Posts Tagged positive

Don’t Live Like You Drive

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“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.

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Where I Park, Not Who I Am

I’ve been qualified for a handicapped parking placard for as long as I’ve been able to drive, but I drove for nearly 20 years before I got one. During that time, I’ve watched people with far less challenging disabilities than mine use them, and I’ve heard people with no disability at all boast about using them to get a better parking place. I’ve limped past both.

Friends who went to NASCAR races with me admonished my stubbornness. “Why the hell do we have to park way out here?” they asked. “Because he’s too stubborn to get a handicapped placard,” my wife would answer for me.

I resisted the handicapped placard, because I didn’t see myself as handicapped. Sure, if I paid attention to such things, I would have noticed the obvious, but no one really treated me any differently, so I wasn’t forced to acknowledge the obvious. Ironically, I convinced myself that parking in one of those reserved stalls would alert the world that I had a handicap, as I limped by. Such is the power of self-image.

Obviously, my self-image was overly optimistic, but far too often, self-image is overly pessimistic. We see ourselves as failing before we even try. We feel inferior to others, though we’ve never really looked for our own worth. We become our own worst enemy, because we let doubt and negativity cloud our thinking.

I believe that we often develop negative self-images when we focus on our weaknesses and past failures instead of our strengths and potential. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. We doom ourselves to negative self-images if we fail to realize that failure and weakness are parts of being normal, and that we need to learn from our past and put it away, while focusing on our strengths and potential.

So, how do we optimize and nurture our self-image?

  1. Develop selective memory. Decide which memories are positive and affirming, and hold onto them. Learn all you can from the negative memories and then throw them away. When I reminisce about college fraternity date parties, I don’t dwell on the five rejections I received for my first date party; instead, I focus on the incredible first date I had a few months later with the lady who would become my wife. (Fortunately, I’m not easily discouraged.)
  2. Feed strengths and starve weaknesses. We often give our weaknesses more attention than they deserve. Sometimes, we even focus on them, to the detriment of our strengths. Discover what you are good at and do more of it.
  3. Blend humility with appreciation. A healthy dose of appreciation puts weaknesses where they belong – out of the spotlight. When you are feeling down, take the time to be thankful for your blessings. This isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always necessary.
  4. Associate with positive people. We all have those people who leave us feeling refreshed. They refuse to let us wallow in self-pity and help us direct our thoughts to positive areas. Spend more time with them and less time with the whiners and those who encourage whining.
  5. Eliminate negative self-talk. Most of us have a silent, but active internal dialogue that we’re often only faintly aware of. Stop and think about it. What are you telling yourself about yourself? If our self-talk repeatedly tells us that we are unworthy of success and happiness, we start to believe it. If there were a little creature sitting on your shoulder constantly criticizing everything you did, you would smash him within minutes. Why let him live inside your head?

I use the heck out of that handicapped parking placard now, not because my self-image surrendered, but rather because it became stronger. Now, I could give a rat’s rear-end about what judgments people might make about the way I walk or where I park. I owe that attitude to a positive self-image that I’m careful to nurture, and I hope the same for you.

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