The POW Principle


I was once told that during the Korean War there was an extensive study done on the psychological dynamics of “breaking” a prisoner of war.

The people in charge of the study exposed the North Korean POWs to a wide range of physical and psychological dynamics.  Some were promised many positive inducements and others were threatened with negative consequences.  Some were isolated and others were put in over-crowded conditions.  The people designing the project carefully covered the range of possibilities, then started studying the data.

To their surprise one variable above all others accounted for the largest number of POWs who broke in captivity and shared the secrets they carried:  time.  If they cracked, they did it around the 42nd day after being captured.

This led to an understanding of the whole dynamic of the human psyche and its response to a new variable.  The short version is that most people can handle a new situation (good or bad) with a reasonable amount of equanimity for about five weeks, but the soul demands a brief respite around the sixth week.

Oh!  One other variable.  The larger the change, the more violent the pushback during the sixth week.

We see this in a wide variety of applications.  A person is informed he has cancer.  The initial reaction is, “I am going to fight this.  I will not die.”  The surgery goes well, treatment begins, all of the indicators are good, but for “no reason,” all of a sudden, right  around the sixth week, the patient loses his hope and gives up.

Now this is not a permanent giving up.  The sixth week dip is simply that.  A dip.  By the seventh week a person begins to dig out, and by the eighth or ninth week, they are back in the game again.  And it is not an every sixth week cycle.  It is the initial embracing of a new activity that hits hard.

You can see the same dynamic when something good happens.  Having a passionately longed for baby is a good thing, but often the new mom is just about fed up with diapers and no sleep by the time the sixth week comes along, and she needs some adult time in the worst way.

The bride who follows her husband everywhere at first, is really, really in need of a night out with the girls, by the time the 42nd day comes around.

And the effect of the POW principle is massively amplified when you are dealing with group dynamics.  Check the stats at a school district.  The new activity is school starting after having the summer off.  During the sixth week you will have the highest level of absenteeism among both teachers and students for the entire year, barring an epidemic at some other time.

If you think that is bad on the elementary school level, think about a university with 80,000 students and teachers all having a downer during the sixth week!

So what?

Well, if you know that you or someone around you is embracing a new activity, you can anticipate that there WILL be a let down around the sixth week.  And you can decide ahead of time to either lower the expectation that week, or increase the reinforcements.

Take a death in the family for example.  I watched this regularly when I was a pastor.  After the funeral, there was a high level of concern for the widow.  Her kids would drop by at least once a week, as would the neighbors and her friends from the church.

For awhile there, she had more company than she had had for years.  However, it was a new activity for all of those people.  They were willing to do it because they loved the widow, but it took a toll on their psyche which they did not take into account.  Meanwhile, I ignored the widow after the funeral was over.

But I knew that nine out of ten of the people who for five weeks had been faithfully dropping by after work, once or twice a week, to see the widow, were going to skip her on the sixth week.  Each one justified it as being no big deal because every time they had gone recently, someone else had just been there, so they were sure that their one week absence would not be a problem for the widow.  Others would fill in the gap.

However, since all of them were thinking the same thing, and they all dropped the ball on the sixth week, the widow was left with a deep sense of abandonment during the exact time when her grief was overwhelming her.

Knowing that this dynamic was going to occur, I marked my calendar, and cleared the schedule, so I could practically live over there during the sixth week to help her through the grieving she had been putting off for five weeks.

After that dip where she did some deep grieving, and her friends had their little recess, they came back the following week, and I left, and life went on.

It is not always necessary to “win” with a big push during the sixth week.  Back in the day when I ran a weekly Bible study, I knew that some of the people would not make it on the sixth week after we started, and most would not do their homework, and the ones who were there, would hardly be in the mood for a hard charging intellectual skirmish.

So I intentionally lowered the standard.  Without saying anything, I would plan for little or no homework that week, and would design the class to be more casual and relational than the usual intellectual contact sport.

These are the two options – rally outside support when you are going to be down, or lower the standard ahead of time, so guilt does not incapacitate you.

Each has its place.  If you are coming off drug addiction, you don’t want a relapse during that dip.  Be sure you stay away from temptation and keep a lot of outside support around you.

On the other hand, if you are starting a diet, your two most likely failure points will be the third day and the sixth week.  If you give yourself permission to go off the diet to a modest degree on the sixth week, you can buckle back down after the recess and get the benefit of a long-term modification in your intake.  If you go off your diet without permission, guilt will overwhelm you and you will give up and not go back on it during the seventh week.

So pick your activity.  You joined the gym, or started a budget, or became a soccer coach, or got a foster kid, or started a media fast, or swore off Facebook for the 18th time, or started piano lessons, or decided to eat sensibly for a change . . .

It doesn’t matter whether the new activity relates to spirit, soul or body, the more intense it is, the harder the pushback when the 42nd day comes.  Plan for it.  It is God’s design for you.

Now this blog is especially for you Prophets.  You are so idealistic, and you start every new activity with an intensity and passion that is guaranteed to cause a hard crash in six weeks.  And when you fail to execute at A++ level through the sixth week, you give up totally on your project, abandon it, and come into agreement with some very unwholesome beliefs about who you are and aren’t.

Prophets, you need to go back and renounce a lot of those “I am . . . ” statements you made about yourself after the many sixth week debacles you have inflicted upon yourself.  Then embrace some new activity in a little more modest ramp up, and with a plan in place for the sixth week dip.

And wives of Prophets, please exercise supreme self-control as you read this article and utterly refrain from saying, “Uh huh!”

Those two syllables won’t help your Prophet husband at all.

Not even a little bit.

Copyright November 2010, by Arthur Burk

Airborne over Texas, westbound in turbulence

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15 Responses to The POW Principle

  1. Heidi Harris says:

    Perhaps this “dip” was God’s way of wanting us to come BACK to Him to get the next push forward…kind of like our mid-way eval. We start off at full-speed ahead and and make great progress with what we had to start with. Then when we run out of fuel, need a new set of instructions, new plans, new insight, etc. , we go back to Him so that He can show us how to pick it up and go another notch/another level. If we kept going and going and going with the original push, would we ever stop and go back to Him??? Some of us might…but honestly, many of us would not.

    This insight, Arthur, has had IMMEDIATE impact in my life! I am applying this to multiple categories. Thank you for sharing this treasure!

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  2. Nancy says:

    yes .. ‘life is fractal’ . thanks for bringing the design of the 6th day to fore. I am reminded of the metamorphosis of the butterfly — on the 6th day: everything that ruled or had command in and of it’s nature is done at the sunrise of the 7th day .. comes rest.
    In reference to fractal .. perceptions of “what” is happening can take anyone for a ride through no-man’s land. but, are we not all drawn by the origin of likeness and image for our resting place … made without hands … the kingdom of God is within ..the invisible realm realized in the perspective of the butter-fly.

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  3. Carol Brown says:

    My first children’s book was released Nov. 2 and I am in a marketing whirlwind with book signings popping up, displays to make . . . I will now make plans for the 6th week! My grandson is applying for a student exchange program. It was wonderful to pass this nugget on to my daughter so she can equip him! I appreciate your research! Oh! I need to check the calendar regarding my husband’s heart surgery. He is probably close to six weeks! Wow! Almost missed that one!

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  4. Sonia says:

    Yeah , once again a part of who I am is redeemed! Thank you for describing so well what has been so painful. Thank you for sharing what Father has revealed to you about our design. Once again Arthur you surprise me how you have sought something out ( usually in pain) and share the pot of gold uncovered. Bless you ! I am currenlty in my 6th week of something and Father has provided for the dip that had already started. Your blog is the 5th ray of light and still looking for the 6th and 7th!

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  5. I love this principle and your illustrations make it very practical – we are due to have our baby anyday now and when I discussed this POW principle with my Husband we have planned the 6th week is going to be our ‘time out’ week and you’re article has initiated a huge discussion of ideas that will help us TY Big Time!

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    • Plumbline Ministries says:

      I am delighted for you and the others who have found immediate application of this principle possible. One of the things I really hate about the devil is that he messes with us, and then shames us by telling us it is our fault! I know a lot of people reading this remember past events that they began with gusto, then crashed on the sixth week and Mr. Shame Machine was right there to trash talk them. It gives me immense joy to deprive him of that tool by putting some truth out there to set people free.

      It is doubly gratifying because I was MISTER Blazing Fast Start followed by inevitable whimpering crash when I was a teenager, so I know how toxic it is when passion becomes shame.

      So, do it up big on your 6th week time out!

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  6. Glenn says:

    Wow! was this an eye opener for me. For longer than I care to remember I experienced this pattern. Receive a revelation or direction from Father. Dive in full bore to “getter done”. Hit the slumping point and wonder “did I miss it, why isn’t anyone else as passionate as I am.” Too often my choice has been to believe I didn’t hear correctly and head off in search of the next revelation from Father.

    Father is growing me up and has placed people and circumstances in my life to facilitate this process. I am actually able to press through the let down! He is restoring to me promises that are 30 years old!

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  7. Norma says:

    So this explains my behavior and the behavior of the people around me. I like the adaptation you give.

    But you have to wonder, why are we like this???? it seem so counterproductive to have this behavior carved into us. I wonder if this is “the way things are supposed to be” you know if this is the way God made humanity, or did we become this way as a result of sin? If it is the God’s design, what is He trying to say to us?

    I mean, God does not do things randomly. The more I study science, the more I discover the layers of metaphores that God writes particularly when it comes to Human Biology. 40 is a very significan number in the bible. it usually denotes the time required to complete things, the length of a generation and it is associated with the length of time required to brake a stronghold, the perseverence time required to conquer your own “flesh” and/or whatever demonic battle you are facing. so i would think that the 40th day is a pivotal point in a positive way. Maybe we have it built within us to “finish” a task, a project….by the 40th day. As if we have an internal circadian rhythm of some sort. This would explain why it takes 40 days to learn a new habit and brake an old one b/c 40 means the “completion” of ….After all, it can’t be a coincidence that the 40th day equals the 6th week. Since 6 is the sign of Man, is this more evidence that we are this way by Design?

    But why? i think there is something really deep here that would speak more about God than about us. I feel that the way we are made speaks volume about Him.

    i was just pondering….

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    • Plumbline Ministries says:

      Life is a fractal, so I absolutely agree with you that if we follow the pattern long enough, we will find out something fascinating about the nature of God imprinted on man.

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      • Christine says:

        “Life is a fractal.” There are many amazing facets to that phrase. It paints a beautiful picture of the Creator and His creation that I will cherish and ponder today. Thanks, Arthur.
        (I confess that I had to look up “fractal” to discover what it was. And who says you aren’t a mathematician, Arthur?! 🙂 )

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  8. Harald says:

    It is said that it takes 40 days to change a habit. I wonder if these two are connected?

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  9. Rosa says:

    Oy…sweet…what a relief. Now I know why I’ve been described a butterfly that just ‘flits’ from one thing to another! My six week dip for the gym is coming up. How timely! Thank you. Hope the turbulance has smoothed out, by the way!

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  10. Thomas Grunder says:

    Our course modules have 12 weeks at a time and I can confirm that the 6th week is the most difficult one. Once more you bring some language to an observation. The times we did a more “casual” week, it was always well commented in the evaluation. Now I am less puzzled with the why this is the case. Thanks

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  11. Sue M says:

    Ah Ha!! This helps immensely. I have a project that I have been trying to get off the ground with. I will definitely factor this principle into it! Thanks!!

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  12. Jana says:

    Thanks for this observation! We sometimes need to be reminded that it is okay to be human with human frailties…

    I am planning for our new school year which starts in January here in South Africa, so will apply what I learnt immediately.

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