For centuries philosophers have known that it is not primarily what we observe that influences us the most. It is how we interpret and make sense of those observation that has the most powerful influence upon us. This is because our brains are CLARITY junkies.
YOUR BRAIN AND CLARITY
Basically, the brain is constantly trying to do two things:
1. Keep Us Alive
2. Conserve Calories
One of the ways it conserves calories is by deciding where it will commit its resources, i.e. Brain cells. So, unless retrained, the brain will interpret things in the quickest possible fashion that brings some clarity so that it doesn’t have to waste any energy on what it views unnecessary learning. The challenge of this is that the Brain can only make these decisions based on what it already knows, what it is already used to. This is why change can be so hard for us, we fight a brain that initially doesn’t want to commit any energy to things because it is quickly and efficiently filing stuff away saying, “I’ve seen that before. i know how this works.”
STORY THE REAL POWER BEHIND CHANGE
Have you seen this picture?
What is it? A Duck or a Rabbit? The answer is not necessarily either, it depends on how your brain interprets it. Now here’s the interesting thing. If we see this picture on Easter Sunday 82% of us will say, “It’s a bunny.” However, if we see this picture on a sunday in October 90% of us will see the Duck first. What that reveals to us is that context or story determines how we interpret things.
When something happens to us our brains try to make sense of it and the way that they do that is by connecting it quickly and efficiently to the bigger stories of our lives.
Therefore we desperately need a healthy bigger narrative story for our lives, that will help us interpret things that happen to us in a way that aids growth and progress.
Several studies have shown that people of faith tend to be happier on average than people who declare no faith. I believe that this is one of the main reasons. Their faith gives them a bigger, clear story that they are a part of and this helps them to find meaning for events and circumstances they may find themselves a part of.
This matters because if we find ourselves or our friends, or people we are trying to help stuck in a negative, self-defeating cycle there is hope and that hope lies in changing the story. There are three main ways that this can happen:
1. STORY EDITING
Many people find themselves trying to just banish the effects that circumstances or perceptions or culture or actions have created for them. This often proves only mildly helpful at best. Story editing seeks to target the long standing narratives that are creating the negative and destructive perceptions
Editing these personal interpretations is like changing the start of a movie. A delayed writing exercise has been proven helpful in this regard. That is, rather than writing immediately about our feelings or what has happened to us people who delayed their responses proved more able to give meaning and thereby, as they take a step back they can reframe what has happened to them. Sometimes, immediately putting down our thoughts, feelings and responses to circumstances actually reinforces harmful perceptions and can make healing more difficult.
Susan Sontag wrote this:
I write to define myself – an act of self-creation, part of the process of becoming.
For people of faith, I believe that prayer can be powerful in this regard. Through prayer we find meaning and reframe our world into a world that has purpose, meaning and justice. We prophecy through prayer that our past does not determine our future. We may not always realise it but through prayer we are changing the story of our lives and the story of future generations.
2. STORY PROMPTING
Sometimes we need a nudge. There are times when we do not have the energy to edit our own stories as described above and therefore we need a prompt, a nudge.
e.g. A group of college students who all performed worse than they expected at the end of their first year were divided into two groups. One group was given a 30 minute session about other students who had struggled in year 1 but had ended college with good grades. The session included statistics and testimonies. The results were that this group had less students drop out in YR2 than the other group and they also achieved better grades than those who didn’t have the lesson. They were given a nudge into a better story
3. STORY WRITING
We could call this ‘acting our way into right thinking’. I think that all of the approaches have some biblical foundation but that this accords very strongly with a biblical view take for example 1 Peter 1: 13 which says,
“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control…”
The idea here is that we act in a way consistent with the better story we are a part of and has we do we find ourselves being changed. Consistency in the same activities means that the brain becomes willing to expend resources in that direction.
Aristotle believed this strongly, he said, “We become just by performing just actions – courageous by performing acts of courage.”