Don’t allow painful experiences to inordinately affect your life

overreactThe hot-stove effect was first proffered by humorist Mark Twain: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

Throughout life, be careful not to overreact to painful experiences. Failures, embarrassing moments, and hurtful events, if not properly processed, can have an inordinate impact on our lives and dissuade us from “jumping on the stove” again.

Carefully study and analyze experiences and put them into proper perspective. Even positive experiences, if not properly processed, can lead to unhealthy conclusions.

For example:

  • You may abandon a helpful technology because your first experience with it was distasteful.
  • Some divorcees feign the thought of marrying again because of the hurt they sustained in a former marriage.
  • Not being accepted into your school of our choice may discourage you from pursuing formal education.

I have been a public speaker and teacher for 30 years, but two embarrassing moments in my early years might have derailed this aspect of my career.

When I was eight years old I was asked (with no prior notice) to stand in front of my Sunday School class and pray aloud. I froze…awkward silence ensued…kids giggled…I was embarrassed.

But the following week, one of my teachers took the time to meet with me. He spoke words of comfort and encouragement, helped me compose a written prayer, coached me as I practiced reading it aloud in the same room where the nightmare took place, and arranged for me to speak the prayer in the same Sunday School Class the next Sunday. All went well and I fully recovered from the debacle.

In high school, I was vice president of my senior class. Once, when speaking before the student body, I planned on using the phrase “hook, line, and sinker,” as in, “he was so naive that he swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.” But in my speech the phrase came out “sink, line and hooker.”

My classmates were unmerciful. Unfortunately, no one helped me process what had happened; fortunately, I thought carefully about the incident by myself and decided that though it was a bad experience, it need not be a life-changing one.

A wonderful way to love others is to recognize when they may be susceptible to the hot-stove effect and take the initiative to help them process the incident and put it into proper perspective. I will be forever grateful for my Sunday School teacher (I cannot even remember his name); he might have salvaged my future career.


What? – We often misinterpret and overreact to painful experiences.
So what? – You may suffer from the hot-stove effect, but you can recover.
Now what? – Individually, identify and study your life-wounds – both small and large – to see if you have overreacted to them. Based on a more accurate assessment, adjust your thinking and behavior. Look for opportunities to help other people negotiate their burned paws.

Leaders – Consider how your organization may be suffering from the hot-stove effect. A good place to start is to analyze past failures and trauma.

Be content with less stuff

Resist materialism and consumerism

enough2Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them you have to take care of them. There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.

We are constantly accosted by materialism, commercialism, and consumerism. Unless resisted, these powerful and not-so-subtle ideologies can lead to an insatiable desire for more stuff.

Madison Avenue has colluded with manufacturers and distributors to establish an elaborate network of products, suppliers, and salespersons to feed our addiction. The advertising industry is determined to blur the lines between perception and reality and between what we need and what they want us to want.

Few people have ever considered the alternative – that it’s possible, and even advantageous, to own a fixed number of items. At some point in our lives, we must resist the urge to accumulate more stuff and become content with what we have.

A firm answer to just one question will help establish a balanced perspective on material possessions, and it will help bring clarity, control, and peace to our lives.

When is enough, enough?

Everyone needs an answer to that question. Everyone needs to complete this statement and hold firm to the commitment: “I have ____ possessions, and that’s enough.”

Years ago, after careful and deliberate thought, I decided: “I have 100 possessions, and that’s enough.”

The impact of this decision has been significant and liberating.

  • I have developed an immunity to the marketing and advertising that permeates our culture.
  • I’m better off financially.
  • I have more time to spend on important matters.
  • I worry less.
  • Best of all, I enjoy the wonderful, formerly elusive feeling of contentment.

If you decide to walk down this path, start by focusing only on your possessions – don’t worry about how much stuff other people have. And, only count your personal possessions; don’t include household items such as furniture and appliances.

Hopefully, once this philosophy of restraint affects one aspect of your life (personal), it will spread to other areas.

Click here for more information about this topic and to see my list of 100 items.


What? – Most people have too much stuff, and it adversely affects their lives.
So what? – We can easily control how much stuff we possess.
Now what? – Think carefully about this topic and then complete (or ignore) this statement: “I have _____ possessions, and that’s enough.”

Leaders – Consider how materialism and consumerism may be adversely affecting your organization. Is there an inordinate emphasis on physical objects?

Comfort others

Close to Home

The mother asked, “Where have you been?” Her little girl replied, “On my way home I met a friend who was crying because she had broken her doll.”
“Oh,” said her mother, “then you stopped to help her fix the doll?”
“No,” replied the little girl, “I stopped to help her cry.”

Hurt and pain are inevitable. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to be hurt, but rather when and how we will deal with the pain.

Pain takes many forms. It can be physical (a sprained ankle), social (exclusion from a group), or emotional (embarrassment, disappointment). Some hurts may be perceived as relatively minor—“I was embarrassed at lunch today when I spilled ketchup on my shirt.” Others are major—“My father abandoned me.”

There’s only one antidote for hurt—comfort.

Here are some practical suggestions on how to comfort other people.

Learn to sense when someone is hurting and be willing and available to help her.

We’re often unaware when people are hurting. Sometimes circumstances will give us a clue (physical illness, death of a loved one, divorce or separation, loss of a job), but often it’s not so apparent. So be discerning and learn to recognize when people are in need of comforting

When you do sense that someone is hurting, are you willing to slow down and take the time to minister comfort or do you choose not to “go there”? You must be discerning, willing, and available.

When someone is hurting, if possible, enter her physical world.

While it is possible to comfort someone over the phone or in a letter, it is best done in person and preferably in the hurting person’s space. If your friend is hurting, instead of suggesting, “Susan, it sounds like we need to talk. Can you drop by my office this afternoon?” it’s better to offer, “Susan, it sounds like we need to talk. Can I come by your office this afternoon?”

Enter her mental and emotional world.

Humans live in at least three “worlds” simultaneously: physical, mental and emotional. While it’s easy to determine where someone is physically, it’s more difficult to determine where she is mentally and emotionally. But to comfort effectively it helps to understand what a person is thinking and feeling. Often, just asking directly – “How are you feeling? What are you thinking?” – is sufficient. At other times it takes more effort, particularly if the person is guarded and reticent to share.


A good comforter must be a good listener. Let the one who is hurt do most of the talking; if you talk too much you’ll inevitably engage in unproductive responses.

When someone needs comfort, avoid these unproductive responses.

  • Advice/instruction – “Let me give you some steps of action to solve the problem.” Or, “Maybe next time that happens you should…”
  • Logic/reasoning – “Let me analyze the situation and tell you why it happened.” Or, “I think the reason this happened was because…”
  • Pep talk – “You’re a winner! You’ll make it through these tough times!” Or, “I’m sure tomorrow will be a better day.”
  • Minimize – “Sure it hurts, but get it in perspective, there’s a lot going on that’s good.” Or, “Aren’t you being overly sensitive?”
  • Anger – “That makes me so mad! They shouldn’t get away with that!” Or, “I’m so upset that you keep getting yourself hurt.”
  • Martyr’s complex – “I had something similar happen to me.” Or, “After the kind of day I had, let me tell you what hurt really feels like.”
  • Personal fear/anxiety – “I’m afraid that what has happened to you is going to affect my life too.”
  • Silence/neglect – Not saying anything.
  • Fix it – “I can’t believe that salesman talked to you like that. I’m calling the store right now and talking to his boss.” Or, “Sorry you had a flat tire on that lonely road. Tomorrow I’ll get a set of new tires.”
  • Spiritualize – “Well, you know that God will work all of this out for your good.”

While some of these responses may be appropriate to share after the hurting person has been comforted, they don’t work as the initial response.

Learn the “vocabulary of comfort.”

Often, we don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting because we’ve never developed an appropriate vocabulary. We don’t need to say a lot, a few choice sentences are sufficient. Here are some suggestions.

  • I’m so sorry that you are hurting.
  • It saddens me that you’re hurting. I love you and care for you.
  • I’m committed to help you through this difficult time.
  • It saddens me that you felt _________ (embarrassed, rejected, belittled). I know that must have hurt.
  • I know that you’re hurting. I just wanted to come be with you.

When speaking words of comfort, it’s also important that our tone of voice complement what is being said. Our speech should be warm, sincere and gentle.

Use appropriate non-verbal gestures.

A warm embrace or gentle touch can express comfort. Tears shed for someone else can convey love beyond words.

Jess Moody says this about comfort, “Have you ever taken a real trip down inside the broken heart of a friend? To feel the sob of the soul – the raw, red crucible of emotional agony? To have this become almost as much yours as that of your soul-crushed neighbor? Then, to sit down with him – and silently weep? This is the beginning of compassion.”

We continually come in contact with people who are hurting. Let’s minister grace and healing to them through the simple but effective gift of comfort.

Believe in people and have high expectations of them (the Pygmalion Effect)

pygmalian3The Pygmalion Effect has its origins in Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a prince of Cyprus and a sculptor who created and fell in love with an ivory statue of his ideal woman. He pleaded with Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, to give life to his creation, and she obliged. Pygmalion married the woman and they had a perfect life together. He had expected the statue to be perfect in every way, and she fulfilled all his expectations.

English playwright George Bernard Shaw used this theme in his popular play Pygmalion. Lerner and Loewe adopted Shaw’s play to create the musical My Fair Lady. In these dramas, a genteel professor transforms a low-class Cockney woman into a lady fit for society primarily by believing in her and expecting the best of her.

The Pygmalion Effect suggests that people will act or behave in the way that others expect them to. One’s expectations of a person can eventually lead that person to behave and achieve in ways that confirm those expectations. It is similar to the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy. The effect can have both positive and negative outcomes—a person expected by his or her superiors to succeed will, but the opposite is also true. The effect is most commonly discussed in terms of education and the workplace, but it can also happen in any one-on-one relationship.

In education

Many studies have been conducted on the Pygmalion Effect in the classroom. Teachers who are given information that certain students are more likely to excel and achieve than other members of the class often find that those students do, in fact, perform better, even if they are not objectively advantaged.

For information on the famous Rosenthal-Jacobson study, go to

In business

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Sterling Livingston wrote: Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most managers, unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving. The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If managers’ expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor. It is as though there is a law that caused subordinates’ performance to rise or fall to meet managers’ expectations.

For the entire article go to

In relationships

Zig Ziglar tells the story of a famous major league baseball player who was speaking to inmates in a prison. One of the inmates asked him, “How did you become a professional ball player?” The pro athlete said, “When I was a child my father would play softball with me in the backyard. Often, when I would throw or catch a ball or swing the bat he would say, ‘You are so good at baseball. Someday you’re going to be a professional baseball player.’ And here I am, a professional baseball player.” The inmate who had asked the question said, “When I was a child, my father told me that I was good for nothing and someday I would end up in prison. And here I am.”

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

What? – Often, people will live up to or down to our expectations of them.
So what? – As a parent, friend, or manager, do you have high or low expectations of others?
Now what? – Have high expectations of others.

Leaders – Carefully consider how you relate to your team members. Do you use the Pygmalion effect to your and their advantage?