Mark Black

The Power of Choices

Sara and Paul are in the same calculus class. Last week they wrote mid-terms. Today their teacher is returning the test. Paul turns over this test and sighs. 64%. He’s disappointed but not surprised. Paul has always felt that he wouldn’t do well in calculus. The teacher seems to be speaking a foreign language when teaching, and Paul just couldn’t figure it out. “I’m just not good at this calculus stuff” Paul thinks, “and I never will be.”

Sarah slowly flips over her test. Yikes! She got a 64%. Not exactly what she was hoping for! Initially Sarah is very disappointed, but then she stops to think about the week before the test. She had activities after school until late evening four days that week. The fifth day she was sick and missed the class where the teacher had done review and talked about what would be on the test. She is disappointed with her results, but given what was going on the week before, it makes sense that this wasn’t her best effort. “I’ll make sure to start studying earlier next time” Sarah thinks.

What happened to Paul and Sarah can happen to all of us. They each experienced an identical event; they got 64% on a test. They were both disappointed. But the meaning they gave to the results they got has a dramatic effect, not only on how they handle this disappointment, but also how well they will do in the future. Paul interpreted the result of the test as proof that he is no good at calculus. Because he believes that, his chances of success on the next test are worse than they were before. Sarah, on the hand, interpreted her result (the same result as Paul) very differently. She recognized that there were several factors that played a role in her getting at 64% and she is able to change many of them – preparing sooner, getting help if needed, ensuring she is there for the review next time etc. She has learned from a mistake. Sarah knows she’s not stupid, she just needs to change her strategy.

So who will do better on the next test, Sarah or Paul? I’d be willing to bet money Sarah will. Not because Sarah is smarter necessarily but because she hasn’t made the mistake of interpreting this test result as proof that she is stupid. She still believes she can succeed.

How does this concept apply to you?

If you are typically a “glass half full” person, then you already know the impact this choice can make on your life. If you are typically a more pessimistic person, there is good news; while we typically assign meaning to events subconsciously, we don’t have to. We can become conscious and intentional about the meanings we assign so that we can choose to see things in more positive and constructive ways.

Here are 3 things you can do to help yourself make a more intentional and constructive choice:

Set the Intention: Every morning, when you wake up, tell yourself, “I will choose to interpret things constructively today”. Re-commit to this intention throughout the day.

Hit the Brakes: When you catch yourself getting in a negative place (as we all do) stop, and analyze what is happening. Make a conscious decision to stop heading down that path and try to see how this situation could be transformed into something positive.

Practice Gratitude: Everyone talks about gratitude these days but what is often missed is the “practice” part. Gratitude is not a feeling so much as it is a skill. It must be practiced daily.

Have you experienced the impact of this choice in your life? What have you noticed?

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