The other day, I looked out the window and saw a kid on a bike waiting for the traffic light to change. It was one of those BMX-type trick bikes. As he waited for the light to change, he balanced on one foot, on the side of the bike, as he held it nearly parallel to the ground. He managed it for a while, but then he slipped off and had to get back on and start over. My initial thought upon witnessing this display was an uncharitable Hah! Lookit the showoff douchebag fall off his silly bike!
Then I took a (mental) step back.
Why did I immediately assume he was showing off? Or even that he was an unpleasant human being? Sure, what he was doing could have been showing off, but do I know that’s what he was doing? Nope. What if this kid is out there trying his best to learn something important to him? He could be so dedicated he’s using every single spare moment to practice.
After taking a moment to think about it, I felt really bad about that snap judgement. I also realized I still snap-judge negatively more than I’d like. I’ve been trying to change, but even now, I often jump to the worst conclusions about people. If I see someone act rude/angry in public, I assume they’re terrible people and not that they’re generally nice and are just having a bad day. I don’t like that about myself, which is why this is something I’ve been working on for a while. That slip-up with the bike kid illustrated that I haven’t come as far as I’d like.
I know I’m not alone. I see other people doing this too, and while I do understand the basic psychology behind it, I have to wonder if it really improves anyone’s life–at least beyond the momentary feeling of superiority. On the contrary, I suspect all those negative thoughts about our fellow humans start to build up and cause some real emotional pollution.
Scientists have recently been studying the effects of positive thinking. (And I’m not talking about any kind of psuedo-magical wish-fulfillment stuff here. I’m talking solid research on how the brain works.) What they’ve found seems to be a reflection of what I’ve discovered on my own. The more I focus on being positive instead of negative, the better off I’ve felt inside my own head. Thus I’ve been more creative and productive, which has made my life pretty sweet, if I do say so myself.
Do you find yourself making the same kinds of negative snap judgements about people and things? If so, I challenge you: for two weeks, try to pay close attention to your impressions of people and events. If you find that impression is something negative–you immediately jump to judginess, think about a positive possibility.* Really make yourself examine the nicer alternative. If you can, try to make yourself believe it. If it’s a case like my example, you’ll really never know the truth, and it doesn’t hurt anything to assume the best instead of the worst. On the contrary, you’ll be doing your brain a favour.
After a couple weeks of this, I’d be surprised if it didn’t change your general outlook on the world, at least subtly. Practice makes things easier–this is no different. Positivity will almost surely spill over into other aspects of your life, and who doesn’t want that? Like I said, I’ve been working on doing this for a while. Clearly I’m not perfect at it (sorry bicycle dude!), but I’m encouraged by how often I notice myself doing it and immediately flip my thinking. It’s really becoming second-nature.
So if you take my challenge, I wish you the best of luck! It’s genuinely good for you to think the best of people. So why not try?
*Yes, I realize there are plenty of things that are just plain awful and have no positive alternatives, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean those snap judgements where you’re assuming something based on very little information. Stop trying to derail me with irrelevant trivialities!
This may be the smartest blog post you have written! Good job with the writing…But most of all with the DOING. As the years of my life mount up, I feel like I do view more and more people/situations positively. But I’ll take you up on your challenge to try to be aware for 2 weeks. I want to see if I deserve the almost smug feelings I jumped to when reading this. Perhaps this will be 14 days of hard work! We’ll see! Thank you.
Heh. I tend to get smug about it too–until something like this happens, and I realize I’m not so “enlightened” as I thought. It’s probably good to have a reminder like that from time to time!
I absolutely agree with you about this. Too often we assume the worst about others, when thinking well of them has no personal cost. Why not always choose the positive option? It will brighten your state of mind, and you are still able to revise your opinion if and when you receive more information. This doesn’t make you naive, and doesn’t have to leave you vulnerable. Just assume the best until proven otherwise!
Erika, my sweet niece! This nearly brought me to tears of shame and I claim to be a Christian. I am so guilty of this myself. I accept the challenge and pray that I can truly change my negatives to be more positive in a lot of areas in my life. Thanks for the wake-up call I needed today. Love you to pieces!
I think most people are guilty of this, but recognizing it and trying to change it may be one of the more substantial life-changes possible. I know it has been for me. I hope you find it to be the same!
Hmm, this is an interesting tidbit: People who have a cynical distrust of others, and think their motives are selfish, could have a higher risk of developing dementia.