The ABC of Contrast: My understanding of the Contrast Theory & why it exists

The ABC of Contrast

My understanding of the Contrast Theory & why it exists

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about ‘the contrast theory’. I thought it was something he was making up on the spot to help me to put life into perspective, and so dismissed it so that I could continue wallowing in my foul mood. But after a while I reflected back on this novel concept, and I noticed it actually does make some sense.

The contrast theory emphasises the fact that opposites like good and evil, hot and cold, sad and happy, love and hate etc. have to exist for the world to balance. I still don’t love the idea because I don’t enjoy the prospect of continual pain, sadness and weakness in life, just for the sake of evenness. But I’m learning to react less dramatically to bad situations, because often just around the corner – or even right under my nose – the good is apparent.

I retorted: But why can’t I just be happy every minute of every day?

He replied: Because you wouldn’t know happiness or true joy without sadness and pain.

  1. Appreciation

I would suggest that you need to experience the downs in life to truly appreciate the ups. The down-times help us to appreciate not just our own ups, but also those of others. The ups or good-times include any good thing, such as hanging out with your family on a weekday evening, going to a theme park and enjoying the thrill of the rides, going on holiday and basking in the sun’s rays on a Miami Beach, and the list goes on. Of course, I’m listing the types of good-times, fun-living ups that I would enjoy. Yours may be completely different: a quiet night in with a good book and a cuppa (again, something I love to do), or a ski-trip on the Alps (certainly not my cup of tea!).

In terms of my experiences as an athlete, I feel as though the past three years at least of my athletics’ career have been total downs and yet within that and because of that I’m still going. I’m either mad, or there’s something more to it. I use the failures – the pain of injury, the frustration and slowness of rehab, and the baby steps of re-learning to walk, run and jump again – as a way to push me more fiercely through training and competition. And I appreciate more deeply each day where I am able to train, even if I’m just ‘dribbling’ (low impact running drill) or popping-off the board from a three-stride approach. Because I contrast these days with the days where I couldn’t even walk unaided and without pain; the days where I was swinging along on crutches (as much fun as that was at times!)

I realise that with all the levels of extreme sadness and evil in this world the contrast theory may seem unworkable, but for me I am humbled, inspired and left overwhelmed by the way humans have a capacity to react in an unexpected contrast to the ills of this world.

Recently I saw a man appreciate and express gratitude towards the team who secured his release from prison after 39 years of undeserved detention on death-row for a crime he did not commit. His eventual release came from the revised testimony of the same young boy (now a grown man) whose coerced testimony had put him in there! Having served close to four decades locked up for a crime he was not guilty of, many of us may become bitter, and why not? Yet, this man acted in contrast to the evil and pain of his suffering; he chose instead to focus on his years ahead, and to simply be thankful. What a humbling reaction!

In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus – I Thessalonians 5:18

I also love the way the media often choose to direct a significant focus on the heroic actions of the victims of tragedy. Even entrenched amongst the sorrow of the situation, the contrast of sacrifice and goodness displayed by these heroes enables us to appreciate and reflect upon the gentler aspects of human nature. The fight between good and evil will always exist. But it is our reaction to each situation that will determine our ability to survive and thrive in this world; to recognise the existence of the downs and to react in a way that attempts to affect a positive change.

  1. Balance

The above reaction of appreciation in a bad situation is certainly easier said than done, but it is possible.

In my interpretation of the contrast theory, the next step is to address the balance – or lack of – in your life.

For me, this step meant realising I did not have a great work-life-training balance and something had to give. I quit my steady job I’d managed to bag straight out of university, and went to crazily pursue my dream of becoming an Olympic champion. I also realised my life was completely unbalanced too. So I started to regain my love of reading, writing and smiling! (I had a lot of time on my hands once I was no longer working a 9 to 5). Obviously this initial stage of being a jobless individual is not a forever commitment, but this was just the beginning of the change to recreate a healthy life balance.

For you, balance could simply mean finishing work on time for one day a week to spend more time with your family, or going on a run for 20minutes in the morning as part of a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes it takes bad life events, such as a loss in the family to appreciate what or who you have, and make space to find time for the good you may frequently take for granted. But why not sit down and reflect right now on five good things in your life, appreciate them and make time to do more of what makes you happy.

  1. Creativity

We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them – Albert Einstein

If you are smart, you can react accordingly to the negative situations we all inevitably face in life; you start to think outside of the box, or create new directions to move past the bad.

Personally, I had both a physical and mental struggle when I suffered another injury blow this year that required surgery. Two surgeries in two years made me feel like I was experiencing a lot of bad luck, and ashamedly I received the invite to and eagerly attended my own mini pity party.

But having encountered a situation of failure that mirrored one almost exactly one year earlier, I got creative. Now, everything has changed.

The bad situation made me reflect on the good things in my life (appreciation), allowed me to push the ‘reset’ button to create better balance, and engaged my thinking to look for new ideas of how to make things better (creativity).

The contrast theory forced me to truthfully acknowledge where I was, and ask why. The answers to that simple question came from a new level of thinking and creativity, which has affected positive results now and hopefully in my future too.

I wonder whether it could do the same for you too…

Update: December 2015

As I quickly reflect back on this post from over a year ago, I realise how far I have come and appreciate the value of following the ABC of contrast that ultimately led me to Arizona on my Road to Rio 2016 and to continually seeking and working towards personal and professional excellence.

Here are a few posts that illustrate a few blessings from my time spent in Phoenix so far:

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