Posts Tagged positive thinking
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.
One of my recruiters told me that he shields himself from disappointment by not getting his hopes up. He rationalizes that if he doesn’t get his hopes up, he doesn’t get disappointed when things don’t work out. If he finds success, he’s happy, because he didn’t expect it. When he fails, he’s already prepared for it.
I thought about him the other day as I spent yet another day hunting wild turkeys without success. Because of my history of unsuccessful turkey hunts, as I crawled into the blind, doubt dominated my thoughts, though I had reason for hope. My dad and son had already filled their tags, and the setup was perfect, but so too were many of the setups from which I’ve hunted in the past 16 years. I loaded my gun from the only box of turkey ammunition I ever bought, when I still lived in North Carolina. The brass on those shells is tarnished and dented from being loaded and unloaded countless times over the years. I’ve fired exactly two shells from that box at the only turkey I’ve taken, and that was more than 10 years ago.
As the hours slipped by, my limited hope became buried under doubt. Finally, I unloaded my gun and called for the truck to come pick me up. I wasn’t upset – it was a beautiful day to be in nature – but my enthusiasm for turkey hunting took yet another beating, as it would next week too.
Would the result have been easier to accept if I expected failure? I considered that as I watched the truck approach. Maybe I was expecting failure and actually attracting it through the law of attraction? I didn’t want to acknowledge that, but it’s very likely true.
Being positive takes considerable effort, especially when you have a history of failure, like I do with turkey hunting. Though they aren’t easy to get and keep, positivity and its younger brother persistence are very often keys to success.
Want proof? Read this article about Jeremy Hazelbaker who now plays baseball in the major leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals. The 28-year-old rookie spent the past seven-plus years playing minor league baseball, watching some of his teammates get called up to the major leagues, but watching far more of them quit the game after being cut. He himself was cut last spring, and after not getting any other offers, began to consider life after the game. Though the future looked grim, he didn’t give up and continued his workouts.
Less than a year after being cut, he got hits in all four of his plate appearances in his very first major league game at the Cardinals’ stadium. He was the first Cardinal in history to achieve that feat.
Hazelbaker still isn’t a starter on the team, and his early success hasn’t carried over into the rest of the season, but he is doing what would have been impossible had he lost positivity and persistence. During those seven minor league seasons and 751 minor league games, I imagine that he occasionally felt like I have felt during my turkey hunting career. He probably still worries about the next call to the coach’s office and trip home, but he isn’t letting that rob him of happiness.
To achieve our major league dreams, we have to quit expecting failure and work to retain our positivity and persistence, even when things don’t go our way. That’s where things get tough. When faced with the familiarity of our earlier failures, we’re tempted to anticipate them. We run for shelter at the slightest rumble of thunder, when we should be looking for blue sky. Yes, we might get a little wet, but it also might just be the time that the skies clear and our goals appear.
Living that way, anticipating success, is a much better way of living than trying to shield yourself from disappointment by expecting it.
Before I met one of my wife’s best friends more than twenty years ago, she was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to climb the stairs to her second-floor apartment. I later learned that she thought I was confined to a wheelchair, because Lynda had oversold my physical limitations when she had called earlier in the week. When I walked through the apartment door, I could see the relief and pleasant surprise in her friend’s face. I’ve always relished surprising people with what I can do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as often these days.
Now, it’s more common for me to see concern and pity, particularly when I take my wheelchair for a spin and encounter someone I haven’t seen in a while. This is one of the biggest reasons I resisted buying the wheelchair and continue to resist using it. I want to remain the guy who beats the odds and surprises people, not the poor guy in the wheelchair being pushed by his wife.
I completely understand the reactions I get when people see me in the chair for the first time, and though these reactions don’t offend me in any way, I do notice them. The first time it happened was earlier this year when I was in the airport waiting to catch a flight to Chicago for a speaking engagement. Waiting at the same gate was a client from my previous business. He and I had become friends, but hadn’t seen each other for several years. I could see his mind processing the scene in the brief moment between when we noticed each other and when we greeted each other. I imagine that it went like this, “Hey, that’s Mitch, but he’s in a wheelchair. Is that really Mitch in a wheelchair?”
It was the first time in months that I had used the wheelchair, but travel was one of the main reasons I bought the chair, so I was using it that day. I could have stood up and walked toward him, but we were getting ready to board, and doing so would have been inconvenient for my wife who was traveling with me and already burdened with a carry-on bag. Instead, we exchanged pleasantries, never addressing the “elephant in the room.”
Now that it’s football season, I pretty much use my wheelchair every Friday night, which means that I’m being pushed around in front of our community – our friends, our children’s friends and their parents. That’s pretty humbling, and I find myself wanting to wear a sign that says, “I’m riding now, but be in my gym at 8 am tomorrow morning to see me walk unassisted and push heavy weights.” Unfortunately, it’s more likely that the image of me in the chair will be what these people take home with them.
Context and Confidence
A few weeks ago, in the week before his first varsity football game, my son developed a large, ugly blister on his forehead near his hairline. It was likely caused by irritation from his football helmet. Whatever the cause, it caused him much anguish, as he worried about how others viewed him. As a guy who battled acne as a teenager, I could empathize, and I wanted to do everything I could to remove this challenge for him, but I couldn’t. All I could do was offer advice.
I told him that, in the grand scheme of things, the blister was but a minor, temporary inconvenience. School was going well. He had earned a starting spot for his first varsity football game, and he was enjoying a blossoming relationship with a nice young lady. Don’t let something so small as a blister rob that happiness from you, I told him, which turned out to be great advice for me too.
Most people are more supportive and understanding than we believe them to be. Their reactions might be instinctual, but the people who really matter see through whatever external flaws we fret over. In fact, I think we worry much too much about small things that we mistakenly think matter to others, and all of this worry sabotages our happiness.
Whether it is a wheelchair, blister or some other challenge, make sure that you put whatever is worrying you in its proper place, which is usually at the bottom of the Stuff that Matters list. Doing this will help you properly appreciate the blessings around you.
I celebrated another birthday last month. As I have mellowed, so too have the celebrations. Quiet dinners with my family have replaced loud parties with friends, and moderation isn’t something I scoff at any more. Instead of using the day as an excuse to indulge and go crazy, my birthdays are now an occasion for quiet reflection. In a way, I’ve brought the celebration inside.
This has made my mind my most important participant in my celebration. If my mind isn’t right, it won’t be much of a celebration. Because of this, on my birthday, I resolve not to let anything drag me down and to focus only on the positive.
If I dump half of the top shelf in the refrigerator trying to get orange juice for breakfast, who cares – it’s my birthday. If a fellow commuter challenges me on my drive to work, not a problem – it’s my birthday. If the kids leave the kitchen a mess, it’s not the end of the world – it’s my birthday.
I attempt to control and direct my emotions to improve my experiences, practicing emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize and control one’s emotions for personal development.
The term emotional intelligence has been around for more than 100 years. Though there isn’t consensus among scientists about its validity as actual intelligence, most of us can benefit from its general foundation – awareness and purposeful manipulation of human emotion. If we can be aware of our emotions and their causes, we can attempt to control them.
I learned about emotional intelligence by reading the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. Before reading the book, I accepted my emotions as a consequence of daily activities – something that would come and go. I resisted dwelling on my emotions and their causes, thereby undervaluing their effect on life satisfaction and personal development.
Emotional intelligence starts with awareness of emotions. At almost every point in the day, our emotions color our perception of the world, even if we are unaware of this effect. If you are combing through your e-mail, and you come across a message from someone who has disappointed or angered you recently, that anger and disappointment comes back. Though those emotions might not be as intense as they once were, they still affect us and our approach to the world, while they are with us.
Likewise, when we take time to notice the simple things in life, like the peaceful quiet of a new morning dawn, we fuel ourselves with positive emotions. Someone who can become tuned in to his emotions can minimize their negative disruptions while exploiting their positive benefits, but it takes practice. Like learned intelligence, emotional intelligence gains strength through repetition.
I stressed emotional intelligence on my birthday this year, and I had a great, peaceful day, which tells me that I need to do that the other 364 days of the year. I’m pretty sure that I’m bending pages in the second half of this really intriguing book called life, and it’s getting good. I can make better with emotional intelligence.
This past spring, I found myself waiting in the evening darkness in the middle school parking for my son to return from a wrestling tournament. Such scenes are not uncommon for parents of active students who are not yet old enough to drive. I have definitely developed empathy for chauffeurs.
Finally, the bus pulled into the parking lot and wrestlers began to deboard. Many quickly jumped into their waiting parents’ cars and sped off. Within minutes, the parking lot was nearly empty, but there was still no sign of my son. I imagined him goofing off on the bus and carelessly wasting my time, and I was fairly irritated when he finally emerged from the bus and headed my direction.
I quickly learned that my assumption was wrong. Patrick had noticed that his teammates left the bus cluttered with soda cans and candy wrappers, and, without being asked, he stayed behind to clean up. The next day, while his coach punished the rest of the team with extra conditioning after practice, Patrick was excused. I’m not sure if those junior high students learned their lesson, but I know that I did.
I had needlessly introduced stress into my life by incorrectly assuming a negative situation. Ironically, if I knew what was actually going on in the bus, I would have been proud. Instead, I was critical and angry. I had sabotaged my own happiness.
Negative assumptions can do that to us, if we’re not careful. We’re invited to a dinner party, and we envision uncomfortable conversation instead of stimulation. We’re assigned a task at work, and we anticipate tedium instead of fulfillment. Our child asks for our help with homework, and we expect frustration instead of a bonding opportunity. Our previous experiences have conditioned us to associate certain activities with unpleasantness, so much so that we’re oblivious of other possibilities. That’s human nature.
Much assumption occurs in the subconscious, which is built on accumulated experience. It’s the brain’s way of taking shortcuts to conclusions. We don’t have to prove to ourselves that the glowing orange burner on the stovetop is hot. Our brain communicates that assumption and keeps us from burning ourselves.
If we can assume certain things to be true, we can reach resolutions and conclusions much more quickly. This is how scientists use assumptions. They don’t have to establish that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen before they use it as a medium in their experiments.
As long as assumptions are absolutely correct, they are extremely helpful. It’s when an assumption is based on a variable, such as human behavior, that they become unreliable and sometimes misleading. Though prior experience might lead us to fairly accurate assumptions of human behavior, it’s often a mistake not to consider other possibilities. Sometimes, life surprises us, as I found out in that parking lot on that cold March evening.
My son had goofed around before, and he is sometimes absent-minded, which results in him losing important items, like his shoes or phone. My mind automatically went to that scenario and closed out all other possibilities.
Since that night in the parking lot, I’ve challenged myself to assume the positive in all human interactions. It’s not always easy. When that guy cut me off in traffic the other night, I convinced myself that it was unintentional, and it was more important for him to reach his destination quickly than it was for me to get home. I don’t know if that was true – just like I don’t know if the opposite was true, but thinking that way has brought more peace and happiness into my life.
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.