Jumping To Conclusions

Have you ever jumped to a negative conclusion? Of course you have. We all do. Sometimes it gets to be a habit. Like many habits, it can get you in a strangle hold. Choking the joy right out of your life. I found myself like that once-upon-a-time. But, you dont find many self-help books for curmudgeons.

I was taking a grad-level education course about ChildrensLit. This involved reading tons of childrens books. One of them was Pollyanna, in which an obnoxious child converts an entire community of grouches to the side of righteousness and light. She does it by playing the what if game. I had a lot of time on my hands that semester, bitterly sitting in parking lots staking out available spaces. (The university didnt sell parking permits, they sold hunting licenses) I started to wonder if the simple psychology in the book actually worked. I thought Id give it a try (although I decided not to tell anyone because theyd think I was nuts).

The What If game trains you to jump to conclusions, in a way, by focusing on what you dont know. But, the odd part is that it can train your mind to jump to POSITIVE conclusions. I remember the first time I tried it. During the Christmas holidays, in the Kroger parking lot. Some person stole the VERY close parking space I had waited patiently for. As I sat there seething, I thought well, here is certainly an opportune time So, here goes. This is roughly what I thought that first time: What if I better get some exercise from parking far away, or Ill have a heart-attack? What if that spot is going to get hit by a meteor in the next few minutes? What if that person is going to have a stroke and needs to be where other people can see him instead of on the ground between two cars in the slush and mud? Yeah, that last one was getting a little too vivid about what could happen to the guy. I got better, and quicker, as time went on. The next thing I knew, I wasnt playing the game at all. I was just doing it, like breathing. Once you can quickly recognize that there are alternative aspects of each situations, youre ready for an expert level game.

The more advanced game can be called Silver Lining. In this game, you try to find a silver lining for all the black gloomy clouds in your life. This is more of a challenge than you might think, because there are some EXTRA grim clouds out there. For example, years ago I had to take my husband to the hospital with unexplained intense abdominal pain. Its hard to find the SilverLining while sitting in the emergency waiting room by yourself in the middle of the night. (God bless him for making them go bring me to the bedside because he knew Id be scared-out-of-my-mind out there all alone). But, then it occurs to you that the SilverLining is the very fact that youre actually AT the hospital where he can get some help instead of crashed in a snowbank on the side of the road, or worse yet on your way to the morgue. That makes you amazingly glad to be at the hospital.

After you are passably good at the first two games, you are more likely to be successful at Reasonable Explanation. In this game, when confronted with some questionable situation you will find yourself able to say there must be some reasonable explanation, and perhaps its with some conviction. Personally, after a time, I found that all this leads you to there must be some reasonable explanation, period which is essentially honestly extending the benefit of the doubt. Its truly believing innocent until proven guilty, and having a high standard of proof-for-guilt instead of circumstantial evidence. I dont always reach this level, but some days I do. And its an effort, a choice. I dont automatically wake up every day happy and fluffy and cheerful.

Some people will say this is only about semantics, that its only words. But words have power. They can direct our thoughts, and many times our thoughts direct our emotions and our actions. What do you have to lose by trying it? Being a little less bitter, a little less hostile, a little less soaked in sarcasm? Would it be such a bad thing if your eulogy accurately included the word cheerful? Like Allison said, its all about the choices. Are you going to choose to see the bad in any situation (jumping to negative conclusions) or are you going to choose to look for the good (jumping to positive conclusions)?


I got here after reading the post you placed on Dean's World under Theists vs. Atheists. Nice site, btw. New?

You are spot on, Lucy, IMO. Very spot on. I wouldn't give you good odds on selling it as a game but I vertainly know how to play.

It's as you described. Very difficult at first and it can be hard to see any good coming from the endeavour. Also as you described, stick with it and you'll find that not only does it get easier, it expands, ramps up, moves from 'what if' to 'reasonable explanation'. I would add another level, myself, except I don't want to detract (or give that impression) from what I read as I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Spot on.

Brett Fife | 03/02/2004 - 06:32 PM
Note in a Bottle
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