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Sierra Pines Church

12 Ways to Turn Your Pain into Praise

Sapphires from Psalms

Better Than Jewels

Creativity and Worry

This study supports what I learned years ago in college about the power of the positive.

The study was an intriguing experiment with college students. A cartoon mouse was shown trapped inside a picture of a maze, and the task was to help the mouse find the way out. There were two different versions of the task. One was positive, approach-oriented; the other was negative or avoidance-oriented. In the positive version, there was a piece of Swiss cheese lying outside the maze, in front of a mouse hole. In the negative version, the maze was exactly the same, but instead at the Swiss cheese feast at the finish, and an owl hovered above the maze, ready to swoop down, and capture the mouse in its talons at any moment.

The maze takes less than two minutes to complete, and all the students who took part in the experiment solved their maze. The contrast in the aftereffects of working on different versions of the maze was striking. When the participants later took a test of creativity, those who had helped their mouse avoid the owl turned in scores that were 50% lower than the scores of students who had helped their mouse find the cheese. The state of mind elicited by attending to the owl had resulted in a lingering sense of caution, avoidance, and vigilance for things going wrong. The mind-state in turn weakened creativity, closed down options, and reduced the students flexibility in responding to the next task.

 This experiment tells us something very important: the same action even something a slight solving a simple maze puzzle has different consequences depending on whether it is done to move toward something we welcome (activating the brain’s approach system) or to avoid something negative activating the brain’s avoidance system.  In the maze experiment, aversion was triggered by something as minor as the site of a cartoon owl.  It led to reductions in exploratory and creative behaviors. This is dramatic evidence that the avoidance system can narrow the focus of our lives, even when triggered by a purely symbolic threat.

For Application 2:

When it comes to motivating people in your life, your kids, your students, employees, friends, sponsees, or parishioners, YOU WILL GET BETTER RESULTS WITH ENCOURAGEMENT, or REWARD, THAN WITH THREAT.

It works for you, too. If you constantly tell yourself what you are doing wrong and how you mess up, you will make poorer decisions, and continue on a downward spiral. If you celebrate your wins and reinforce the things you do well, your creativity and problem-solving skills will improve.

For APPLICATION 1 (and it is worth it) click on



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