Spiritual Growth and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Spiritual Growth and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Have you ever noticed what you notice?

For example, if you’re thinking about buying a Volkswagen Golf or a Mazda 3, have you ever noticed that you begin noticing those cars everywhere you go? All of a sudden, your neighbor has one, the streets are filled with them, and every commercial seems to be about them.

Or, when you encounter an obscure piece of information or a particular phrase, have you ever noticed that you begin noticing that phrase over and over again?

THIS IS THE BAADER-MEINHOF PHENOMENON, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE RECENCY ILLUSION OR THE FREQUENCY ILLUSION.

Here’s a quick summary of the phenomenon:

In point of fact, coincidences themselves are usually just an artifact of perception. We humans tend to underestimate the probability of coinciding events, so our expectations are at odds with reality. And non-coincidental events do not grab our attention with anywhere near the same intensity, because coincidences are patterns, and the brain actually stimulates us for successfully detecting patterns, hence their inflated value. In short, patterns are habit-forming.

But when we hear a word or name which we just learned the previous day, it often feels like more than a mere coincidence. This is because Baader-Meinhof is amplified by the recency effect, a cognitive bias that inflates the importance of recent stimuli or observations. This increases the chances of being more aware of the subject when we encounter it again in the near future.

What does this have to do with spiritual growth?

When it comes to your children, have you ever noticed that you don’t notice when they grow? Especially if you’re with them on a daily basis? Sure, when you see a child that you haven’t seen in a year or two, you definitely notice how much they’ve changed and grown, but not if you’re with them daily.

Here’s the fascinating thing…

WHILE YOU MAY NOT NOTICE THE DAILY GROWTH OF YOUR CHILDREN, YOU DEFINITELY NOTICE WHEN THEY’RE SICK.

After all, what happens when we’re sick? Our fuse is shorter, our ability to make decisions is hampered, our energy is lower, our focus turns inward because we become more self-centered, and the list goes on and on.

The same is true for your spiritual growth.

You may not notice when you’re growing, but it’s definitely noticeable (to others, and hopefully to yourself as well) when you’re not. When you’re digging deep into God’s word (click here to learn 3 Ways to Normalize Bible Reading), the Lord will shape, mature and transform you. The changes aren’t necessarily immediately noticeable, but they’re happening through the power of the Holy Spirit. After all, as it says in 1 Corinthians 3, what we’re responsible for is not the growth, but the sowing and the watering of seeds. It’s “God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).

On the flip side, if you’re not meeting the Lord daily through the Word and through prayer, and if you’re not in healthy biblical community with other believers, you will stop growing spiritually.

YOU WILL THEN BEGIN NOTICING THE SYMPTOMS OF PHYSICAL SICKNESS IN YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE.

Your fuse will be shorter, your ability to make decisions will be hampered, your energy will be lower, your focus will turn inward because you will be more self-centered, and the list goes on and on.

What do you think would happen in our lives and in the lives of those we’re discipling and leading if we stopped treating the symptoms and instead addressed the root issue?

Let’s stop waiting until we’re sick to make a change; and instead, prioritize the daily disciplines (both physically and spiritually) to keep ourselves healthy.

This article originally appeared here.

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Daniel Im
Daniel Im is the Founder of NewChurches.com and the Director of Church Multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources, Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, co-host of three podcasts, and author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed).