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Why You Should Think Like Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a lot like Batman. Yes, they both wear an iconic “costume,” but that’s trivial. Here’s their crucial sameness: Lacking a “superpower,” they both practice an eccentric commitment to a skill-set that, in their own disparate ways, “sets captives free.” And it’s the “eccentric commitment” that sets them apart and elevates their impact in the world.

Elevated impact is the fruit of a way-beyond-normal passion. And in youth ministry, those who practice a Sherlock-like commitment to “seeing” students well—mirroring the truth about their God-given identity to free them from the prison of their false identity—get to participate with Jesus in his jail-break adventures.

Here’s a kick-starter—a few ideas extracted from Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by science writer Maria Konnikova.

1. Be obsessively observant. Konnikova writes: “It’s not just about the passive process of letting [students] enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit? And how do you take in and capture those details that you do choose to zoom in on?”

If you’re going to capture and communicate what is beautiful and true about each of your students—the seeds Jesus has planted in them—you’ll need to pay way, way better attention to the details of their often-subtle distinctives. What makes them unique? What strengths do they have to give? What is delightful about them, even if it’s buried under defense mechanisms?

2. Be selective. Konnikova writes: “Our brains are bombarded by something like 11 million pieces of data—that is, items in our surroundings that come at all of our senses—at once. Of that, we are able to consciously process only about 40. What that basically means is that we ‘see’ precious little of what’s around us, and what we think of as objective seeing would better be termed selective filtering—and our state of mind, our mood, our thoughts at any given moment, our motivation, and our goals can make it even more picky than it normally is. ”

So, it’s crucial to be selective about how we pay attention to kids. A simple strategy: Do whatever it takes to maintain focus on the person in front of you, then ask lots of questions. Think of question-asking as if it were an Olympic sport, and you’re competing for the gold medal. The more questions you ask, the more you learn what’s “under the hood” with each student.

3. Be objective. Konnikova writes: “Setting your goals beforehand will help you direct your precious attentional resources properly. It should not be an excuse to reinterpret objective facts to mesh with what you want or expect to see. Observation and deduction are two separate, distinct steps—in fact, they don’t even come one right after the other.”

Bottom line: Approach your eccentric commitment to observing and mirroring truth to your students with an open, curious, and “unresolved” attitude. Lay down your preconceptions, no matter how confident you are of them, and take in new information.

4. Be engaged. Konnikova writes: “When we are engaged in what we are doing, all sorts of things happen. We persist longer at difficult problems—and become more likely to solve them. We experience something that psychologist Tory Higgins refers to as ‘flow,’ a presence of mind that not only allows us to extract more from whatever it is we are doing but also makes us feel better and happier: we derive actual, measurable hedonic value from the strength of our active involvement in and attention to an activity, even if the activity is as boring as sorting through stacks of mail.”

Here’s what will set you apart from literally every other person in a student’s life—persistent pursuit. You see this same force at work in Jesus, who persistently pursued (way more than those around him) the “woman at the well,” Nicodemus, Peter, the Canaanite woman who asked him to eject a demon from her daughter, Zacchaeus, and on and on… Do you give up your commitment to “passionate observation” when your early returns are dismal, or do you persist? Those who persist best make the best shepherds. So be the best shepherd your kids have ever encountered.

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Why You Should Think Like Sherlock Ho...

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