Do You Suffer From Selective Abstraction?

Do You Suffer From Selective Abstraction?

A few months ago I spoke at a chapel for a Christian college. The auditorium was packed with college students. I feel pretty young, so I figured I’d really connect with the students.

But about four minutes into my talk a student on the second row pulled out headphones, put them in his ears, then closed his eyes and leaned back. A minute later another student about three rows behind him pulled out a text book and started studying. At this point I was getting pretty frazzled.

When I was done the chaplain dismissed the students. He came up to me with a big smile on his face. “Man, I’ve never seen them so engaged. Great job!” I didn’t believe him. I spent the rest of the day convinced that I was a failure at public speaking.

In psychology we talk about something called selective abstraction. It’s focusing on one negative thing to the exclusion of everything else. Ninety-nine percent of a particular event may have been outstanding, but we are laser-focused on the one thing that went bad – like those two goobers in my college talk.

I’m guessing you struggle with the same thing. Your child acts out at the wrong time and you are convinced you are a horrible parent. You spilled a drink at an important business meeting and are certain your future is ruined. It happens in all sorts of ways.

I’ve found that the best way to get over selective abstraction is take some time at the end of each day to write out what went well that day. Write down your wins. You don’t need to write down areas for improvement, you are already acutely aware of those. But you’ll be amazed at just how much the good outweighs the bad in your life.

Make a decision to focus on what’s right in your life, rather than what’s wrong. It’s the only truly free way to live.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phil. 4:8