October 30, 2015

It is Done!

It is Friday, and my week as drawn to a close. Yes, Week 10/11 has all but finished. I have two more classes to lead this afternoon, and then I will be off for the weekend. I am so blessed to have finished strong! I mean, I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish this week, and as a result, I have finished everything (well, almost everything).

Today, I showed Amy Cuddy's TED Talk to my COM 100 students. Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and instructor at Harvard Business School, and her TED Talk from 2012 is an inspirational and motivational speech that highlights her social science research, but also encourages the "fake it until you make it" or as she likes to say, "fake it until you become it" approach to overcoming challenges and obstacles in life. Her life story is shared briefly in this 20 minute presentation, and she shares how she lost her identity when she suffered a traumatic brain injury after a serious car crash when she was 19 years old. It took a great deal of hard work and effort for her to recover, and she was told by many people, that she would never be able to return to college, graduate or do anything that she had planned and hope to do prior to her accident. In a moment, her life was changed, and she lost the thing that matter most to her, which was her intelligence. She didn't give up, and while her story is not one of faith in God, but rather faith her own will, her story is still an inspiration for many who struggle with lack of confidence or self-esteem issues.

I chose to show this TED Talk because my students are studying public speaking and will be asked to give a speech to the class via video. Although they will not have to do this in public, per se, they will still feel that sense of insecurity and anxiety that accompanies public speaking. Most people consider their fear of public speaking to be second only to their fear of death. Cuddy speech provides her research study, but also highlights what she (and the media) have called "power posing," or body language that seems to be able to shape the way we feel about our selves as well as how others see us.

I watched Cuddy's speech on Sunday, and I have to tell you that I was moved by her personal story. As far as the science is concerned, I do agree with what she is saying. I have witnessed this effect before in my own life, and I have found that there is some truth to her findings. Does power posing work in every instance? No, not really. But it can have an effect on the way we view ourselves, and it can help us overcome anxiety and panic attacks that lead to stress-related performance issues. I know that I have used "power thinking" before interviews or important meetings, and I have noticed I am much more calm and in control than when I don't practice it. Power posing is similar. It is postering, or taking a stance that creates a hormonal increase in the dominance hormone (testosterone). Cuddy's study found that as testosterone increases in power leaders, the stress hormone, cortisol, decreases. This makes powerful leaders confidence without being prone to stress or anxiety. It doesn't mean that they are not prone to stress like the rest of us, but it simply states that they control the stress better than the rest of us.

Today my students were shown how to pose before they take an important exam, and how that posing might help them overcome stressful situations. I encouraged them to try posing as we head into the final weeks of the semester, just to see, if they noticed any difference. Will they feel more powerful, more confident, more in control? Or will they feel the same, powerless, unable to perform well? I don't know the outcome, but I am curious about it.

For my own part, I have been practicing posing this week, and I have to say that I feel better, in general, about everything I am going through right now. My life circumstances and the events that are most stressful to me have not changed, but my attitude toward them has changed. This change has brought about a new level of confidence in my abilities, and a deeper appreciation for how reliant I am on self-confirming messages. In communication study, we look at how the messages we speak to ourselves and others are either confirming or disconfirming in their content. A confirming message sends a signal of approval, acceptance, and affirmation. While a disconfirming message sends the opposite intent. Our internal messaging system is part of our self-esteem and concept, and how we see ourselves influences greatly how others see and respond to us. It is not just about being confident on the outside, but rather it is about feeling confident on this inside. We need to start thinking with confidence, and then we will find that our feelings and our attitudes change to align with that thinking. We know from years of research and study, that when we put ourselves down, talk critically about ourselves, we feel depressed, and we begin to believe what we think.

Cuddy says that our beliefs are partly shaped by what we think and feel about ourselves, and I agree. Our worldview, how we frame our world, is predicated on our belief system. Our external world and what we believe about it is formed from our internalization of truth, how we see truth, and how we respond to truth. Thus, when we accept our beliefs as being true, we validate who we are and why we exist. In this way, our thought processes stem from this view, and if our view is negative and self-deprecating, then we tend to exude this same sense of negativism. Conversely, if we are positive because our view is hopeful, we will present an optimistic approach to life.

As Christian's our identity at its core is shaped by our relationship to Christ Jesus. As such, our belief system is predicated on His valuation of us (He died for us even though we were not worthy to be saved because of our sin). Thus, our valuation and worth stem directly from His approval of us. The problem for many Christians is that they do not believe they are worth anything at all. Too many years of hearing the Gospel presented not from love but from sin has made a mark that is difficult to erase. Yes, we were sinful, fallen creatures, but we must always remember that it was God's great love that motivated Him to save us.

Lately, I have been convicted to share God's love with my students in different ways. I encourage and confirm them for sure, but I have also been working toward building confidence in them. I am not sure why the Lord has placed this on my heart, this specific thing, other than I believe it is so important and necessary for young people to feel validated, affirmed and encouraged. Yes, they need to know that God has a plan for their lives, but it is more about sending them into the world with confidence, assurance, and the ability to live out their faith against the increasing harshness of a world bent on destroying everything God-centered and Christ-focused.

As a teacher at a Christian college, I have a responsibility to help my students learn the subject matter I teach. But as a Christian, I also have the responsibility to help them discover God's purpose for their life, and then build them up so that they can imagine the possibilities that come with knowing God intimately, personally, and in ever-increasing measure. All of this will help equip them to live vital lives as contributing members of society, but will also help them to see that they have an important role to play in the transformation of culture. Though this world is dying from the effects of sin, and we know that Jesus' return is imminent, until He returns we are supposed to be about the business of making our world a better place for all people. This means that we must be active on two fronts -- one is reaching the lost, those who need to hear the message of Salvation -- but we must also be about the business of making our world a better place for those who are suffering physically. The Lord calls us to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and to do that, we must be aware of the social justice needs as well as the practical needs affecting many individuals and families in our world today. Christians carry the light of Christ with them wherever they go and it is time we start living out what we believe, doing what is right and honorable, and seeking to make a difference in the world around us. It is not about hitting people who don't believe as we do with the Word of God, but rather it is loving them with the Word of God, and in doing so, showing them a better way to live. Unfortunately, many Christians are just as disagreeable as their non-Christian counterparts, and as such, there is practically no difference at all.

I want to be apart of the slim minority that is seeking to make a difference in the world, to be active when the Lord returns, and to be doing something good every day, every day that God gives me breath and life to do good. I know this may seem Pollyanna-ish and perhaps it is. It is just that I know there are two choices: do nothing and continue to suffer the effects of a world that is dead and sinful or do something and try to make a difference, to make a little light shine and bring hope where there is only darkness. To me, a little light and hope is far better than sitting in the darkness and feeling depressed, dejected, and demoralized. I choose life, just as Joshua said. I choose to live my life fully, completely, and wholly as He leads and guides me.

So today, as I sit here and think about my life, all I can say is that I am determined to finish strong. I want to finish my semester at Regent well. I want to close my classes out this next month with a good feeling that I made a difference in my student's lives. I want to go into the new year with hopeful optimism and with a fresh perspective that says "I can do this!" I hope and I pray for the Lord's wisdom as I make the necessary changes in my life, as I consider what must be done today and what can be put off until tomorrow. For now, I am content. For now, I am happy. I trust the Lord, and I am looking UP, looking to Him as He leads me onward into the great big unknown of my future.

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