This Holiday Season, Try Playing the Angel’s Advocate
Did you count your blessings on Thanksgiving? While many of us did, a study earlier this year found that Americans, in general, are feeling negative about the future. According to the Pew Research Center, when U.S. adults look ahead to 2050, they see a country in decline. Sizeable majorities predict the U.S. economy will be weaker, the U.S. will be less important in the world, the country will be more politically divided, and the gap between the rich and poor will grow. The study also found that Americans are about 10 percentage points more likely to offer a negative prediction than they were in 2018, when the Pew Research Center conducted similar research. As we enter into what’s supposed to be one of the most joyous seasons of the year, how can we inject a little more positivity into our collective outlook?
Negativity, it seems, anchors most people’s thoughts every day. The National Science Foundation found the average person has anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, and of those, a whopping 80% are negative! The reason, according to researchers, has to do with a phenomenon called “negativity bias.” Something in our DNA makes us more likely to dwell on negative events, even when something positive is equally or more present.
Think about the last time someone presented you with a new idea for something previously untried. It could have been someone at work, your spouse, or even one of your kids. Did you play the devil’s advocate? If so, your response was typical of how most people tend to evaluate ideas and make decisions. Historically, the term “devil’s advocate” comes from the Catholic Church and refers to someone appointed to present all of the negative information about a person the Church was considering for canonization.
Nowadays, playing the devil’s advocate more often means finding flaws in an idea, or anticipating what could go wrong so a person or group can employ measures to counteract problems. Often, the devil’s advocate view is one of a range of perspectives we consider to help us understand the fullest implications of our thoughts.
Knowing we tend to give more weight to negative views, what if we actually tried to balance the scale to give greater emphasis to positive thoughts instead? Call it playing the “angel’s advocate,” if you will.
In the coming weeks, when presented with a new idea, stop yourself before you respond. Your first thoughts may focus on why the idea won’t work, or the reasons why others might reject it. But what if the idea could work? What would that scenario look like, and what positive outcome could result?
In an article for Forbes, Jessica Hartung, an entrepreneur, author, mentor, and expert advisor to business leaders, offers a few ways to get started that may be helpful in any situation in which you are working with others:
First, Hartung suggests discovering your inner angel’s advocate by asking yourself these questions: What could go right here? What could this look like in a week, a month, a year? What would be working out ideally?
Second, Hartung recommends inviting others to play the angel’s advocate, and to offer their positive vision and ideas. According to Hartung, “Angel’s advocate gems come from one’s perspective, lived experience and inspired creativity. People often don’t reveal these gems unless you have built a connection with them.”
Third, Hartung discusses forming a broader, strategic vision that you and others can align around. “With this alignment,” she writes, “that ideal future is considerably more likely.” From this process, Hartung believes you can generate innovative, breakthrough ideas.
Lifting up ourselves and others, using the angel’s advocate method, seems like a fun exercise that, when practiced often, could become a positive habit that’s essential for our mental and physical health — something that’s imperative to maintain, especially for those of us nearing or in retirement. This holiday season, why not give it a try? You may be happily surprised by the result!