How to Stay Positive in a Negative World, Part 6

May 20, 2009
16. Take Breaks. Every so often, taking a break does wonders for your mental outlook. This is not the same as Stephen Covey’s “sharpening the saw” habit. Stephen Covey says highly effective people take time out for themselves every now and then to renew themselves physically and mentally. Covey illustrates the principle by noting that a lumberjack who stops to “sharpen the saw” periodically will cut more wood than a lumberjack who works harder and non-stop, eventually dulling the blade and reducing effectiveness.

This is the sixth in a series of articles by Matt Michel about how to stay positive when we’re surrounded by bad news and negativity. If you missed the previous article, click here to read it.

16. Take Breaks. Every so often, taking a break does wonders for your mental outlook. This is not the same as Stephen Covey’s “sharpening the saw” habit.

Stephen Covey says highly effective people take time out for themselves every now and then to renew themselves physically and mentally. Covey illustrates the principle by noting that a lumberjack who stops to “sharpen the saw” periodically will cut more wood than a lumberjack who works harder and non-stop, eventually dulling the blade and reducing effectiveness.

Covey is absolutely correct. Yet, when facing a forest of problems, sometimes it helps to do more than merely sharpen the saw, which is a different form of work. Sometimes it helps to take a pure break. Escape. Do something frivolous, fun, and that you simply want to do for pure enjoyment.

How does this help you stay positive? Simple. It’s fun. “Fun” helps your attitude.

17. Remember Edison. Often success lies just beyond the horizon of failure. Napoleon Hill was given letters of introduction by industrialist Andrew Carnegie to study the country’s top achievers. Hill captured his research in his classic book, “Think And Grow Rich.”

Napoleon Hill wrote, “Before success comes in any man’s life, he is sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and, perhaps, some failure. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of men do.”

“More than five hundred of the most successful men this country has ever known told the author their greatest success came just one step *beyond* the point at which defeat had overtaken them. Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.”

One of the people Hill met and studied was Thomas Edison. No one illustrates the value of persistence and tenacity better than Edison. Many people know that Edison failed 2,000 times in his effort to find the filament for the light bulb. But did you know his attempt to create a better battery resulted in the failure of 50,000 tests?

A discouraged assistant figured even Edison would quit after 50,000 failures. “You must be pretty downhearted with the lack of progress,” said the assistant.

“Downhearted?” replied Edison, “We've made a lot of progress. At least we know 50,000 things that won't work!”

Edison’s kept at it, through 50,000 failed tests, through ten years, and through one million dollars of his own money until he developed the nickel-iron alkaline storage battery, which is still used today!

Maybe you don’t have Edison’s tenacity. I know I don’t. Yet, when I think about Edison, I find I have just a little bit more tenacity. Edison inspires me. Edison helps me see failure in a different light. It’s not failure. It’s progress. Edison helps me to stay positive while I’m making progress.

“Don’t Quit” is an inspirational poem many people have read that may have been written about Edison. Though many claim to have written the poem, its author is lost.

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all-uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to smile but have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he'd stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man.
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might capture the victor's cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown,

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit,
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.

For a nice winter wallpaper featuring the poem, “Don’t Quit,”
visit and click on the Freebies tab.

18. Exercise. Few countries are more prosperous than the U.S. and Canada. And few publics are more sedentary. The American Heart Association says that only 22 percent of the U.S. population performs enough regular physical activity to achieve cardiovascular fitness.

Exercise is one of the best things we can to do stay positive. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals produced by the brain. Endorphins are similar to, and more powerful than morphine. According to the Merck Online Medical Library, endorphins “reduce pain and induce a sense of well-being. Thus, exercise appears to help improve mood and energy levels and may even help alleviate depression.”

Of course, you already know exercise is good for you. Right? We all do. So why don’t we something about it? Well, exercise is one of those things that’s easy to do and easy not to do. Make it a priority. Make it one of your “breaks.”

Exercise is not only a break; it’s sharpening the saw. Your productivity is better when you regularly exercise because you are healthier. You have fewer sick days.

Exercise improves your mental sharpness. It gives you more energy. It lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, allowing you to react better to stress, which also improves your decision-making. And, it releases endorphins.

After you start a sustained exercise program, you will find yourself addicted to the endorphins. This is a positive addiction and helps you maintain your fitness program.

The challenge is getting started. Sometimes the motivation is external. For example, after falling off the exercise wagon, a series of events combined over a two-week period to motivate me to action.

First, a pair of pants spontaneously deconstructed. They must of shrunk or something. Why else would they rip apart at the seam?

On the off chance they didn’t rip due to poor workmanship, I stepped on a scale. I broke it. I know it was broken because the little arrow pointed at 250. That couldn’t be right, could it? It was so depressing I decided to do something about it. I threw out the scale.

Actually, I decided to run around the track during one of my daughter’s summer track practices. A group of 12-year old girls made fun of me (no lie). One of the coaches came up to make sure I was okay. He was concerned that I might be having a heart attack (absolutely true).

This combination of events motivated me to start an exercise program again. I’ve supplemented it with every trick I know. I listen to audio recordings of industry seminars, to positive music, and to sports talk while I exercise. I plan runs down the most scenic and inspirational trails I can find. I sign up for area races, which provides added motivation to exercise, if only to avoid abject humiliation (e.g., the people pushing strollers pass me, the little kids pass me, the little old men pass me, and the little old ladies pass me).

I’ve improved. When I started, I was a 250-pound, seam splitting fat boy who couldn’t run a whole mile without little girls laughing and adults concerned they might need to call 911. Six months later, I managed to run the Dallas Turkey Trot’s 8-mile course without stopping, passing out, cramping, pulling anything, collapsing in pain, or otherwise injuring myself. A few days earlier, I won the “Rhino” 215-240 pound weight division in a 5K race (don’t be too impressed; since not many fat boys are willing to get out of bed at 7:00 a.m. on the weekend to run a 5K against fast, skinny people, there’s not a lot of competition). During a physical, my blood pressure was about the same as it was in college. My resting heart rate was 44, the lowest it’s ever been.

Then, I pulled my Achilles. I couldn’t run without being in a lot of pain so my exercise program ground to a halt. I fell into old habits. In hindsight, I can see that my attitude slipped with my inactivity. And I found all of the weight I lost. That seems to be my trigger. When the scale heads north of 250, I do something.

Because of my Achilles, I’m off the trails and in the gym using the non-impact elliptical trainer. I can already tell the difference. I feel better and my outlook is better.

You’re probably in better shape than I am now or than I was before I first started to get back in shape. If I can get in shape, so can you. You’ll feel better. You’ll have more energy. You’ll have a more positive outlook on life.

19. Associate With Positive People. As a parent, I worry about my children’s peers. Every parent does. Every parent knows the potential positive or negative influence of friends during a child’s formative years. Peer pressure doesn’t end with the conclusion of teen years. Peers affect us throughout our lives.

We tend to reflect the outlooks of the people we associate with. Attitude is contagious. Run with negative people and you will begin to adapt a negative outlook that reflects their worldview. Associate with positive people and you will view the world optimistically.

If your friends grouse and grumble, tell you why things are rotten, shoot down your dreams, and give you reasons to fail, find new friends. These people are like black holes. Their negative gravity sucks the positive energy right out of you. Find new friends.

If you employ negative people, either surround them with personnel who are so upbeat it’s impossible to pull them down or replace them. Do not let them poison your company.

If your family is comprised of negative people, do your best to become a positive force and influence in their lives, while surrounding yourself with others who will build you up.

Surround yourself with positive people who will support your dreams and who will give you reasons to succeed. Get involved with a professional group, join a service club, become active in a small group at church, or associate with positive online groups. Feed your attitude by associating with positive people.

20. Count Your Blessings. By the accident of birth, most of us are incredibly fortunate. We live in a day and age where we lack little. By historical standards, today’s impoverished are wealthy beyond measure. Compared to the third world, virtually everyone in the first world is wealthy.

We are all blessed. Yet amid our day-to-day problems and stresses, it’s all too easy to forget our blessings. Don’t. Take the time to count your blessings. For my part, I find that offering a prayer of thanks is an excellent way to count my blessings and remind myself of the good things in my life.

When I think about my petty little problems, the world can seem pretty depressing. But when I think how my life has been blessed, the petty is put in perspective. My attitude gets a lift. Things really are pretty good and they’re getting better and better.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, an alliance of HVAC and plumbing contractors. For just $50, contractors receive access to millions of dollars of downloadable, customizable, sales, marketing, and business tools that are certain to grow your sales, build your bottom line, and give you more time for your family. Give it a try. Matt says he’s “positive” you’ll like it.

If you would like to contact Matt, you can reach him at [email protected], toll free at 877.262.3341, or on his mobile at 214.995.8889. You can subscribe to his Comanche Marketing newsletter at