This post is written in conjunction with the “Becoming a Public Scholar-Activist” course and is directed by Monica A. Coleman.
Why do I remember Stop, Drop, and Roll, but not the quadratic equation? Or “By the power of Greyskull, I have the Power!” but not important events like my father’s birthday? Why do some ideas stick around and others fade into the forgotten backwaters of our minds? Is it possible to make ideas more memorable, more sticky? This is the question Chip and Dan Heath are trying to answer in their book Made to Stick. Monica Sanford has already provided her thoughts and a summary of the first half of the book. This post will wrap up the second half. I will illustrate the last three principles of SUCCESs, (C)redible, (E)motional, and (S)tories, by telling a story from my own life.
Spiritual Formation offers the possibility for profound transformative experiences.
As my Master’s degree was drawing to its end, I had become disillusioned with my current field of study and simply wanted to be done with it. In addition, my fiancée Emily was growing increasingly frustrated with my constant deconstruction of our conversations and the unnecessary tension this put on our relationship. Graduate school was having an immensely destructive influence on my life.
My usual methods of course selection seemed dismally removed from my actual interests and I decided to randomly select a course that I would not normally choose. So, I ended up in “Spiritual Formation for the Contemplative Way.” It seemed interesting enough. Each course began with a meditation and group reflection afterward, and then proceeded into the lecture portion. This was not my way of doing things, but being a good graduate student I played along. The initial meditation provided some interesting experiences, but nothing particularly profound. During the second week, however, I had a profound life-changing experience. While meditating, I felt a door to my inner world opening and a reawakening to my need for creativity. I did not know what to make of this. It was both exciting and confusing. When I talked with Emily about my experience and the changes I was experiencing, she said, “I feel like I have you back again.” I was stunned. Our relationship was on the rocks and we had not connected emotionally for quite some time. Yet, after only two weeks of meditation Emily felt a connection with me that had been dangerously absent. I felt it too. I was hooked. Something capable of offering this kind of transformation was certainly worth my time. I took a leave of absence from graduate school after that semester in which Emily and I were married. I returned to graduate school, switched concentrations, and am now in the PhD program focusing on Spiritual Formation. Two weeks of meditation precipitated this transformation.
This story illustrates the CESs principles laid out in Made to Stick. The idea that spiritual formation offers transformative experiences is credible because it happened to me. In their words, I am an anti-authority. I am no expert at this stuff, but it did change my life. In addition, it is testable. You can try it for yourself and see if it changes your life. It is emotional because it makes you care. We have all had experiences of engaging prolonged activities that are life draining, and most of us have experienced the angst of a troubled intimate relationship. Finally, stories convey information in much more tangible ways that are closer to “…our day to day experiences.” (214) They inspire us to act in some way. They also involve the audience to participate in the idea rather than argue against it.
I could have summarized the gist of Made to Stick, “a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. And…the right stories make people act.” (206) As the authors point out, however, this approach is much more abstract and less likely to stick. For aspiring public scholars, this is a valuable lesson. We are competing with ideas outside the academy, with ideas that are far more sticky than the dense offerings from the ivory tower. Getting a little glue on our hands could go a long way.
Seth Schoen is a second year PhD student in Spiritual Formation at Claremont Lincoln University. His research interests involve bringing contemplative practices to various aspects of our lives and the transformative possibilities emerging from this process.