We as humans, tend to focus on the negative experiences in our lives with far greater significance than the positive moments. This can be attributed to several things, but research tends to show that we not only do this in our day to day lives, but in memory, projecting, thought process, and more. In the psychology world, it’s referred to as negativity bias. Negative input has a deeper and more lasting effect in our minds than neutral or even positive ones. Basically, we’re just wired that way. It’s essentially what keeps us going; our minds are deeply evolved from a risk vs. reward survivability. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., puts it in terms of chasing carrots and avoiding sticks. He states, “If you miss out on a carrot today, you’ll have a chance at more carrots tomorrow. But if you fail to avoid a stick today – WHAP! – no more carrots forever. Compared to carrots, sticks usually have more urgency and impact.” We tend to focus on the negativity, well, because it’s what’s kept us alive. That negativity, fear, and hesitance, is what has kept us evolving into the 21stcentury. Subsequently it’s also what keeps us from improving our quality of life. It’s just what we do. We tend to minimize the good and exaggerate the bad. It’s why we say the “good ol’ days.” We become fixated on the sufferings of our current situation and have such a bleak expectation of the future, we visualize grandeur of the past. This mentality can cripple your goals, limit your faith, and halt your progression. Unfortunately, it’s human nature. We must combat against it, through strategic planning, appropriate goals, and whole hearted faith.
I grew up with a mother as a public-school math teacher, and heard quite often of the effects of grades on grade point averages. Now, this is nothing surprising, but holds true to the natural effects of rational numbers we play in our minds, knowingly or not. See, I was an intelligent youngster. However, I had a terrible work ethic and didn’t see the point of simple assignments, if I could easily pass exams and had a strong understanding of the material. The problem is numbers, and life, just don’t follow that same assessment. No single “A” or 105% could raise the overall grade of a string of missed assignments or bad marks. I ended up with an average result at best. One could hope that this would be the same in the contrary, but again numbers and life don’t work that way either. A single “F” could do serious damage to a consistent group of high marks, and similarly result in just an average overall grade. We experience this throughout our entire education. This calculated average of efforts reigns true throughout many aspects of our adult lives as well. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, this is just how numbers work, and numbers, like my mama, don’t lie. We are driven by statistics; we base much of what we do on analyzed data and numbers. The problem is, just like my educational approach, we only care about the big numbers… The end results! That final grade point average. So often, we give little weight to the actual events that are going to tally that final number. We just care about the end state. Let’s use a fitness journey as an example. All too often, I see someone who wants to lose 50lbs., and sets out on their journey to do just that. Not too long after they begin, negativity will often come creeping in. That individuals outlook is on the final GPA… 50lbs. When not achieved, or not achieved in the time frame of their choosing, often it is perceived that all is lost. The small goals, the daily assignments, the bulk of the grades, are all completely overlooked. They don’t celebrate that they’re in the gym 5 days a week, eating cleaner, feeling better, sleeping better, healthier, and just generally have more energy. They, just like we all tend to do, focus on the final GPA. It can derail your progress, kill your motivation, and sometimes cause you to give up all together.
There is an old saying, that supposedly derived from the military long ago that says “One aw shit wipes out a 100 attaboys.” I always heard it from my father as a slightly more positive approach as, “It takes 99 attaboys to make up for one aw shit.” Either way you choose to say it, delivers the same message of a single mistake can be quite costly. If this saying was derived in the military, I can tell you with full certainty that this statement bears some serious meaning. An “aw shit” on the battle field can cost lives. Many will argue that their day to day doesn’t carry as much weight as decisions in combat. This may very well be true, but in retrospect, they can certainly impact the quality of life. Your perspective of this statement, depends on how well you’ve read up to this point. The saying states that we must be cautious, because one foul step can impact all our hard work. By human nature, we will want to view this negatively and apply its philosophy with reproach. We’re wired to hesitate from this adage in our next steps, in fear of failure or blunder. The flipside to this coin, is understanding its ethical value over its numerical one. Yes, an aw shit can cause setbacks, but the statement should be a warning to blind ambition and not to deter you from pursuing your dreams. Embrace failure, they are life’s lessons. Just like in the gym, failure is when you really grow. It’s when the muscle is forced to adapt, just as you should in every failure you endure. Learn from each one, grow from each experience, and continue to take strategic steps forward after every misstep.
This simple genetic makeup and indoctrinated behavior can be so much more than a little setback. It can be the reason we don’t pursue goals or go after dreams. It can alter our outlook and cause deep depression. Even more so, it can crush our faith. It becomes easier and easier to shake your fist at our creator with each negative impact. To question God’s plan in every moment of adversity, is just human nature. It is exactly the thought process I have been describing to you. The same way we tend to focus on the negative aspects and diminish all the good, we tend to do so as well with God. Many of us fall to our knees in prayer during times of need, when all seems lost, and we ask, we plead, we beg for God to intervene. How often do we fall to our knees and praise him for the life he has given us? Do we plead for his continued mercy and grace, or beg for his miracles that he brings to us daily? It’s not how we are wired. In an odd sense of irony, our very creator hardwired into our DNA this negative outlook for our own survivability, that consequently will make us question him as our creator. It’s his infallible plan of creating fallible man. We don’t see the significance of the daily positive aspects of our lives that still carry a large and meaningful impact. It is through faith and an acute understanding of who we are, that gives us the ability to live beyond our limitations here on earth and into eternity.
So, how do we attempt to live beyond our limitations as man, to reach our goals, go after our dreams, and strengthen our faith? I believe it all comes down to two vital parts: declaration and strategy. To declare something verbally, publicly, and to family and friends is testament to your conviction in the matter. So, whether it be a goal to lose weight and get healthy, a dream to own your own business, or a newly pronounced faith in our savior Jesus Christ, declaring it provides a truth to that statement that cannot be contested. Strategy, is about actually understanding your declaration in its entirety and formulating the best plan to achieve it. Gather all the data and research you can pertaining to your declaration and begin to plan the best approach to achieve it. If it was to lose weight, then research exercise, nutrition, hire a professional, remove the temptations from your life that you know will impede your success. If it was to start a business, consult with financial advisors, research your market, hire professionals to help you, and remove the factors that will deter you from completing the task. If your faith is what you declared, do your research from the bible, seek God’s word in prayer, and remove anything from your life that will cause you to stray from the Lord. Take all this information and strategically set smaller goals of accomplishment that will keep you on track, keep you positive in your thinking, grounded in your faith, and overcome our negative bias.
Example: If you wanted to lose 50 lbs.
- Make a public declaration to lose weight
- Go to the gym 3 days a week
- Do cardio 5 days a week
- Throw out all junk food in my house
- Stop eating Fast Food
- Go to the gym 5 days a week
- Do a pull-up
- Run a mile without stopping
- Take a healthy cooking class
- Do 3 pull-ups
These smaller goals are strategically emplaced to bring positive accomplishments to your overall plan of losing 50 lbs. This will provide a more consistent approach to the goal, and provide a list of things to be grateful for and proud of. By doing so, it will provide you the positive encouragement you need to continue to your overall goal of losing 50 lbs.