Posts Tagged positive attitude

Don’t Let Others Muck Up Your Day

A couple of days ago, I learned that a phone number I had called a few times in the past week wasn’t that of a prospect I wanted to reach, but instead, that of an angry garbage truck driver.

When he picked up my call, I could hear the anger and hostility in his voice. He was mad that I had been calling his number, and although I apologized and tried to explain myself, he continued berating me. When I had enough, I hung up. Things should have ended there, but they didn’t. He tried calling me back, but I let the call go to voicemail. He didn’t leave a message, but called again a few minutes later. Not wanting to antagonize what I feared was a deranged person, I picked up that call.

He insisted that I had called him many times over many months. I hadn’t. I asked him what he wanted, and he said that he wanted to never speak to me again. Though seething inside, as calmly as I could, I assured him that I wanted the same thing.

I’m pretty sure that this guy wasn’t a garbage truck driver, but he reminded me of The Law of the Garbage Truck, which is pasted below.

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches!

The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked, ‘Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!’ This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck.’

He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it! Sometimes they’ll dump it on you. Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I wanted, so it took me a few minutes to remember and apply the lesson behind this law. After I hung up, I paced. I fumed. I wanted to lash out at the injustice of being chastised for a simple, common mistake that could have been corrected in a polite conversation.  I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pick up the phone and call someone else, until I realized that I had a choice to make. I could let this chance encounter ruin the rest of my day or I could shrug it off as an inconsequential misfortune.

In my line of work, it’s absolutely necessary to maintain a positive attitude. I would severely limit my effectiveness if I approached my professional interactions with negativity. Even if I tried to mask negativity, most people can pick it up, even subconsciously. Unless I was ready to throw in the towel on the rest of the day, I had to get my attitude right.

That’s where The Law of the Garbage Truck has value. When we encounter unpleasant people or find ourselves in unpleasant situations, we have to maintain context and not let negativity squash all of the positivity surrounding us. Whatever garbage is dumped on us, we need to brush it off and do our best not to spread it.

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Don’t Let Jealousy Drive Judgement

When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement a couple of months ago, many fans harshly criticized his decision. In fact, he was booed as he walked off his home field by the same fans who presumably cheered his success when he was healthy and on top of his game. His offense? Prioritizing his health over playing a game.

Luck’s was an extreme case, but it caused me to think of how quickly we tend to judge the decisions of others without considering or knowing all of the factors leading to those decisions. This seems especially common when someone is in the spotlight or deemed fortunate, like Luck obviously was. When someone like that shows weakness, we feel entitled to judge.

As the father of a college football player, I’m more sensitive about this than I used to be. Now, I know a lot more of what goes on behind the scenes, and I’m embarrassed by the sharp criticisms of players that I’ve offered in the past. We simply don’t know what challenges the competitors we cheer for are facing both on and off the field.

The same thing is true with the people we encounter in everyday life. Just the other day, as I was pulling up to the gym, I watched what appeared to be a perfectly healthy person walk seemingly effortlessly to his car, which was parked in the handicapped section. As someone who resisted getting a handicapped parking placard for many years, I am highly sensitive to abuse of that accommodation, and that sometimes causes me to rush to judgement.

I rushed to judgment that day. The guy I was angry with waited for me to get out of my vehicle, and as I passed by, he rolled down his window and asked me if I needed any help or if I wanted the spot in which he was parked, and I could hear the labored breathing. Just because he walked better than I do doesn’t mean that he needed that parking spot any less.

Though it was on a much smaller scale, I was as guilty of misplaced judgement on the wheezing parker as the Colts fans were with Andrew Luck. In both cases, we felt justified in our criticism because the object of our criticism was someone who seemed privileged. In reality though, we have no idea what challenges they face.

Challenges, physical and otherwise, are often not obvious or visible. Just as athletes have numerous sprains, tears and concussions that we never learn about, we don’t often don’t know about the struggles of our neighbors. They might appear to have it all together, but bad breaks, like relationship, health and money problems, often happen behind closed doors.

Andrew Luck had a brilliant career, and when he left it, he gave up around $58 million that he would have earned had he played two more years. The Colts owner estimated that he was giving up as much as $450 million in future earnings. He had already earned more than $97 million during his seven-year career. While those numbers are staggering, they don’t negate Luck’s prerogative to decide what’s best for his future.

It’s not our prerogative to judge, especially when that judgement is driven by jealousy. The next time you’re tempted to boo from the bleachers or criticize from the pews, try this exercise: consider what motivates your judgement and ask yourself if you have all of the facts. It’s not that hard, and you’ll be happier when you’re not judgmental or jealous.

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Don’t Wait, Get What You Deserve

The small community in which I live recently experienced a mind-numbing tragedy. Four teenagers were killed in a wreck, and a fifth was badly injured. They were all only a couple of years younger than my daughter, and because of their young, active lifestyles, it seemed like everyone in the community was affected some way.

As a parent, my initial thoughts were with the parents of these girls. When I first heard of the accident, I remember saying aloud to myself, “they didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.”

Hardly anyone deserves the bad things that happen to them, but bad things happen to good people all of the time. In addition to the accident, in just the past year, I’ve seen a relative have a freak accident and become even more badly injured in the ensuing operation, to the point that he’ll likely never walk again. A couple of months ago, a good friend – one of the greatest and purest souls I’ve ever met – lost the home in which he spent most of his adult and childhood life to a catastrophic flood. And, I’ve helped a couple of people very close to me deal with heart-breaking ends to their relationships.

None of them did anything to deserve the anguish they experienced, and I was baffled by the injustice of it all – until I considered the futility of fretting about what we deserve.

We don’t get to decide what we deserve. We can live perfect lives, follow all of the rules and check off all of the virtue boxes, and bad things can still happen.

What we do get to decide is how we approach each day and every relationship, including the one we have with ourselves. Seeing tragedy should shine a spotlight on these things.

Because tomorrow’s happiness isn’t guaranteed, we need to see each day as a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. That’s easy on days filled with family, friends and laughter, but what about those days that, on the surface, seem full of drudgery and frustration? Those are the days that we need to look a little deeper for beauty.

I try to look for something positive every day, and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Many times, it’s as simple as making someone smile or encouraging someone in need. I don’t wait for these things to happen. If they don’t spontaneously happen, I make them happen. I’ll look for someone who seems down, and try to engage them in an uplifting conversation. Some of these people might think that I’m crazy, but I care less about that each year. I aim for a smile, and I almost always get that.

I also try really hard not to complain. There is enough complaining in this world, and I have yet to find a meaningful purpose for it. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I respond positively and enthusiastically, even if things aren’t going my way. Most times, that positivity and enthusiasm bounce back to me, and lift my spirit.

It’s also important to pay attention to our attitude toward life. When someone has an accident or gets some bad medical news, their chances of recovery greatly increase if they have taken care of their bodies and are otherwise healthy. The same thing is true with our minds. If our minds are in a good place, we’re better positioned to withstand and recover from a downturn. If you’re not feeling particularly happy and fulfilled, do something about it, so you’re optimally positioned to handle whatever life throws at you.

While we might not always get what we deserve, we can always seek out the happiness we deserve. Embrace what you have today, because life can change in an instant, leaving us with regrets for the days and opportunities we wasted.

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Finding the Positive in Taxes and Flooding

My late grandfather once told me that paying taxes is a good thing. It means that you’re making money. I understand the logic behind that statement, and appreciate the optimistic perspective, even if my instinct is to argue against it.

Despite my conservative leanings, every April, I try to convince myself to think like Grandpa. On this tax day, I challenged myself to write about taxes from a positive perspective, while maintaining my boycott of social media politics.

That wasn’t easy. In the past week, I sent the government enough money to buy a new car, but that’s far from the end of my contributions. As a small business owner, I send checks every month, as well as pay quarterly estimates every three months. Also, as a business owner, I must match my Social Security and Medicare contributions. I’m very well aware of how much I am taxed.

For these reasons, it’s difficult to stay positive about taxes, especially at this time of year. I want to think about how I might have spent the money that I sent to the government. I want to complain about how the government spends my money. I want to whine about all of the time I spend preparing and planning for taxes. Those are my instincts, and they are difficult to suppress.

To maintain a positive attitude, we often have to suppress our instincts, especially when we know that those instincts lead us in a negative direction. This is especially true in challenging times. Complaining only makes a challenging situation that much more difficult.

The positive, can-do attitude I saw in response to the recent tragic flooding in my area was a powerful reminder of the importance of staying positive in trying times. It seemed that everywhere I looked during the flooding I saw examples of the strength of the human spirit, in spite of unfathomable challenges.

I saw great people, including some of my friends, helplessly watch the water rise around their homes and businesses. There was nothing that they could do but pray that the waters would subside, and I know that some of those people are very prayerful, yet their prayers were not answered, and the floods destroyed their homes and businesses.

The injustice of it all had to be overwhelming, I thought to myself. How do they not lash out at the devastation that seemed tremendously unfair? Could I be as strong?

Instead of complaining, I saw compassion and resolve. Friends, family and strangers alike united to help where and how they could. Instead of looking around with self-pity, flood victims rolled up their sleeves and salvaged what they could. They didn’t waste time complaining and looking for places to place their blame. They got to work and moved on.

In no way do I want to minimize the devastation caused by flooding. My tax challenges pale in comparison with those losses. I merely drew inspiration from their ability to preserve and thrive in an extremely difficult situation. Plus, my grandfather was right. I did have a good year, and that is a reason to be thankful.

So this year, instead of annual April 15th tradition of looking for fairness and grumbling about how I think that things should be different, I am at peace and have accepted things as they are.

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OK, Can I Complain Now?

February 2019 brought record snow to the area where I live. Snow piled on snow, as every few days seemed to bring a new storm. Record low temperatures accompanied the snow, keeping it from melting as it normally would at this time of year. Even people who profess their love of snow were getting tired of the white stuff.

I don’t love snow. In fact, I intensely dislike snow. When I see flakes falling, frustration and anxiety creep in, since even a dusting of snow on a sidewalk renders me almost completely immobile. When frustration and anxiety creep in, it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. Without a positive attitude, it’s hard to resist complaining.

It’s tempting to justify complaining, especially when you are pushed to your limits. I’m not sure that this winter pushed me to my limits, but it got awfully close. It certainly made me think about complaining.

I’ve thought about complaining before. When he was coaching me before one of my first professional speaking engagements, a really good friend told me: you have every right to be a bitter, angry person, but you’re not. People expect that from people like you who have obvious physical challenges, and they’re disarmed when they meet you and find out that you’re not.

At the time, his words shocked and saddened me. People expected me to be bitter and angry? Why would I be bitter and angry? I know that he was talking about my disability and how I went from a child with no limitations to an adult with some significant physical limitations, but that’s not something that I dwell on.

Mostly, I was baffled that complaining could be justified. If I am justified in complaining, who isn’t? My cousin who suffered a spinal cord injury about a year ago and hasn’t walked unassisted since? My friend who is battling cancer and struggling with a failing heart? Another friend taking care of her Alzheimer’s stricken husband who no longer recognizes her? Friends with relationship challenges whose life trajectories hang in the balance?

Almost everyone I know can justify complaining, but I hear surprisingly little complaining. I’m not complaining that I don’t hear a lot of complaining, but the absence of complaining in my life is remarkable. I suspect that I don’t hear a lot of complaining, because of the way I approach life. I believe that staying positive and not complaining about your circumstances will subject you to fewer complaints from others.

Conversely, when we complain, we open the door for others to do the same, and everyone suffers. Shared misery is a weak foundation for relationships, because complaining erodes happiness.

The official weather station in my neighborhood tells me that 60.9 inches of snow, 37.8 inches over average, have fallen around the house in which I’ve been confined for many days this winter. The forecast for the next few weeks shows little change in the weather pattern with few melting opportunities. Every day, I resist the urge to complain about how the weather limits my life.

Instead, I tell myself that winter won’t last forever. The days are getting longer. The sun is getting brighter, and I’m gaining a stronger appreciation for warm weather. Furthermore, there are far worse places to hunker down than the house I share with my wife and daughter. Most importantly, these weather-related challenges pale when compared to all of the other blessings in my life.

So, no. I can’t complain. Not now. Not ever.

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Winning the Lottery

Last month, millions of us believed we were going to become instant millionaires. The Mega Millions jackpot was over $1 billion, while the Powerball neared that mark. Driven by long-shot dreams, we lined up in convenience stores across the country to buy our chances to win those huge jackpots.

Despite the astronomical odds against us, we allowed ourselves to dream of how life would change when our numbers were called. In fact, we did more than allow ourselves to dream, we believed that we would win.

Imagine if we applied that sort of optimism and enthusiasm to every day of our lives. Imagine if we woke up every morning believing that something great was going to happen. Imagine if we approached everyday situations with that kind of optimism. That’s winning the lottery.

Maybe you don’t hear your lottery numbers called, but maybe the phone rings with the professional opportunity of your dreams or you meet your soulmate. Maybe a talent that you’ve been nurturing is recognized, and you get your big break. No matter who you are, all of those things and countless others are more likely to occur than hitting a lottery jackpot.

I know the argument against living this way: when you believe that good things are going to happen, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Isn’t it better to temper your expectations, so you’re not so disappointed if things don’t come together? I get that, but buying a lottery ticket is the ultimate in setting yourself up for disappointment, and we still do it.

Your life would be SO much better if you treated each day with the untampered optimism you invest in that $2 ticket. After all, doesn’t your skillset and work ethic give you a better chance of success than a 1 in 292,201,338 lottery ticket?

“Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.” – Jon Gordon, author of Energy Bus

Because you can’t win without a ticket, it’s often said that when we buy a lottery ticket, we buy a dream. That same is true with hope and positivity. Think of positivity as the $2 you spend on a ticket, and when you have positivity, you have hope of winning. Without positivity, just like without a lottery ticket, you can’t hope to win.

The challenge is maintaining this attitude when, inevitably, not every day yields big results. That’s where the Stockdale Paradox helps.

When writing his book, Good to Great, James C. Collins asked former Navy Vice Admiral and Vice-Presidential candidate James Stockdale how he survived seven and a half years in a Vietnamese prison camp, where he was frequently tortured. Stockdale said the blind optimists had the most difficult time, because they couldn’t maintain their optimism over the years of dismal living. The key to survival, he said, was to be optimistic while acknowledging reality. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be,” said Stockdale. Collins called that philosophy, the Stockdale Paradox.

Most of us will never experience a test to our optimism like a prisoner of war camp, nor will we achieve wealth by winning the lottery, but we can use the Stockdale Paradox to enhance our lives. If we start our days with excitement and anticipation, and then maintain that attitude while doing everything we can to improve our circumstances, we’ll win the lottery of life.

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Don’t Let Negativity Cloud Beauty

When my wife and I went to visit our son in Wyoming last year, he was anxious to show us the beauty of the mountains that are a short drive from the University of Wyoming campus. Up there, at about 10,000 feet, are his favorite fishing lake and places that he likes to hike. We had seen pictures, but were excited to witness the beauty he had told us about.

In October in Laramie, anything you want to do outdoors is at the mercy of the weather. When we left town, it was bright and sunny. By the time we reached the mountains, it was snowing and blowing, and the mountains were obscured by clouds and a heavy layer of fog. On top of that, the roads turned treacherous about half-way up the mountain. Since we couldn’t move the clouds or clear the roads, we turned around and headed back, never being able to see the great vistas we hoped to see.

Though the excursion didn’t yield the results we wanted, we didn’t let that damper the enjoyment of being together as a family. We chose to make the most of our circumstances, rather than let something as uncontrollable as Mother Nature get us down.

Mother Nature can be a formidable foe, but sometimes, we can move clouds, and inexplicably, we don’t.

That happened recently in our house on the morning of my daughter’s first day of her senior year of high school. My wife had an elaborate breakfast planned for my daughter and two of her classmates who had spent the night, so she woke up early to prepare, only to discover that our refrigerator had abruptly quit without the courtesy of a two-week notice. That event cast a negative cloud that hung over our home throughout breakfast and well after Kelly and her friends left for school, and though we could have moved it, we let it obscure the beauty of what should have been a cherished memory.

It’s easy to do that – too easy to do that. We drive to work on a beautiful day, and instead of noticing and appreciating that beauty, we stew about the guy who cut us off in traffic. We gather to celebrate a birthday, but we don’t enjoy it as much as we should because a guest didn’t show or we didn’t have enough cake. We let our frustration over a long wait at a restaurant dominate a night that we’ll never again have.

Why do we do these things? Are we determined to sabotage our own happiness? Can we not separate the wheat from the chaff in our minds? When I let negativity crowd out beauty, it’s because I lost control of my thoughts.

Controlling your thoughts sounds simple, and it typically is in calm, pleasant times, but when outside factors, like a fridge full of slowly rotting food emerge, it’s not so simple. Obviously, we couldn’t completely ignore the quandary that the fridge forced upon us, but we didn’t need to let it overtake what should have been a morning more memorable for its significance in our family life.

Instead of pushing back on negative emotions like anxiety, anger and frustration, we ceded our morning to them, and in doing so, tarnished a memory. It’s all too easy to let this happen, and even to be unaware that it’s happening.

When challenging circumstances like this evoke negative emotions, we must remind ourselves that we have options in dealing with them. Unlike the weather, our emotions are under our control, and we should use them to move clouds when we can.

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