known to others in all His fullness, glory, beauty and love, and guiding them to walk with Him.  He had one supreme reason beyond all other reasons in his life.

cross by wingnutAA via flickrIf you are a Christian, I challenge you to use the sake of the gospel as the reason for everything in your life.  If you stay in shape, don’t let it be so you can look good or so you can live a long life.  Those are good things, and if they come with the exercise well and good, but let your motivation be for the sake of the gospel, so that you can minister to more people with a healthy body.

If you marry, don’t do it for love or companionship or children or security or money.  God may or may not grant those things to you, but make the decision and keep your vow for the sake of the gospel.  If you take a new job offer, don’t let it be for prestige or power or money, but let it be for the sake of the gospel.  If you buy new shoes, if you go on a mission trip, if you go over to a friend’s house, let anything and everything be for Christ and His Kingdom.

Let that sink in, and let it blow your mind.  Think of what it would mean to live every minute empowered with a reason beyond all reasons.  Think, with Paul, of the blessings of striving with all your being to bring “every thought captive” to the single focus of making Christ known and loved and followed, both in your life and in the lives of others.  If you decide to do everything for the sake of the gospel, It will surely change your life, both today and for all eternity.

The Most Important Choice You’ll Make Today

choice love garden path

Each day is a series of choices.  Some days the choices seem to come fast and furious in a helter-skelter chaotic blur.  Other days there seems to be only one choice, the one that seems to scream for your exclusive attention and leaves you emotionally petrified and mentally exhausted.  Whatever kind of day you are experiencing today, let me draw your attention to the most important choice you will make today, one that will affect every other choice and every other part of your day.

The choice is both simple yet difficult: simple to say, difficult to do.  Here it is:

Today I choose to love, embrace, & enjoy God, others, and life.

Take a moment to savor and reflect upon each word:

Today…  There has been much said about the importance of living in the moment, in the now, and it is true.  You must live today, and the choices you make must be for today.  You can choose to live in a past which you can do nothing about, or live in a future over which you have no control.  Choose to live in today.

I…   no one else will make this choice for you, and no one else can hinder you from making this choice.  It is up to you.  Choose.

Choose…  again, it is your choice to make.  Live intentionally: know that you are making the choice, and know what choice you are making.  Don’t let your life and your soul be a ship shoved in whichever direction the storm is raging; let your choice be the anchor that keeps you firmly where you want to be.

Love…  the pre-eminent commandment from the Bible is to love God, and then love others.  It is that simple.  And yet it is still our choice to love.  Sometimes it is a hard choice, but the alternative, not to love, empties our souls.  Love God, love others, and love the gift of life.

Embrace… All is a gift: receive it and embrace it as such.  God has given us Himself as the most precious gift of all.  Embrace Him.  Every person in our life is there for a reason, even if they seem to be indifferent or even hurtful to us.  Choose to embrace them.  We can merely live life, or we can give it a big bear hug, even with its pain.  Embrace life.

Enjoy…  Loving and embracing opens our hearts to joy.  Genuinely enjoy God as you love His beauty and embrace His presence.  Enjoy everyone in your life for who they are and what they bring to your life.  Enjoy your life, amidst both the victories and defeats, the peaks and the valleys.  Enjoy every day, enjoy every minute.

Love, embrace, enjoy.  It really is your choice.  Choose God, choose others, choose life today.

For those interested, the garden path photo was shot by me at The National Aboretum in 2006.  The text was added via the very cool editor at www.picknik.com.  If you’d like a copy of the picture, you can download it in various sizes here.

No Longer a Slave

One of the most important realizations of the Christian life is that we no longer have to be a slave to how we feel. 

There are many words to describe the internal stirrings of our soul— desire, emotion, passion. No matter how rational or disciplined or principled we pride ourselves on being, it is this ever-changing sea of swirling emotional currents that we really ride the ship of our lives on.

Sometimes our emotions serve us well: like a steady river they can carry us to where we want to go.  Other times our desires seem to be in a dead calm and we can’t seem to go anywhere, don’t even feel like getting out of bed in the morning.  Worse, we may feel a strong current of anxiety, anger, lust, or pride pulling us toward a destination that we know will end in misery.  Most days, we feel like we’re in a chaotic storm of every emotion in the book pulling us in a dozen directions at once.

But because of Christ, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Paul saw that we have both desires inspired by the Holy Spirit and desires inspired by our old nature, the flesh:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatian 5:17)

But because of Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin & its desires (Romans 6).  When we feel a tugging to leave the presence of God, whether through anger or anxiety or lust or pride, we can tell ourselves that we are children of God and servants of righteousness– we don’t have to follow that emotion, that desire, into sin.  We are free to love & follow God.  As Paul says in Galatians 5:25,

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

We are no longer a slave to the swirling seas of our old nature. We can stay in the steady, sure current of the Spirit as it carries us ever closer to Christ.

Love Is A Choice

This story was lighting up some newswires and blogs this week:

A Bosnian couple are getting divorced after finding out they had been secretly chatting each other up online under fake names.
Sana Klaric, 27, and husband Adnan, 32, from Zenica, poured out their hearts to each other over their marriage troubles, and both felt they had found their real soul mate.
The couple met on an online chat forum while he was at work and she in an internet cafe, and started chatting under the names Sweetie and Prince of Joy.
They eventually decided to meet up – but there was no happy ending when they realised what had happened.
Now they are both filing for divorce – with each accusing the other of being unfaithful.
Sana said: “I thought I had found the love of my life. The way this Prince of Joy spoke to me, the things he wrote, the tenderness in every expression was something I had never had in my marriage.
“It was amazing, we seemed to be stuck in the same kind of miserable marriages – and how right that turned out to be.
“We arranged to meet outside a shop and both of us would be carrying a single rose so we would know the other.
“When I saw my husband there with the rose and it dawned on me what had happened I was shattered. I felt so betrayed. I was so angry.”
Adnan said: “I was so happy to have found a woman who finally understood me. Then it turned out that I hadn’t found anyone new at all.
“To be honest I still find it hard to believe that the person, Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things to me on the internet, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years.”

 Ok— here’s what I thought: this man and woman proved that they were capable of loving another person:  of listening, of being tender, understanding, giving.  They made a choice of acting that way to someone they met on the internet.

They made another choice: of NOT acting that way to their “real” spouse.  The man said that his wife “has not said a nice word to me for years.”  Now both probably had “reasons”— he’s this way, she hurt me that way, I just don’t feel anything for him, he never treats me the way I want to be treated.  But regardless of what their spouse did or didn’t do, regardless of how they did or did not feel, there’s still a choice— a choice that was theirs to make.

We have a choice too, in our marriages and in our relationships.  Every day.  Sometimes the choice is easy, when our feelings and their actions make loving them easy.  Sometimes the choice is hard, when hurt and disappointment loom large.  But the choice is always ours to make.

What will you choose today?  Will you choose to love?

The Decision Has Already Been Made

determination by Baston via Flickr

Workouts are like brushing my teeth; I don’t think about it, I just do it. The decision has already been made.” ~Patti Sue Plumer, US Olympian

I got up and ran this morning.  I am not a “runner”— running is not the center of my existence.  In fact, most days I don’t even like it.  But I know I need the exercise; I know that running is good for this body that God has given me.

That’s where the above quote comes in.  If I had thought about it, if I had turned over in my mind whether or not I should run this morning, there’s a pretty fair chance that my lazy butt could have come up with a lame excuse for not running.  But the decision had already been made.  I was running.  And I didn’t give myself the opportunity to “think it over” and back out.

This principle can apply to more than running.  At any decision point, I have a choice to do less than what I know to be God’s best, God’s will.  (That’s ”temptation” and “sin” for you theologically minded folks)

In my humanness, if I give my mind a chance, it is going to try to talk me out of God’s best for my life.  But I can say “the decision has already been made”— I am going to follow Christ.

If you look back, this is where Eve messed up:

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?” The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Genes 3:1-6 The Message Bible paraphrase)

Did you catch it?  She started wondering, thinking, questioning, “What if?…..” when she could have just said, “The decision has already been made.  I will follow God’s instructions.”

Where in your life do you need to put a resolution about what is right in concrete?  Go ahead and make your choice to follow God in that area now, so when confronted with the opportunity to compromise you can firmly say “The decision has already been made.”

 

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingThere are some books that are the brain equivalent of cotton candy— satisfying but with no real nutrition.  There are other books that really stretch your brain but also throw it into cramps trying to understand what the book is saying, so you end up grabbing your head shouting ”ow ow ow!”

Blink is a great example of a book that really blows your mind without causing it any pain; it is an entertaining, accessible introduction to a fascinating but little known field of research known by various names such as “adaptive unconscious” ”thin-slicing” or as the author likes to put it “thinking without thinking” (see, simple words, no brain cramp there!).

What is he talking about here?  Simply put, most of us divide our brains into two functional parts, the part that does things like control our muscles and breathing (unconscious) and the part that composes poems, makes mathematical calculations, and decides where to go on vacation (conscious).

However, our brains have a third distinct type of function: subconscious processing. Every second we are awake our brains are compiling huge amounts of data that our senses are feeding us, then making complex decisions about that data instantaneously and continuously, then feeding those decisions to us subconsciously.  We don’t even realize this is happening— it’s often what we call “our gut” or “intuition,” but in reality it is an incredibly sophisticated and powerful processing ability that is beyond anything that a computer can do.

Gladwell uses a variety of entertaining, thought-provoking, and sometimes alarming examples of both anecodote and detailed research to open our minds to what our “adaptive unconscious” is doing for us every day.  For instance, one research project he mentions in the introduction found that,

A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.  That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.

So, what does the book cover? Gladwell himself outlines three major tasks that he wanted the book to accomplish:

First task: decisions made very quickly (through our subconscious processing abilities) can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

Second task: That we can learn about how this subconscious processing works and when it can be trusted and when to be wary of it.

Third task:  that “our snap judgements and first impressions can be educated and controlled… as we can teach ourselves to think logically and deliberately (better), we can also teach ourselves to make better snap judgments. The power of knowing, in that first two seconds, is not a gift given magically to a fortunate few.  It is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves.”

Along the way, the reader is intrigued and entertained by a wide variety of little known research facts about human behavior and thinking.  There is the marriage researcher who can predict divorce with 95% accuracy years before it happens by only listening to a couple have a conversation for a few minutes.  How does he do it?  By focusing on the ratio of conscious and subconscious positive to negative emotion expressed (a ratio any worse than 5:1 positive:negative is bad, and any expression of true contempt is a death knell).

Then there is the online test you can take to show whether you have a subconscious prejudice against blacks (80% of whites and even 50% of blacks do). And how you can influence how patient a test subject will be by having them read sentences that have words like ”patient” in them before they have to wait on someone. And his interview with a lady who can separate the taste of Oreos into ninety separate components (eleven of which are critical, we are told!).  And the team that has calculated every possible anatomic facial expression, what they mean, how some cannot be faken or hidden, and even that the mere act of forming some facial expressions trigger the autonomic nervous system on a subconscious level (in other words, smiling really can make us feel happy!).

So, by the time you turn the last page, how well does Gladwell succeed on each of his three tasks?  For task #1, he does great. Time after time he convincingly shows the power and the wonder of our subconscious processing, and how often it is superior to what we normally think of as “thinking.”  I gained a great deal more respect for the incredible things that my brain does and what an incredible creation of God it is.

What about the second task, to understand how this works and when to trust it? This is much harder, because we are just beginning to do serious research on the nature and extent of our subconscious processing.  He gives a few good examples of where our “gut” doesn’t do a good job, such as when evaluating people by stereotypes such as height or race, or having to make certain decisions in rapid high stress situations.  But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg regarding the limitations of our subconscious.

Unfortunately, with the third task (to make better “snap judgements”) no book can deal definitively, because generally you have to thoroughlly understand how and why something is going wrong to correct it, and our limited understanding of our preconscious really hampers our ability to proactively improve and correct it.

All in all, this is an enormously fascinating and entertaining book that is both an important and a fun read for anyone.  To better understand both the power, extent, and limitation of how we “think without thinking” is of value to all of us. Unconditionally recommended.

More information from Amazon.com on the book is available here. All of my book reviews on Amazon.com are available here.

The Path of Pain

OK, I’ll admit it… I sometimes watch Smallville.

No, it’s not to watch Clark act like a doofus every week, I actually end up screaming at the TV “will you just get over the adolescent angst thing and grow up!!” more often than not.

And it’s not to watch Chloe show more intelligence, maturity and snappy one-liners than the rest of the cast put together (or at least I can’t admit I watch Chloe, my wife reads this blog). 

No, I actually tune in to watch Lex.  I see Lex representing humanity and what has went wrong with us since the Fall in some intriguing ways.

In the episode Lexmas, in a near-death experience Lex gets to see a future where he turns from his dark side and finds a life worth living with the woman that he loves.. and yet it ends in pain and loss.  His dead mother in the vision pleads with him to accept that life even with its pain, but Lex is convinced of a better way.  He says,

And you know what the secret to living happily ever after is? Power! Money…and power! Since when you have those two things, you can secure everything else. And keep it that way…

In the later episode Void, once again Lex has a near death experience and talks with his dead mother.  This time she warns and begs,

You think the path you’ve chosen isn’t going to hurt?  It will.  More than you can ever imagine.  You’re not the only one who’s going to suffer…a field of beautiful flowers lain barren by an emptiness that can never be filled…don’t let the blood wash away what’s left of your soul…[the blood] of all the people you’re going to murder…

Even after that dire warning, Lex is even more determined to grab the power he needs to make the life he wants happen, to take the path he thinks will avoid any pain.

Ever since Eve, we have convinced ourselves that we know what it’s going to take to make our life happy, and we do anything necessary for that to come about.  We choose the path that we think will avoid pain, but in our fallenness we end up making bad choices.  We avoid the path of a painful conversation, but later we must walk the path of a broken relationship.  We avoid the path of hunger, but we later must endure the pain of obesity.  Or like Lex, we choose the path of power and control to prevent anything bad happening to us or the ones we love, but one day we will look back and see that the very path we thought would free us from pain instead imprisons us in it.

The path our fallen hearts choose may seem right to us, but they will always end in pain.  Only by turning to Christ, only by taking His narrow way and being willing to endure His cross, will we be able to escape the path that looks promising to our human wisdom but can only end in agony:

For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)