How to Stay Positive in a Negative World, Part 5

May 6, 2009
This is the fifth 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.

This is the fifth 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.

11. Find a Place to Stash Your Problems. We all have problems. Some are work related. Some are personal. It’s hard enough to keep positive without taking work problems home, and troubles at home to work.

On the way to work, find a place to mentally store your personal problems for the day. I’ve used the mailbox of a house along my commute. Mentally, I placed all of my personal problems in the mailbox and withdrew all of the work problems I left the night before.

Stashing your problems is an exercise in compartmentalization. In reality, it’s nearly impossible to keep different aspects of your life completely separate from one another. However, even partial compartmentalization helps your attitude. Bringing work problems home makes home problems worse because you’re still mentally at the office. When you bring a work problem home, you dwell on a problem you cannot actively solve, which drags you down.

12. Identify the Worst Outcome.
In a scene from the TV mini-series, “Band of Brothers” one soldier explains the trick of coping with the war, of overcoming the front line soldier’s very legitimate fear of being killed so that he can do his duty. The trick was to accept death. As a soldier, you accept that you will not live to see the end of the war. In other words, identify the worst outcome and accept it. If you can handle the worst case, you can handle anything.

While we will seldom face circumstances as dire as death, we all have good and bad outcomes for every situation. Instead of worrying yourself into a funk, think through the worst outcome. What really is the worst thing that can happen? Face it squarely. If it did happen, what would you do? Could you handle it?

Since you’re not fighting a war, you will likely find that you can live through the worst outcome you can imagine. You might not like it, but you could handle it.

If life knocks you down, you can always get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. If you can face the worst that can happen, anything else is a snap. Okay, maybe not a snap, but better.

Have you ever heard a millionaire shrugs his shoulders and say, “I made it once. If I lost it all, I could make it again.” He’s facing his worst outcome.

Now, think about the odds. In all likelihood, the odds that the worst-case scenario will occur are pretty slim, particularly if you are actively working to prevent or avoid it. Zig Ziglar says fear is usually little more than “False Expectations Appearing Real” (F-E-A-R). Things are seldom as bad as we fear.

“X” is the worst thing that can happen. Realistically, “X” is unlikely to happen, but if it does, you can handle it. Thus, you have nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. You might as well move forward positively, working for and expecting a better outcome.

It’s easy to worry, worry, worry about the bad outcomes, about what can go wrong. Unchecked you can worry yourself into a funk. You can paralyze yourself. To avoid worry, face your fear squarely. Recognize that if you can handle your worst fear, everything else is easier. Recognize that your worst fear is unlikely as long as you’re actively working to prevent it.

13. Reward Yourself.
Nothing helps your attitude like a pat on the back. Unfortunately, the boss might not know how to give pats on the back. Worse, you might be the boss.

Who pats the boss on the back? Usually, no one, so give yourself a pat on the back when you do something well. It might be mental congratulations. It might be more tangible.

Do not limit yourself to BIG rewards for BIG accomplishments. Give yourself little rewards for little accomplishments too. For example, when I finish this Comanche, I’m going to grab a cup of Starbucks.

When you hit a target, celebrate. You did well. Give yourself a reward.

14. Emulate Without Envy. Too many people see someone successful and resent his success. Too many people think he must have gotten lucky or broken the law or otherwise cheated or acted unethically. This is pure envy. It’s negative thinking. It’s excusing your own performance (or lack thereof).

From time immemorial, unscrupulous politicians have made an art out of playing to envy. By stirring up resentment, they play to our basic instincts, telling one group of people that the only way to get ahead of someone else is to tear them down. Beware the politicians who play up envy. They are the worst sort, who cynically seeks power by bringing out the worst in people to control them.

Not only politicians play the envy card. Watch for the office gossip who uses envy to stir dissension. Watch for your peer who similarly sews the seeds of discord by taking sniping at the most successful companies in your market. Read between the lines and he’s really seeking your concurrence with his the excuses he’s made up to explain why his competitor has done so much better than he has.

In truth, some people are lucky. But the luckiest often seem to be the hardest workers. Luck and perspiration seem to accompany each other. And when luck appears without perspiration, it doesn’t stay long. According to newspaper columnist Ben Graydon, “the vast majority of lottery winners are right back in poverty within a couple of years.”

Luck is fickle. When you see sustained luck, someone’s likely given luck a lot of help.

Just like some people are lucky, some accumulate wealth and status illicitly. Yet, things have a way of catching up to people. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not. All of us wonder at times how so-and-so can continually “get away with it.” Just because old so-and-so’s “gotten away with it” so far, doesn’t mean he’ll get away with it in the future. Things have a way of catching up with people.

Some people have benefited from luck and/or illicit or unscrupulous activity. Don’t envy them. Don’t worry about them. They’re due for a fall, maybe not right away, but eventually.

Most successful people are the beneficiaries of sweat and good decisions. They’ve worked hard, efficiently, and effectively. And most of them are not that different from you and me! They are not smarter than we are. They are not better educated. They merely kept working at it until they succeeded.

President Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

The positive response to the success of others is not to envy them, but to emulate them. When you see a successful person, think to yourself, “He is not all that different from me. If he can succeed, then by God, so can I.”

Beware the envy trap. You can never build yourself up by tearing someone else down. Envy leads to cynicism.

Instead practice emulation. Find someone successful to emulate. Read the biographies of self made titans in business. Their stories will motivate you in a positive manner.

15. Eat Elephants. When I was a kid, Dad made me rake the leaves. We had a big yard and lots of trees. It seemed like a huge task. “I’ll never finish,” I would whine. He didn’t care. He made me do it anyway. Dads are like that.

By focusing on raking one section of the yard at a time, I eventually got the yard raked. I think I could have done it in half the time without all of the whining, but kids are like that.

It’s the same when facing a daunting task as a grown up. We get depressed thinking about them. They look overwhelming. They’re not.

We live in an instant world and tend to think in terms of instant solutions. Like the man who wanted patience RIGHT NOW discovered, some things can’t be done instantly. Some things take time.

Mike Hajduk, President of Callahan-Roach Products & Publications likes to ask, “How do you eat an elephant?”

He answers with a grin, “One bite at a time.”

One bite is not overwhelming. When facing a monumental task, tackle it one bite at a time. Oh, and be sure to celebrate the small victories along the way.

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