Changing Your Environment From the Inside Out
A few years ago, I read about a study in which researchers invited volunteers to an interview about their emotional state. The volunteers, thinking this interview was the beginning of the study, would answer a series of questions about their current mood, thoughts, attitudes, and outlook on life. What they didn’t realize was that the study really began when they entered the waiting room before the interview, where researchers had planted one person to sit there with a strong negative or positive emotion—not speaking, simply feeling.
The study found that people who had been sitting in the waiting room with an anxious person scored higher on anxiety in the interview questions. People who had been put in a waiting room with a happy person rated happier in the interview. People exposed to a depressed person seemed more depressed, those exposed to a compassionate person seemed more compassionate, and so on. In other words, people picked up on the unspoken emotions around them and were subtly influenced by them. Strong feelings were contagious.*
Do you realize what this means? It means your emotional state has a lot of power. Your inner environment can shape your outer environment. You can walk into a room and change the atmosphere just by the force of your gentleness, patience, compassion, or joy—even without saying a word.
The flip side is that you can also be affected by negative emotions if you aren't willfully maintaining your own attitudes. Stronger emotions influence weaker ones. You have to make sure the ones you want are strong.
Another flip side—yes, two flip sides would make an odd-looking coin; but I'm sticking with the analogy—is that your bad mood can affect others. But let's not focus on the dark side of this force. There are opportunities to consider here.
You've probably experienced some people's contagious enthusiasm, on one hand, or contagious negativity, on the other. Everyone around them suddenly feels happy or discouraged or calm or anxious, though they can't put a finger on why. These people seem to have an uncanny ability to energize a room, for better or worse. What if you decided to be one of them?
Think of the implications. You could influence your household, workplace, church, or any other group just by choosing an attitude and maintaining it against every contrary attitude. You could refuse to lose hope and watch everyone around you become more hopeful without their knowing why. You could help defuse a crisis simply by remaining calm in it. You could help resolve conflict by insisting on good will toward everyone involved in it. Even without opening your mouth.
That's power. Some of history's most influential people have shaped their environment by whatever was going on inside of them. Unlike the loudmouths of the world, they will never get credit for it. But the people around them sense they have been in the presence of strength.
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