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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guest Post: To Flourish or To Languish

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Dustin Peterson lives in Houston, Texas with his supermodel wife and three extroverted kids. His days are consumed at Rice University molding the malleable minds of college students and preaching the doctrine of leadership development. His work focuses on becoming more authentic and self-aware, leading more effectively, and helping people figure out what to do with their lives and careers. Dustin enjoys changing diapers, eating bacon, and tending to his fourth child,, where he searches, ponders and writes about self-development and the art of leadership. You can contact him directly at thenewtonapple at Read Dustin's other guest posts here and here.

Let me give you a persuasive reason to study the scriptures and pray -- according to research, it may just be the difference between you flourishing or languishing in your life. Allow me to explain. I recently studied a principle called the Losada Line, which is named after the guy who created it through his research, Dr. Marcial Losada. As a social scientist, Losada studied high-performing individuals and teams to determine the factors that make some excel while others suffer. While conducting some research back in the 90's, Losada confirmed that individuals having a higher proportion of positive emotional experiences to negative ones, in the ratio of approximately 3:1, experience positive outcomes in life such as human flourishing (remember, that's the good one). Those who experience less than three positive emotional experiences for every one negative experience tend to languish (that's me most of the time).

Flourishing denotes "thriving in a vigorous state" while languishing equals "becoming slow and weak," perhaps even "wasting away and losing health and strength." The former state of being sounds pretty exhilarating -- I can see myself gliding into work with a grin on my grill, forgoing my morning ritual of and mindless web surfing, and working productively on things that may actually benefit humankind. The latter state sounds more like where I often find myself ... weak and slack, body deteriorating into a hunched mass of decrepitude, mind going numb after hours of listlessly hammering out spreadsheets (forgive me, people who enjoy spreadsheeting), and energy levels plummeting into outer darkness. So how do I get to a point of vigor, other than drinking a five-hour energy shot, and what do the age-old silver bullets of scripture study and prayer have to do with it? It's all in the 3-to-1 balance.

Positive emotional experiences can be as simple as receiving great feedback from a peer or partner or doing something you enjoy, like a hobby. Think of those things that make you feel emotionally positive -- that's what you need more of (with the exception of XBox -- seems positive at first but leaves you feeling negative). But we have also been given a "weapon," if you will, to combat the negativity, one that is available to us anytime we need it and that seems to be more potent than others: prayer and scripture study. I haven't met many people that have had negative emotional experiences while doing these things. This is probably because negativity is contrary to the mission and purpose of the Godhead and more specifically the Holy Ghost. It's no wonder, then, that the scriptures are replete with charges to "pray always" and "study the words of life." These phrases take on a new meaning in light of the Losada line. If the purpose of life is "that [we] might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:27) and the prophets are always encouraging us to study the scriptures and pray, then by doing these things we are immediately increasing our potential to fulfill the purpose of life. Positive emotional experiences lead to human flourishing. Voila!

The problem is, we live in an imperfect world where the negatives come at us several times a day and we are generally running a positivity-deficit. Traffic? Negative. Errant children? Negative. The Bachelor: After the Final Rose? Negative and embarrassing. Performance review? Hopefully positive, but with a smattering of negative. Stomach ache from the Cici's pizza last night? Super negative. We often don't introduce enough positive emotional experiences to balance the onslaught. And, if we do include some positives, they are usually more in line with a one-to-one ratio, e.g. "I had a bad day so I'm going to eat a late-night bowl of Trix." What's more, our brains are genetically predisposed to emphasize or focus on the negative. Thanks to the cavemen (did these people even exist? I don't see mention of them in the scriptures...), we are hardwired for survival and not for flourishing. We need to induce our lives with more positive emotional experiences in order to thrive, and some of the greatest ways to do this are through scripture study, prayer, Family Home Evening, etc. -- the good old "Primary answers."
So take a few minutes to analyze your levels of positive and negative emotional experiences. What does the balance look like in your life? And if you're like me, weathered and languid more often than you would prefer, take matters into your own hands. Spend some quality time studying the scriptures each day and praying. You'll notice a vast improvement in your vigor and vitality, as will the people around you, to which you can remark, "Well, duh. I'm living well above the Losada Line."

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