Posts Tagged positive dialogue
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.
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.
“Assume everyone is stupid, distracted or out to get you,” I told my 14-year-old daughter the other day, as she steered us through West Omaha traffic. We were continuing our odyssey toward achieving a level of comfort with her behind the wheel.
She was driving down a busy street and into a parking lot, and I wanted her to know that danger could appear out of almost anywhere. That guy driving beside you? He could suddenly switch lanes or unexpectedly jam on his brakes. That lady approaching the intersection? Don’t assume that she’s going to yield to you. Don’t trust anyone. Assume the worst, and be prepared for it.
That is exactly how we should drive, and exactly opposite of how we should live, but how often do we live like we drive?
Maybe a friend doesn’t immediately return our call, and we assume that there is tension in the friendship. Maybe our boss wants us to meet him in his office at the end of the day, and we’re certain that we’re going to get reprimanded or worse. Maybe we have a headache, but instead of taking an aspirin and relaxing, we head to WebMD and start researching brain cancer.
We’re often looking for trouble that doesn’t exist, and because of that, we’re making ourselves needlessly miserable. If we’re always looking for someone to pull out in front of us, we’ll never enjoy the journey.
I had to get over this when I first start dating my wife nearly 22 years ago. I had experienced a bad break-up of a four-year relationship the year before, and I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Everything was going to have to be perfect, I told myself, before I would ever become emotionally attached to another person.
It was far from perfect. She lived in Washington, DC. I lived in Nebraska. I was a teacher. She was a medical student. Our lives were occurring in different places and following different paths. Getting into such a relationship seemed like speeding on an icy road; there were too many things that could go wrong, but instead of slowing down, I stood on the accelerator, and I’m very glad that I did.
The bad break-up I feared never happened, but for the first year, I drove with my foot hovering over the brake. When I should have been feeling contentment and happiness, I felt anxiety and fear. We shouldn’t live like that.
A modicum of caution is essential to an orderly life, but there is a huge difference between expecting the worst and simply acknowledging its existence. We don’t have to scan our yards for prowlers before locking the doors at night. Likewise, we shouldn’t anticipate failure when we’re pursuing success. Failure doesn’t need that advantage.
Kelly is getting much better at driving. Like her older brother who was taught the same lessons when he was learning to drive, she drives with heightened awareness of the potential dangers she might encounter. That will make her a cautious driver – exactly what you want when you hand the keys to a teenager.
There will be dangers in her life off the road too, and I certainly want her to be aware of them, just not looking for them. When we constantly look for trouble, it seems that we usually find it. Part of life’s beauty is that the same is true for hope and inspiration. Expect it and look for it, and you’ll likely find it.
The typical Facebook feed is a peculiar convergence of people, ideas and weirdness. Mine is no different. When I log on, it’s like I’ve taken a hallucinogenic that allows everyone from my mother’s third cousin to my closest childhood friend to flash pictures and words in front of me with no regard to their importance or my interest in them. If you pay attention, this random nature occasionally yields remarkable juxtapositions that make you back up and think a bit.
That happened the other day. One friend wrote a touching tribute to her husband who had unexpectedly died earlier in the year. In the next post, a different friend complained about her Starbucks order. Taken apart, these two posts are fairly unremarkable, but when paired together, a glaring spotlight shines on the trivial complaint.
The same thing happens in our daily lives. When someone asks us how we’re doing, and we launch into a litany of grievances, we might not be aware of how small and petty we sound, especially if the other party is dealing with something more significant. Imagine complaining about your mild headache to a friend who you didn’t know was on her way to a chemotherapy treatment.
Unfortunately, because complaining is so habitual, we often aren’t even aware that we are complaining. If we backed up and thought about what we are saying, we would probably be embarrassed, and that is what we should do before we complain – back up and think.
I’m trying to teach my children this concept: before you run up to me or anyone else and complain about something, think. First, do I even need to complain? And second, how will my complaint affect the other person and his opinion of me?
Most complaints are stopped in their tracks by the first question. Except in special circumstances, complaining simply isn’t necessary. Complaining is only helpful if it leads to problem-solving. If your doctor asks you where it hurts and how often it hurts, go ahead and complain. It will help him solve your problems. Too many times though, we complain to people who can’t help us and about problems with no solution.
Nebraska, where I live, gives its residents many opportunities to complain about the weather, which is the most pointless of all complaining. Until we figure out how to control the weather, whining about temperature extremes, snow, ice, hail and the like will never lead to problem-solving, so why complain? Unless you are going to move to a more agreeable climate, put on a smile and deal with it.
Complaining about the weather isn’t the only pointless complaint. How often do you hear people complaining about being tired or busy? Often the complaint is just an excuse for poor performance or inconsiderate behavior.
Lastly, complaints negatively impact the energy of human communication and make the complainer significantly less popular. I think of complaints and complainers like mosquitoes at a backyard party. No one wants to be around them. When you hear one buzzing in your ear, you swat it away, and if that doesn’t work, you walk away. Whatever you do, you don’t unleash more of them and ruin everyone’s good time.
If you look hard enough, the world is filled with irksome opportunity, and there are many people ready and willing to point it out. Don’t look for irksome opportunities. Look for opportunities for positivity, and when others can’t see them, don’t hesitate to point them out. Make yourself that cool evening breeze that keeps the mosquitoes away.
The Bellagio in Las Vegas is one of the most opulent places I’ve been fortunate to visit. It’s massive, with more than 4000 rooms, and full of extravagance, from its marble floors to the spectacular water show in front. When I’m there, I feel like I’m in another world. That’s why I was stunned when I saw the Grand Island Nebraska Tenderloin Steak on the menu at Olives, one of Bellagio’s elite restaurants.
I was born and raised about 50 miles from Grand Island, in a small little town without a stoplight, much less a movie theater. During my childhood, Grand Island, population 35,000 at the time, was the big city. It’s where we went to go shopping, to a movie or on some other type of adventure. With its restaurants, movie theaters, miniature golf and roller skating, I felt like I was in another world when we went to Grand Island.
Grand Island is not the Bellagio. It’s not even an island, but according to the waiter I asked in Las Vegas, it’s where the best beef in the world comes from. He didn’t get an argument from me, but I laughed to myself when I thought about how others, who had no other exposure to Grand Island, might think of the city.
The Bellagio hosts visitors from all over the world, not just the United States. Many likely couldn’t find Nebraska on a map. They sure wouldn’t look in the middle of the country when they looked for a grand island. When they read “Grand Island,” what goes through their minds? Does some Japanese guy from Okinawa picture a massive island full of premium beef cattle?
Obviously, the marketing team at Olives intends just that – an idealized image that makes wherever we are and whatever we’re eating or doing feel special. Imagine if we were our own marketing team and did that for ourselves.
Imagine doing your weekly grocery shopping at “Gourmet Heaven,” where tens of thousands of fresh items are available for immediate consumption. The meals you can prepare with the ingredients there are limited only by your imagination. If you still can’t see past the many stocked aisles, think of it from a North Korean’s perspective, where supplies are rationed and resources to purchase are scarce. A North Korean in an American grocery store would have a hard time believing his eyes, yet we go to that same store with a sense of drudgery.
Imagine if you saw your job as an important opportunity to contribute to your organization’s success while working toward your goals, rather than something you have to do five days per week. It might not be your dream job, but it very well could be an important step in your journey to your dream job. Wouldn’t thinking like that make the drive in each morning a little easier?
Imagine going to a child’s game, concert or recital with an appreciation for the opportunity to share a fleeting moment with them. Sure, there are things that you might rather be doing at that moment, but instead of wasting mental energy on regret, invest that energy on enjoying the moment
Imagine marketing your life to yourself. It’s not that hard. It’s really just a matter of creating an optimum image of what we do and where we are, by focusing on the positives. Don’t wait for someone else to do it – sell yourself the Grand Island Nebraska Tenderloin Steak.
My dad made his living as a mechanic, and as a young boy, I loved watching him work. He had cool tools, and the shop, with its rumble of large engines and rattle of impact wrenches, was full of power and masculinity.
Occasionally, my dad had time to teach me basic procedures, like wheel alignment and tire balancing. We used special diagnostic machines for each procedure, and made corrections when we detected misalignment or misbalance. Often, we went on a test drive before we started working and then on another after the corrections were made. On the first trip, my dad would let go of the steering wheel on a straight section of the highway and show me how the car drifted to one side or another, if it was misaligned, and how it subtly shook, if the tires were unbalanced. After we fixed it, he could drive down that same stretch of highway with no hands, and the car would seem to steer itself.
When a car’s wheels are misaligned or its tires are unbalanced, it fights against itself and is not nearly as effective as it can be. We’re the same way. If one of our wheels is even slightly misaligned, we’ll veer toward the ditch, sometimes gradually, other times, dramatically. If a tire is unbalanced, we’ll sense that something is wrong, and if left uncorrected, it will eventually become too severe to be ignored.
Of course, we don’t have wheels and tires – we have thoughts, words and actions. If any of those three are not aligned with the direction we want to take our lives, our journey is much more difficult than it needs to be.
Our thoughts are the genesis of all that we do. If you’ve ever started your day in a bad mood, with negative thoughts making you snarl, even before you’ve encountered something to anger you, you know what I mean. A bad mood usually leads to a bad day, because we feel compelled to share our negativity, and our words negatively impact those around us and taint our actions and the actions of those around us.
Conversely, positive thinking – true positive thinking – leads to positive dialogue, which sets in motion, positive action. I say “true positive thinking,” because you can’t force yourself to think positively consistently. For positive thinking to come naturally and consistently, you must feed your mind with positive affirming messages and control your environment against negativity.
Our thoughts guide our words, often in very subtle ways. Contrast the following two statements, both in response to a question my wife recently asked me:
“I have to go to Lincoln today for a meeting that is probably completely unnecessary.”
“I am going to Lincoln today to support an organization whose mission is important to me.”
While it’s easy to see which answer came from positive thinking, it’s much more difficult to filter a response like that before it comes out of your mouth, especially in a comfortable setting, like when you are with family and friends. What we say impulsively, when we’re being honest and not trying to impress anyone, reveals our true thinking. If we have to force ourselves to be positive, our thoughts are not aligned with our words, and we’ll feel an inner struggle.
If I attend the meeting in the above example with a negative mindset confirmed by negative words, it’s very difficult to be a positive force on the organization. I’m out of alignment. To correct that, I must go back to the source of all of my words and actions, my thoughts.
Are your thoughts, words and actions aligned? If something doesn’t feel right, stop what you are doing and saying, and examine what you are thinking. If you can fix that, you will be much more effective and comfortable.