Aug. 31, 2019

You’ve likely seen them around town: colorful painted rocks with inspirational sayings, signs on front lawns with words of affirmation, or body-positive phrases in our middle school and high school restrooms.

Karna Stuchlik

These small artifacts remind us just how powerful an act of kindness to another person can be. They reflect the spirit of community that we strive for here in Lee’s Summit.

In fact, the power of our interactions and their influence on others has been extensively studied. It turns out that every interaction we have with another person creates a kind of ripple effect. The positive or negative impact of our interaction travels to the next person with whom they interact, and all the people with whom that person interacts and so on and so forth. Eventually, especially in small communities, the energy we send out travels right back to us.

In his book, “Are You Fully Charged?” Tom Rath, a Gallup Senior Scientist, explores the impact that our interactions with others have on our happiness. He found that our networks of relationships affect almost everything about our wellbeing: whether we smoke, how likely we are to be overweight or obese, even how nice we are to other people. Imagine the number of interactions you have with others throughout your lifetime. Rath defines a moment as a three-second window; therefore, there are 1,200 moments per hour, 19,200 moments in a day, and 500 million moments over an average lifetime. Research confirms that the frequency of positive interactions in those brief moments is more important than their intensity in total impact on our wellbeing. If you have twelve mildly positive interactions during the day, you’ll feel better than someone who has one single amazing interaction.

It can be simple, painless, and free to create positive interactions with people throughout our day. And that outward positive charge increases our own wellbeing at the same time. Why, then, do we so often fail to do so? Psychologists blame our inability to be mindful of our behavior and its impact on a phenomenon called “continuous partial attention”. We exist in a state of autopilot, in which we are relying on habit and behavior loops to get through our day. Consider the last time you drove your car. Were you acutely aware of your feet on the brake and gas pedals, your hands on the wheel, and every passerby? Or, more likely, did you pull into your destination, hoping you hadn’t run any stop signs because you couldn’t remember a thing about the drive? If it was the latter, you’re not alone. These behavior loops help us accomplish more, quickly. We don’t have to think through every step of every task we do throughout our day. And, they have the negative consequence of lulling us into mental slumber, in which we fail to intentionally drive positive interactions with others.

To counteract continuous partial attention, we must create a purposeful pause throughout our day. This is simply a moment in which you draw your attention away from all the distractions around you, and inward. The easiest way to do this is, while sitting or standing, focus on the feel of your feet on the floor, your hands on your lap or desk, and your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Try to focus for sixty seconds. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to focusing only on what you feel in that moment. This type of purposeful pause allows us to escape continuous partial attention and move to mindfulness. Now we are ready to intentionally drive positive interactions with others.

Simple ways to create a positive ripple:
• Hold the door and smile at someone walking into a building behind you
• Allow someone to merge in front of you in traffic
• Invite someone to check out in front of you at the store
• Thank someone sincerely for something they have done to help you or others
• Compliment someone for a job well done

What ripple will you create today?

Author Karna Stuchlik MSOD, R.D., L.D., CPC is a Talent Development Partner with Saint Luke’s Health System. She is also a member of the Lee’s Summit Health Education Advisory Board, a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.