Two people can have the same experience – go on the same vacation, eat a meal together at a restaurant, share an event together — and their reports can be completely different. They went to the same place, at the same time, and experienced the same things. Why is the feedback sometimes so conflicting?
For example, two people go out for a meal:
Person A: “The food was delicious.” Person B: “My soup was cold.”
Person A: “My salad had lots of tomatoes, which I love.” Person B: “They didn’t have Ranch dressing.”
One will come out of it focused on the positive, the other comes out focused on the negative.
What we choose to recall
I have a friend who always focuses on the positive. When she tells you about something, she always shares the good things that happened, even if there were unhappy parts of it. A repeated refrain of hers is, “But the good thing is…”
I have another friend who always focuses on the negative. Whatever goes wrong, she will remember that and tell you about it in great detail.
After a conversation with my positive friend, I feel uplifted and encouraged. I have renewed hope and feel energized to face my challenges and struggles. When I leave the presence of my friend that focuses on the negatives, I feel weighed down and discouraged. It takes me a while to fight back against the bleak feelings and lack of hope that have crept in through that encounter.
Two main files
Each day we have two main files to draw from – good memories and bad memories. We choose which file we are going to dwell on. The enemy is always trying to get us to choose from the “negative outlook” file. This has been his strategy from the very beginning.
In the garden of Eden, the serpent was trying to get Eve to focus on the one tree they couldn’t eat from, what God was withholding from them, instead of looking at the whole beautiful garden of wonderful things God had given them. Eve fell for the trap, and she got Adam to fall for it too.
Satan does the same thing to us. Instead of focusing on all the benefits and good things the Lord has showered down upon us, he tries to get us to focus on what apparently has been withheld from us.
And you know what happens when we do that? We get very adept at finding the negatives in life and very blind to the blessings God is constantly pouring out. As a result, we get sadder, life gets bleaker, and we become full of toxic negativity that we communicate with others.
When I share this with people, I sometimes hear:
- Well, you’re not being practical.
- You are just a naïve optimist.
- You’re not a realist.
I respond, “Well, don’t take my word for it. Look at what God says in His Word.”
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
God is telling us which file to choose from. We get to decide which thoughts to dwell on. It’s our choice.
The first thought that comes to mind may not be under our control. Thoughts come randomly to mind at any given moment. But whether we dwell on that thought or not is up to us. We get to choose. If it is negative, ugly, dirty, or unpleasant, we can dismiss it. Kick it out.
Instead, we can replace it with a thought that lines up with the criteria given us in Phil. 4:8 – something beautiful, lovely, honorable, pure, gracious.
Training our minds
How can we do that?
Have a list ready — the moment you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, be ready with some positive thoughts to replace them with. Keep a note on your phone that you can access easily or tape a list to your refrigerator or mirror. Choose something good to dwell on and thank God right away. Do not forget all the good things God has done for you.
When we choose to dwell on what is lovely and worthy of praise, gratitude soon floods our hearts and darkness and gloom is driven away. Hope replaces despair and faith grows.
It does take work and effort, but it’s really worth it! Give it a shot.