Moving FOR-ward into the New Year
It feels like the last year has been filled with a lot of ‘against’ness. We’ve been constantly pitting ourselves against something or someone. Pick a subject these days: the pandemic, poverty, politics, climate change, unemployment, abortion, inflation, the economy - there seems an ever-growing list of challenges that we, as an individual or as a community, are fighting against.
To be “against” something is defined as opposition, contrary, hostile to or critical of. Some take this even farther and define not only a thought to be in opposition to them, but the person thinking an opposing thought is the opposition. We can begin to be on the alert for people and ideas that don’t align with our way of thinking.
This way of ‘against-ness’ is draining. And not only personally, but relationally, as well. It divides us and can reinforce negative mindsets like: “My way is better than your way,” or “if you get something, that means I won’t get something”, as if there’s not enough abundance for us all.
If you’re like me, you’re exhausted and a bit discouraged. Yet hopefully, like me, you’re also yearning for a better result this year. In that case, I think I have something wonderful for you.
Power versus Force
There is an old story that I find particularly insightful in changing our approach of “against-ness”. It’s the Aesop’s fable, The Wind and The Sun. For those who may not be familiar, here it is:
A dispute once arose between the wind and the sun, which was the stronger of the two, and they agreed to put the point upon this issue, that whichever soonest made a traveler take off his cloak should be accounted the more powerful.
The Wind began and blew with all his might and main a blast, cold and fierce as a Thracian storm; but the stronger he blew, the closer the traveler wrapped his cloak around him, and the tighter he grasped it with his hands.
Then broke out the Sun. With his welcome beams he dispersed the vapor and the cold; the traveler felt the genial warmth, and as the Sun shone brighter and brighter, the traveler sat down, overcome with the heat, and cast his cloak on the ground.
Thus, the Sun was declared the conqueror, and it has ever been deemed that persuasion is better than force; and that the sunshine of a kind and gentle manner will sooner lay open a poor man's heart than all the threatening and force of blustering authority.
Pulling versus Pushing
As I consider the story of The Sun and the Wind, it seems reasonable to consider the outcomes of pushing (striving, fighting, opposition) versus pulling (drawing, inviting, engaging). As the story demonstrates, gentle persuasion appears to be more powerful than force.
Interestingly enough, our physical bodies support this idea of the power of “pulling” versus “pushing.”
Pushing or pulling an object involve force and friction. When you push, one component of force is added to the weight of the body, causing greater friction. When you pull, the vertical component of force is directed against your body's weight, resulting in reduced friction. As a result (all things being equal), pulling something is easier than pushing something.
In pushing movements, we often use our chest, shoulders and triceps; in pulling movements, we tend to use the muscles in our back and our biceps. The back muscles that are involved in every pulling movement are much larger than our pushing muscles (just think about the size of your lateral muscles compared to the size of your chest), so it makes sense that we are stronger at pulling.
Talk with anyone in the work safety arena and they’ll tell you that pushing is generally associated with a higher risk of injury when compared to pulling. If we were to translate this into our interpersonal relationships and conversations, I suppose we can make the same assumption.
Motivation and Change
So, I’m physically stronger pulling versus pushing. What does that have to do with affecting change? Great question.
Our motivations (pushing and pulling) affect our actions. Although both pull motivation and push motivation have their place in affecting change, it has been suggested that pull motivation is more effective for establishing long-term change. Why?
The main difference between the two is that pull motivation is connected to positive emotions (joy, satisfaction, happiness) and push-motivation is typically connected to negative emotions (stress, anxiety, fear). According to research, positive emotions support incentive which can be sustained for a longer period of time than negative emotions such as anger. Sustained positive feelings support sustained positive actions which result in greater opportunities for success.
Thinking about a situation that causes you angst. Picture it something physical that you’re pushing against. Pushing hard…keep pushing…keep pushing… At some point, you’ll be exhausted and have to stop to regain your strength. Now, picture a situation that brings you peace and joy. Just relax into it. Focus on what’s happening to your face and your body (are you smiling yet?). The sheer amount of energy to sustain a focused push against an enemy (thought or situation) is usually much higher compared to the energy it takes to support feelings (or situations) of relaxation and peace.
How to Start Being “FOR”ward this year
It seems to me the way to live without against-ness is to switch our focus and operate from a place of FOR-ness. When faced with an opposing thought, idea or action that challenges you, we need to stop being against it. Instead, we need to find the positive or opposite, the “what to work for” and begin focusing our energies there. It is a subtle yet very important distinction.
Begin gently pulling the goodness and inviting those things we desire rather than focusing solely on pushing away that which doesn’t align with our goals or wants.
No one likes to be forced to do something. So, it’s natural that if you interact with others with a “pushy” approach or attempt to force them to change their minds or their actions, it totally turns them off. They usually head in the opposite direction. I can think of a few scenarios when sales people were pushing something on me and I wanted nothing more than to run for the door.
There is tremendous power and opportunity for solutions when we employ persuasion and optimism especially when faced with opposition. Pushing against just means STOP! Pulling and inviting and engaging opens up possibilities, ideas and creative outcomes. What could we do FOR something to make a difference? The options are endless.
For example, instead of fighting against hunger, let’s be for donating to food banks or serving at a local kitchen. Instead of pushing against pollution, let’s clean up a city park or educate children about recycling. Tired of fighting against ideas that fundamentally drive you nuts? Let’s see if we can find common ground. Is there a place where we can agree or even agree to disagree? Can we look past the ideology and find compassion for the person?
Let’s make 2022 a year of looking ‘for”-ward. The next time you feel yourself slipping into a negative state, try asking yourself, “Am I being the Wind or the Sun?” Determine if you are pulling or pushing the energy of whatever circumstance you’re in.
Then, make an affirmation to put your focus and your energy into those things that fill you and your world with positive momentum. Commit to pulling instead of pushing. Invest in your time, energy and attention working to bring about what you want, rather than working against what you dislike.
Like the sun, let’s all shine with gentle kindness and generosity and see what happens. “Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.” ~ M. Gandhi
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