“You only love me because you make yourself think good thoughts about me,” Jane said one day while in a blue mood. I don’t recall everything surrounding that particular conversation but I never forgot her statement. I replied, “Is that so bad?”
We all experience love differently. We meet someone and “fall in love” but for those who’ve been in long-term relationships you know those initial feelings of love dissipate and change over time. After years you find yourself loving your partner for different reasons than those at the top of the list when you fell for them.
Unlike mere attraction or infatuation I believe love is a choice. To Jane’s statement, I do choose to dwell on her best qualities. I don’t deny there are things she does that bother me, that I’d like her to change, but then she would probably have a much longer list of things I should change! However, that’s not why I keep my mouth shut and choose to focus on the positive. I focus on the positive because I do believe it makes me love her more.
The Apostle Paul knew this to be true when he encouraged the church at Philippi, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
When it comes to influence and the principle of liking – we prefer to say “Yes” to those we know and like – a way to trigger this principle into action is by focusing on what we have in common with others and offering up genuine compliments. When we focus on these two topics we’re generally looking for what we’d consider the good in another person. Not only do they come to like us more, we come to like them more at the same time. After all, the person who cheers for your team, comes from your hometown, enjoys the same hobbies as you, can’t be all bad, right?
A quick reread of Predictably Irrational by behavioral economist and Duke professor Dan Ariely sparked my thoughts on this post as I looked over chapter 10 on expectations. What we think about something or someone before encountering the item or person can dramatically impact our experience.
Remember the old “Pepsi Challenge” taste test? In blind taste tests people seemed to prefer Pepsi over Coke, including many Coke drinkers! However, when people knew they tasted Pepsi and Coke many people, especially the Coke drinkers, preferred Coke!
How can this be if they tasted the very same drinks in each taste test? It’s because knowing you’re drinking Coke, especially when you have positive associations with the brand, impacts your experience. Brain imaging studies in conjunction with the taste tests clearly show the brand association impacts a different region of the brand than the taste sensation and results in a change to the overall experience.
As I considered Ariely’s writing, Jane’s statement, and my understanding of the psychology of persuasion, it made perfect sense that our expectations impact our experience. As noted above, there are things I’d like to see Jane change but dwelling on those versus the qualities I love about her would be a waste of time and energy. If I focused on what she needs to change it’s a sure bet I would not enjoy her company as much as I do when focusing on the qualities I love.
Pondering all of this I realized something else I’d done that was helpful; a simple idea I began using years ago. In my iTunes library, among the many playlists I have, is a playlist titled “Jane.” It contains songs that bring back good memories we’ve experienced, songs that make me thing about her in ways that make my heart beat faster. Hearing songs that make us think of our loved ones isn’t a novel idea but perhaps creating playlists to positively influence your thoughts about a loved one is novel for you.
Wouldn’t you agree that listening to music that makes you think positively about your spouse on the way home, before a date night or while getting ready to spend time together would create positive expectations that would make for a better time together? In my experience it absolutely has!
So here’s my suggestion. Science tells us our expectations will impact our experience as will the choice to offer compliments and connect on similarities. Next time you get ready to be with your spouse, partner, or someone else with whom you have a relationship, make the choice to do what Paul said 2000 years ago; focus on the good in whatever way makes sense for you. It will make things better for everyone.