I’ve been thinking over this idea for the past few weeks: the human body as a power plant. A power plant doesn’t use energy from another source, it creates energy for things to use on the grid. Think about it; where does a power plant get its electricity? From itself, right? Please correct me if my assumption is wrong. Yet this is exactly what I think about human emotions and mind states. They all come from within us. We have the power to choose how we feel. And most importantly, how we react to things. We have the power to choose positive.
Why choose to even be positive though? In some situations it seems like the only way to react is negatively. I have come to realize, both in the classroom and out, that this doesn’t have to be the case. That you can train yourself to react with optimism to situations; and that you can feel better overall for choosing this route. Here is one experience I had, and what happened as a result of choosing positive.
Last year, one of my second year junior high students would do absolutely nothing in class. She would just sit there and stare into space. If I called on her to answer a question she would never respond; just stare blankly at me. Emotionless. She wouldn’t even mutter an “I don’t understand” in Japanese like the shy kids did. It had to be the most menacing death stare I had ever experienced.
She would never respond if I said hello to her in the hallways. And if I ever tried to drum up a conversation with her at lunch time? I’d be happy just to get her to shake her head yes/no to my simple “Do you like…?” questions. She ignored me in a way unlike any of the thousand students I’ve taught here. At first I thought, was it me? Did I do something to offend her? Like, what’s up with this beef?
Eventually I just dropped it. I didn’t have the time or energy to take it personal. Besides there was no way I could make every last student like me. It is what it is. This time though, instead of just ignoring her (which would have been my response if someone had done this to me in the past), I further increased my positive output in our daily interactions. When she gave me that blank death stare, I returned it with my biggest smile or weirdest funny face. When she ignored my hello, I made sure to give her an even more genki greeting the next time around. With all this goofy positive attention, she couldn’t help but start cracking smiles and eventually laughing. When the new school year started in spring, I made it a point to really start to memorize student names. The first time I used her name while saying, “Hello” she lit up. Since then she’s been cutting back on staring into space, smiling more, and has been all around more engaged in English class.
This student is one of my more extreme cases, but I’ve tried this method on a good number of students. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, consistent smile. Smile are so hard not to return when you’re on the receiving end of one. And who doesn’t love to hear their first name being called by another voice? I loved when a professor could call me out by name in a huge lecture hall. Though it rarely happened, it made me feel special. That something I did, or just who I was as a person, was unique and memorable. In turn, I made an effort to contribute more in class, simply because it felt good to do so.
“Optimism is a self-amplifying feedback loop.” In the Bible it’s called the Golden Rule. In eastern religions it’s known as karma. In the video link above, Jason Silva describes, in his typical techno-allegorical fashion, the power of being optimistic. In the sense that traveling is the only expense that makes you richer, expending out positive vibes only begets more positive vibes. It’s even in the math. (Let’s forget for the time being that multiplying negatives begets positives)
I can’t claim that I’m positive every single minute of the day. Life would be admittedly boring if I didn’t embrace the spectrum of all my emotions. But sometimes you just have to choose to feel good, even when you may not actually feel that way. Just the act of smiling, singing, dancing, or whatever you do to feel good, starts up that feedback loop. Allowing you to receive more positive energy from the world around you.
Homework: Pick a time out of the day (e.g. a few minutes in the morning, after work, or in the grocery store). During this time ask yourself: how do you feel? Why do you feel this way? Let’s start being aware of where our thoughts and interactions take us daily. As one, small bad thing could ruin our day, one smile could very well turn that day around.