I was making lunch plans last week with my best buddy Jan. I told her, “This’ll be great. I can go over everything that’s bothering me… then I can go over everything that’s not bothering me.”
We do often go over things that are bothering us. But it did seem like an interesting idea to recap all the things aren’t bothering us as well.
Sometime back I ordered a book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By by Timothy D. Wilson, and I picked it up again the other day.
Early in the book, Wilson uses an example of a student in his first days of college. After the student takes a calculus exam, he is shocked to find out that his grade is a D. As Wilson explains, this student is going to tell himself a story about how this happened. The question is: what story will it be?
Imagine if the student says: “This is a sign that I don’t belong in college. I am going to fail. I should quit now.” It’s not a stretch to predict that that level of discouragement will continue to affect his future results. Perhaps he’ll adopt a fatalistic approach – he starts skipping classes and studies even less.
Or what if he tells himself a story, “This is a real wake-up call. I need to do better next time. I did well in high school, so I know I can do this. Besides, a whole lot of other people survive college. There’s no reason I can’t figure this out.”
Can you imagine how the second story would help the student reorganize his study habits and show up for class?
If you help someone redirect their stories, you can help them a great deal indeed. And here’s something anyone can do: help people see that the struggle they’re experiencing is common.
To test this theory, Wilson conducted an experiment where he brought in students who’d been struggling in their first year of college. In 30 minutes (about the same length as lunch with a friend), he showed the struggling students statistics about how other students had struggled in their first year but did better in future years. He even had some videoed testimonials from upper classmen whose grades had improved.
This was not much more than a way to tell the students: “Other people did better after their first bad grade. You can too.” That’s all it was – not study-skills intervention, just a way of reframing their discouragement.
You could say, the beauty of the experiment was allowing them to see, “I am not the only one.” As a result, the control group got better grades the next year.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”
So, if you see someone in a struggle today, why not try these research-proven words of encouragement: “You’re not the only one who feels that way.”
Enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 10