Tag Archives: Are You Sure? I’m Positive!

Bad Attitudes: Quitting Cold Turkey

Don’t tell me what you can’t do; tell me what you can do.” – Phillip M. Way

A bumper sticker recently spotted in the middle of a traffic jam said, “I don’t need your attitude; I‘ve got one of my own.” This is a fairly typical representation of many people stuck in traffic. The trouble is that this sentiment also represents for a lot of people their outlook every day. It’s easy to have a bad attitude. Some people even prefer it.

Bad attitudes may be cool or hip in certain situations, but usually they only serve to irritate other people and complicate things. A person with a consistently bad attitude puts unnecessary stress on co-workers, friends, and family alike. Bad attitudes are contagious. A gruff reply is the verbal equivalent of recklessly cutting someone off in traffic. It puts everyone on edge and usually generates a not so nice response from the victims.

All you have to do to have a bad attitude is to do nothing – it isn’t difficult to go sour. If we respond to a negative situation by sitting and stewing things are not going to get better. At times we embrace the bad attitude whole heartedly and actual derive some measure of enjoyment from making others miserable.

We have to understand that bad attitudes are not a victimless crime. Even if we are not around anyone else while under the influence we still will see a bad attitude take its toll on us. Depression, guilt, anxiety, and fear will manifest themselves in our thinking and emotions. Deep down we know that there is not much good about a lousy perspective.

If we try and combat a bad attitude we have to be careful not to get distracted. By that I mean that so often there are so many things affecting our attitude that if we try and single one of them out we might gain some ground, but will still be gang tackled by other things driving us down. It might be a circumstance, our emotions, the attitudes of other people, things that are out of our control, and things that we may be misperceiving in the first place. There are so many things that can affect a bad attitude that we need to look deeper for a simple but wide reaching solution.

As difficult as it may be, we have to take responsibility for our attitude. The way we react or respond to situations is ultimately a decision of our will. It is a choice. Our attitude is not an emotional reaction to outside stimuli. It is an internal decision. We cannot maintain a bad attitude unless we decide to keep it going. Whatever happens on the outside, we have a choice to make and are able to decide how we will respond on the inside.

The truth stinks, doesn’t it? If attitude is rooted in a decision we make about how to view life and whatever it throws at us then we never have an excuse for a bad attitude. No matter what happens to us, something worse has happened to someone else. It rarely ever is the actual end of the world no matter how near the end we think we are. People have been predicting the end of the world since time began. When the world actually ends, then we can talk about the appropriate response. Until then, whatever we do today we will have to live with tomorrow.

The trick then is learning how to make a rational, logical decision even when our emotions and circumstances are out of whack. It takes mental discipline. As much as we might dislike even hearing the term “mental discipline” there are times that we have to be reminded that we are, after all, grown-ups. That doesn’t mean we have to always act our age, but it means we should have learned by now how to exercise a little self control.

The best way to stop a bad attitude is to quit cold turkey. As soon as we are aware that our outlook is a sour one, we must change our minds. Decide to think differently about the situation. When we do change the way we think it will surprise us how quickly our emotions fall in line with our mind. The mind is a powerful thing, and emotions will follow our thinking.

This does not mean that we should be simplistic about complicated circumstances. It does mean that we can train ourselves to think and respond to difficulty with some amount of rationality instead of irrationally reacting and flying off the handle every time something doesn’t go the way we thought it would or should.

There are enough people out there with bad attitudes. The good news is that we don’t have to be one of them. While a bad attitude is contagious, a good attitude is even more powerful in affecting the people around us. What starts with a single decision in a day in the life of the average Joe can indeed change the world. Imagine the difference it would make if every person you met today had a good attitude. And if that thought sickens you, you might need an intervention of sorts to get help quitting your bad attitude. Be careful. There are plenty of optimists out there who will willingly intervene and help you quit cold turkey. And that really is something to be thankful for.

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Good Riddance or Goodbye?

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed. – Cavett Robert

Twenty Ten is now history. It is the past, a memory, gone. Sha-na-na-na, hey hey hey, goodbye! And some would say that is a good thing. It seems we have a habit of only remembering the hard times, the bad things, the difficulties and trials when it comes to ringing in a New Year. The new will be better, we hope. It is, after all, new, and hopefully improved.

We are all usually optimists when it comes to the New Year, though some will read this and think to themselves, “Not as long as _________!” Fill in the blank. We all have our fears, doubts, worries, and concerns. Especially in difficult times, we wonder if we will be able to pull out of the slump, recover from the recession, and see real improvements in the next twelve months.

There are a few lessons to be learned as we transition into this first year of a new decade. The first is that we do need to stop and think about the good things that happened over the last twelve months. Instead of highlighting the bad and the negative, let us call to mind the good memories of notable events in our lives, including friends and family. Milestones, goals, achievements, accomplishments, and commendations should come to mind more quickly than the negative that we so often allow to punctuate our memories.

Secondly, let us admit that we grow more in difficult times than in good times! As hard as that may be to admit, the truth is that in the good times we tend to get lazy. When times are good and the living is easy we don’t like to be uncomfortable or stretched. But when times get bad we tend to look for ways to innovate. We want to stretch because reaching new limits may mean more productivity, increased creativity, and the motivation to jump out of our comfort zone.

Some refer to the good times as living on a mountain top. It is an emotional or spiritual high. We feel like we are on top of the world. And in that moment we are passionate about everything. We make resolutions, promises, and set goals because we believe we are invincible and that our goals are easily achievable. After the pep rally we are pumped up and ready to go win the big game.

But when reality sets in, and our opponent is giving us a run for our money, and we get stressed, tired, distracted by the every day, then we find resolutions a drag. What were we thinking? Well, in the heat of the moment, on the mountain top, we were thinking it would be easy because we were emotionally stirred up and quite frankly, irrational.

We forget that there is no growth on the mountain top. Think about it. Look at a high mountain. What is on the top? Nothing; it is barren, covered with snow and ice. There is even an area called the tree line above which nothing significant grows. Where do we find the dense growth, the vegetation, and most of the wildlife? Down in the valley.

The valley often represents our daily life. We think of it as the daily drudgery. Our routine has become routine, and so in the excitement of the moment, at New Years, we make resolution to change things for the better, to accomplish more, to make a difference. In the energy of the moment on the mountain top we set ourselves up to fail! No one after all is ever really expected to keep those resolutions, right? Some only last until we pass a donut shop. Others wear thin after we get tired of fighting against the flow of our daily life.

That is because we keep looking at the mountain top as if it is the place to be. In actuality, it is down in the valley where we find nourishment and opportunities to grow. Maybe we need to resolve to take our eyes off of the unattainable goals set on the mountain top and instead determine to succeed at the every day.

We will spend a lot of time and energy in this New Year trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. That is a good thing. But we will also spend time trying to avoid difficulty. That in reality is not so good. Difficulties and trials help produce in us patience, give us a reason to hope, and motivate us to seek help from others.

The world does not need many more super stars or celebrities. It needs men and women committed to doing their best to make the best of whatever this New Year brings. True heroes are everyday people that accomplish extraordinary things in the midst of ordinary circumstances. They find ways to overcome limited resources, daunting deadlines, and remind us that in order to truly succeed, we must master the mundane.

This New Year, don’t say “Good Riddance” to 2010. Say “Goodbye” as you would to a friend leaving on a trip to a far off place. The truth is that as we think about the good times, those memories will tend to fade further and further into the background of our lives as we move forward. It was a good year. And this New Year just might be even better. All the hype and hysteria aside, let’s get on with our daily lives and strive to be and do our best, just because we can. Then when we look back on 2011 in twelve months, we may be surprised at the growth we see deep in the valleys of our everyday lives.

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Thanks for Nothing

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues. – Cicero

We all know what Thanksgiving is all about, right? A holiday we set aside in order to remember our dependence upon others, especially upon the Providence of God, in order to give thanks for all the good in our lives. On this day we feast with friends and family and celebrate by counting our blessings. We cannot deny that no matter how hard the times are, we do have plenty to be thankful for.

Gratitude is a valuable virtue. From it springs humility, joy, faith, and love. And even when we face disappointment, depression, or despair, we can usually still find at least one thing, or more importantly, one person in our lives for which we can be truly thankful.

However, the real power in thanksgiving is often something we miss. You see, we are used to looking for the silver lining behind every storm cloud. We expect that if a door closes another door, or a window of opportunity will open somewhere nearby. We know deep down that having life, liberty, and love is enough for us to be thankful no matter what else we face in our day to day lives. So what do we miss?

We have come to believe that in order to be thankful we have to have something to be thankful for. Usually when asked about it we can give a quick list of things or people for which we are thankful. Even if we have to think on it a while, we are still able to name at least one thing we are thankful for. While this isn’t wrong, it misses the greater point.

Our inherent materialism leads us to focus on things, be they possessions or people. We think about thankfulness as it relates to some thing we have to be thankful for, but a very wise proverb about thanksgiving written several thousand years ago tells us, “In everything give thanks.” Get the difference? We give thanks for, but we miss giving thanks in.

Let’s face reality. There are times in our life and in the lives of those we love that it is very difficult to find something for which to be thankful. The skies are so dark, the landscape so unfamiliar, the looming truth so inescapable that we don’t even try to give thanks for anything. It is not that we are not grateful; we just don’t know how to give thanks without something to give thanks for.

Whether times are good or bad we can learn how to be grateful even if we don’t believe we have anything to give thanks for. This runs contrary to our natural instincts. Giving thanks even if we have nothing to give thanks for almost sounds like a fairy tale, optimism run amok. It sounds like propaganda, doesn’t it? Like a deceitful attempt to cope in the face of the uncertain.

Let’s be sure to note that I am not talking about the power of positive thinking. This is not mind over matter. It is not a substitute for reality. It is not a Jedi mind trick. It is the power of truth. It is the absolute, unchanging, certain truth that we are able emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to give thanks in every circumstance. But there is a catch. We have to decide to be grateful.

This Thanksgiving, don’t spend too much time dwelling on things, as important as they are. Let’s not limit our giving thanks to stuff. Let’s learn to be thankful just because we are grateful. Not for our circumstances, not for possessions, not for others, not for things, but in everything as a general attitude and outlook on life.

In every situation, in every hardship, in every difficulty, in every trial, in good times, and in bad times we may not be thankful for what we have to endure, but by being thankful in these times we find that we are able to endure. We can press on. We can learn to be grateful in the face of every fear because our attitude of gratitude is not dependent upon our outward circumstances, it is dependent on an internal decision we make to say, “Thank you” no matter what. It starts on the inside, with who we are. Are we thankful?

Talking about thankfulness in these terms shows us that gratitude is not an emotional response to something that happens. It is an attitude that comes from the heart. A grateful heart does not have to be prompted to conjure up a list of things for which we are grateful as we all sit around the table on the last Thursday in November. A grateful heart beats in the chest of anyone who has decided that come what may, we will give thanks in everything, even if we have to give thanks for nothing.

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Day Dreams

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
– Japanese Proverb

We are told that dreams are our subconscious mind communicating with our conscious mind. That makes us wonder what our subconscious mind is thinking about since often our dreams make no rational sense at all. In dreams there are no limits to what we can do or where we can go. We can fly, move instantly from place to place, act without consequences, and when we awake we are the only ones who know where we have been and what we have done – if we remember the dream.

Numerous books have been written to tell us what our dreams mean. The way we interpret these secret messages of the inner mind is usually based on what we want as we interpret dreams through the grid of our present circumstances. We are prone to allow the conscious reality in which we live to color the way we think about what we dream.

So even if we remember our dreams, too often the things that we yearn are bound by our daily routine. The harsh reality of the daily grind as we perceive it chains our dreams down and prevents them from taking flight.

There is another form of dreaming that we are familiar with from early in life. When we day dream we have cast off restraint and let our minds wander while we are conscious, not while we are sleeping. Our day dreams are not bound by where we are or what we are doing, because by their very nature day dreams interrupt our routine.

We are often taught that day dreams are bad. We are told that we should not let our minds wander but should concentrate and make an effort to exercise mental discipline – we should pay attention at all times. Because we usually day dream when we should be paying attention, and because of the way that parents and teachers correct this behavior, we begin to believe and act like day dreams are to be avoided.

Day dreaming is not bad. It is just that too often we day dream when we shouldn’t. The problem is not that we day dream – it is when we day dream. Since a day dream allows our mind to take a break from rigorous pursuits and attempts at concentration, a day dream is like a vacation for our minds. It is a moment in time where we can mentally relax.

Day dreaming is good! It ignites the imagination, it fuels creativity, it helps us ease tension and stress. In fact, some say that taking a few minutes to day dream (at an appropriate time) is as beneficial for us as a short power nap. It takes the edge off and helps us release tensions, both mentally and emotionally.

The power we find in day dreaming is found in the fact that our conscious mind is wandering, not our subconscious mind. So mentally we are still actively engaged. We can remember our day dreams, and with practice can even change our dreams mid-stream. Often when we are faced with a problem and need to find a solution we get all clogged up mentally. We need to take a minute to relax. And when we do, we find that when we are not focused like a laser beam on the problem, our minds will wander through to the solution.

Has this ever happened to you? You know that you need a solution, and answer, and just cannot find one. But when you get distracted, or start to think about something else, or take a break, suddenly the answer just comes to you? That is because our brains are always working, always searching memory, always seeking answers, always trying to solve the inconsistencies.

We need to learn that taking a moment to deliberately day dream, to unlock the door and let our minds wander gives our mind the opportunity it needs to do what it does without all of our attention being consumed by that one problem that we are under pressure to solve.

At times in order to be innovative, in order to be creative, in order to be original all we need to do is stop trying so hard. We think that we need to force solutions, when often the solutions are there just under the surface, but they are camouflaged by all the noise of our daily existence.

We may need to retrain our brain. We may believe that day dreams are bad and a waste of time. Don’t fall for it. Day dreaming is a natural part of how we operate mentally. We don’t have to teach kids to day dream do we? They do it often, though usually at the wrong time. Don’t make them stop just to stop. Teach them when they can and when they shouldn’t, but don’t squelch their natural inclination to be a free thinker. Otherwise they will grow up believing that they have to be in control of their thoughts every moment of their waking existence.

Next time you start to day dream, if the time isn’t right, just put it on hold. Tell yourself that you will come back to those thoughts. And as soon as you get a break and have a moment, let your mind take a vacation. Remember, just as we come to times when we say to a co-worker or a family member, “I need a vacation”, there are times when our conscious mind needs a vacation, a vacation without interference from our subconscious mind, a dream without sleeping. Sometimes we just need to dream a little (day) dream.

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Apply Yourself

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” – Wayne Dyer

Recent studies have proven that there really is an innate difference between morning people and night owls. There is some instinctive component for our internal clock and some people function best first thing in the morning while others do better later in the day or even at night.

Whichever of the two we are, we all know the differences. There are those at home and at work that are up first thing in the morning, no matter how late they were up the night before. And they are usually upbeat and optimistic, eager to get the day started. Others seem to always be running late, tired, and behind. Stressed and pessimistic would sum up their attitude most days.

Some researchers say that we need to learn to maximize our natural settings so that morning people have things to do in the morning and night people have things to keep them occupied in the late afternoon or evening. Others say that night people need to learn to be morning people so that everyone can work together to accomplish the tasks of the day. Most of the researchers taking this view are probably morning people.

It should also be noted that most of the time, since opposites do attract, morning people marry night people. In such relationships the morning person usually tries to get the night person up and going bright and early, especially on their days off together. And the night person wishes that their significant other could stay up late and enjoy the solitude and quietness of the night. It is rare indeed that people actually change, but compromise is possible.

While things like our internal clock are simply a part of who we are we need to be reminded from time to time that our attitude is not genetic. Our outlook and general disposition may be something we are born with, but our day to day attitude and the way we relate to other people is truly a decision we make. It is a matter of the will.

We have the ability, if we choose to use it, to change the way we think and feel. Our minds are a powerful tool. What we think will affect how we feel, what we say, and what we do and how well we do it. The trick is that we have to apply ourselves.

As the quote above tells us, at times we find ourselves miserable. We are not happy with circumstances at home or at work. Things seem out of whack and we wonder what the people around us are thinking, if they are thinking at all. When we are miserable we usually try to find fault with others and can even give a detailed list of what it is that has us out of sorts – and if those things (or people) just changed then things would be better.

However, living with this kind of outlook allows other people to decide how we feel. Why should people around us, who may be miserable themselves, be allowed to tell us how to feel and think and act? And yet they do when we allow them to. We react to their negativity and we become negative. On one hand we can be miserable, but on the other hand we can decide to motivate change in our own attitude. We can take responsibility and make up our minds that no matter how the people around us feel, act, or think, we will determine for ourselves what kind of day we will have.

Is this even possible? Can we deal with stress and irritation and difficult people and still have a good day? Yes, it is possible. Because how we respond to others is very much within our control. If we allow ourselves to be mired down in the negativity we will feel and act negative. But if we choose to respond positively then we can maintain a healthy attitude even when others around us are falling apart.

We need to see that we can transform our attitudes and our day to day lives by being ready to respond instead of react. If we react instinctively we may end up acting like a night person who is ready to strangle that morning person who thinks we should be as bright-eyed and bushy tailed as they are early in the morning. If however, we take the time to respond, we can think through what we are about to say or do, and we can maximize the positive potential to stand above the turmoil and make clear headed, good decisions.

The most difficult part of this though is that often we believe that it takes other people to motivate us. Too often that external motivation comes in the form of negative ideas, fear, or threats. The reality is that the most powerful motivation we can find is the motivation that comes from within, from our own minds as we decide what we want and how we can get it. At times we have to come to realize that we cannot let others think for us. We need to think for ourselves. And as we apply ourselves we will be able to motivate ourselves to achieve more than we ever dreamed.

True satisfaction is found when we decide to have a right attitude and motivate ourselves to reach our goals. It is the kind of satisfaction that once experienced becomes a motivation of its own for then we see how much more we can do if we only put our minds to it.

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Mission Critical

I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism. – Charles Schwab

Picking up where we left off last time we are taking a look at how we understand and use criticism. It is amazing to think that to be a critic means to separate the good and bad, noting both the positive and negative aspects of any given situation. We are amazed by this of course because so often in our daily lives the only kind of criticism that we deal with is negative, demeaning, and discouraging.

Often when a mistake is made the critics around us react emotionally, expressing frustration, irritation, impatience, anger, and disappointment. These negative emotions are focused on the mistake maker. A defensive response leads to things escalating. Before long, as most of us have experienced, things get out of hand and the criticism becomes very personal. Things are said that should never have been said, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged.

This kind of criticism destroys trust. It also causes those criticized to be on the defensive any time the criticizer says anything, positive or negative. Because there is not much in the way of positive criticism going on we become cynical. All of this stems from this deep rooted misunderstanding of criticism and how to correct mistakes.

We learned last time that the most effective way to use criticism is to use it sparingly. And what we see in the real world is that when we constantly (and honestly) praise people and encourage them, pointing out the things that they do right and well, it becomes more natural to discuss the negative things without everyone getting defensive or attitudes getting bent out of shape. The trouble is that most of those who are in a position to praise others rarely do so.

The experts tell us that for maximum positive effect, we should praise others four times for every time we have to take a negative criticism to them. Again, that does not mean that we keep count and try to find four good things to say before we bring up the bad. What it does mean is that we should habitually be praising others. It should be a natural part of our daily conversations.

Some would immediately be challenged to find 4 things positive to say about others around them. It may be a stretch for them to find anything to be positive about. That just shows us how negative we have become. As I said before, criticizing is easy. Praise takes some effort.

Think about the people in our lives that have encouraged us the most. What do these people have in common? They are overwhelmingly positive, even during tough times. They look for the silver lining. They never give up. Even if they fail they learn lessons and try again. They are persistent, patient, kind, and if they have to be critical they are usually gentle in the way they approach these kinds of confrontations.

Is this just the way they are born? No. It is a decision. Ask any of them, and they have bad days. They could be really negative, but they have learned healthy, positive habits, and as a result have a better outlook on life and work. Get that? They have learned, they have taught themselves how to respond with a positive attitude.

The difference between negative and positive criticism is that those who are positive can take a bad situation and find things to use to teach lessons and encourage others. They do not demean or use a condescending tone. They understand that the best leaders are right in the middle of it with their men, so to speak. Kind of like the war story about the USMC officer who found himself and his men completely surrounded by the enemy and so he yelled to his men, “Now we have them right where we want them – don’t let any of ‘em escape!”

When we learn to have a positive attitude then we can use criticism constructively. If we do not have a positive attitude then we really should not be criticizing anyone at all because we will only make things worse. Negative overbearing micro-managerial type criticism kills incentive. It destroys productivity. It plants seeds of discontentment and apathy. And it produces an amazing ability in people to tune us out and learn to ignore anything we say.

Our underlying attitude is the key to our outlook and our responses and reactions to others. Are we looking for the best? Are we looking for ways to improve productivity and efficiency? In other words, are we motivated by seeking things that are positive? If our motivation is negative then we will certainly find things to complain about. When our focus is on just getting the job done so that we can move on to the next assignment then we will see mistakes as a set back instead of as an opportunity to learn a lesson.

The bottom line for business (or for our relationships) is that people in a positive environment feel better and work harder. Statistics prove that they are more loyal, patient, efficient, and productive. Since we know that this is the truth, why do we think that going on a negative tirade shooting off a barrage of petty criticism will help change anything for the better? Do we really want to drive people away, make them defensive, and teach them to cringe every time we open our mouths?

Those people out there who are only negative and critical may never understand why they have such a high turnover rate at work or why people around them are always angry or frustrated. People who have to live around us and only find a constant stream of this wrong headed kind of criticism often think that they were surely better off before they met us. And they are probably right.

The best leaders know how to motivate with positive reinforcement. Let’s all do our part to make sure that people hear from us about both the positive and negative things that happen in day to day life. And remember, the negative can be used to make positive improvements. All in all, when it comes to criticism, we might be better off applying the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” The silence may be deafening, or golden, depending on which side of the criticism we are at the time.

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