Staying Positive in a Negative World, part 11

Aug. 5, 2009
41. Remember, We Need the Bad To Recognize the Good. If every day was absolutely terrific, how would we know? We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t know how good we had it. As far as we would know, the presence of a hangnail would be a horrifying experience that spoils our whole day.

This is the eleventh 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.

41. Remember, We Need the Bad To Recognize the Good. If every day was absolutely terrific, how would we know? We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t know how good we had it. As far as we would know, the presence of a hangnail would be a horrifying experience that spoils our whole day.

Matt Prazenka, one of the country’s top air conditioning contractors (and now a small business consultant), advises people to remember good days and use the memory to endure bad days. Matt says we need a bad day every now and then so that we remember to appreciate the good days.

Good and bad are two sides of the same coin. You really can’t have one without the other. The only time good days were uninterrupted without end, Adam and Eve managed to blow it and get tossed out of Eden.

The next time things are going really well, stop and store the memory. Store the feeling. Draw upon it during a bad day. Use it as an anchor to hang fast during troubled times, remembering that they will eventually blow over and the sun will re-emerge. Remember, without the occasional bad day we would never be able to recognize a good one.

42. Frame Things Positively.
A few weeks ago, a contractor’s wife posted a plea for help on the HVAC Roundtable. Among the issues she faces is her husband’s attention deficit disorder (ADD).

I read the responses with interest. One, by Dave Squires of Online Access, particularly caught my attention. Dave suffers from ADHD himself (i.e., ADD with hyperactivity) and has three children with it. I asked Dave for permission to share parts of his explanation…

“The best way to describe what your husband experiences,” wrote Dave, “is to think of an ADD person as camera with a stuck shutter unable to easily focus in on just one thing.”

Dave explained that while her husband may appear unmotivated at times, “it is more like he lacks the ability to focus on the routine and daily systems that are needed to make a business successful. The lack of focus is due to the fact that everything around him--as well as any passing thought--competes evenly for his full attention.”

Here is the part that really interested me. Dave suggested, “that if there is something that challenges him or he is interested in, he will effortlessly ‘hyper-focus’ on it to the exclusion of all else. When this happens, he is probably brilliant as well as very creative at finding solutions that others don't easily see. The creativity comes from the fact that the ADD gives him the ability to draw from a bigger ‘solution box’ than other people. His mind is so used to shifting focus, he will typically find solutions quicker and from places that no one else even saw as being related to the problem since most people tend to have ‘tunnel vision’ when focusing on problems--and limit their solution possibilities. This is why I tell my children that even though there are challenges, ADD or ADHD can be a gift if they harness it properly.”

Dave is framing things positively. Instead of making excuses or engaging in a pity party, he’s declaring the glass to be half full. He’s making a positive statement.

It’s hard to imagine today, but once there was a stigma associated with adoption. When my parents adopted me, they were careful to always stress that I was “chosen.” I grew up feeling sorry for kids not adopted. Their parents didn’t get to pick them out. They got stuck with the lottery result of natural birth.

My parents were framing my adoption in the most positive light possible to ensure I saw it similarly. As a result, I always viewed my adoption positively.

Depending on how you look at things, the glass is partly empty or partly full. Even an empty glass is merely one with lots of room. We can look for excuses or we can frame things in the most positive possible light. One holds us down and limits us. The other lifts us and opens possibilities. Frame things positively.

43. Don’t Worry Needlessly. “When I look back on all these worries,” said Churchill, “I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

Indeed, few of the things that really trouble us come to pass. According to the late, great motivational writer and speaker, Earl Nightingale, 40% of the things we worry about never happen. We get all in a dither over nothing, over our imaginations. Sometimes, we become so anxiety fraught over imagined events that we become paralyzed. We fail to act, proving that “nothing” can stop us. Our imagination stops us.

If you’re thinking that it’s the other 60% you should worry about, stop! You’re thinking negatively. Nightingale said another 30% of the things we worry about have passed. They cannot be changed. Worrying does no good.

For example, I can still vividly remember dropping a ball during little league. It would have been an easy out and the muff cost us the game. My coach blew up and threw a temper tantrum at me, which I also remember. Today, I see the incident as a learning experience. In fact, that particular coach proved the adage that no man is wholly without value since he can at least serve as a bad example.

It only took me twenty years to get past the experience, to quit making excuses for choking, and to quit worrying about it. Pretty silly, huh?

I’ve got other, equally silly things I worry about that can’t be changed either. I bet you do as well. With effort, I can eventually let the past go. However, it takes effort. It takes recognition that the past has passed (see “Look Forward, Not Backward”).

Twelve percent of our worries are needless health concerns, said Nightingale. Hypochondriacs of the world unite! There are more of you than imagined.

All of us appear to suffer a little from hypochondria. Why don’t we imagine health instead of illness? Norman Vincent Peale wrote about a minister who gave a prayer of thanks daily for his amazing, fantastic, incredibly healthy organs, naming them one by one. He continued well into his nineties during a day when people rarely lasted to age 70. How long would the minister have lived if he imagined himself afflicted with an array of illnesses? While we’ll never know, I expect he would have lived a rather short life.

Another 10% of our worries fit the petty, miscellaneous variety. The Encarta Dictionary defines “petty” as insignificant, narrow-minded, mean, and of relatively little importance. In other words, 10% of the things we worry about aren’t worth worrying about.

According to Nightingale, only 8% of the things we worry about are worth the trouble. I believe that. It bothers me. Now I’m worried about which 8% of my fears should concern me.

44. Fire a Customer. When I was a consultant, I fired a six-figure client. In consulting, six-figure clients are pretty darn lucrative. They are also rare enough that nobody fires one casually. Neither did I.

“High maintenance” could not begin to describe this client. He was like some motive disruptive force, making one impossible demand after another and balking at paying for any. Each request seemed wholly reasonable in isolation. Yet, altogether this guy was wrecking my world. He sucked so much time out of my day, I had trouble handling my other clients, let alone prospecting. So I fired him.

After the deed was done, I wondered why I waited to act. It seemed strange that I agonized over dropping the account. The next morning seemed like the first day of spring after a hard winter. Everything was brighter. Everything was cheerier. Everything was better. I almost skipped across the company parking lot.

I wasn’t alone. My whole team felt better. We quickly made up the lost business. After firing the client everyone was able to devote more time to our other, better clients. I was able to pick up new clients. Not only did the other clients more than make up the volume, but the gross margins were higher.

In truth, the client was never *my* client. We were both pretending. He wanted more attention and special treatment than I was willing to give. I wanted higher margins than he would pay. My inability to meet his needs as a client generated tension and stress. When I fired him, the tension and stress lifted. Life improved.

Just because someone appears on your customer list does not mean he is your customer. Not everyone is qualified to be your customer. Some people are simply ill-suited for your company. You will not be able to meet their requirements (i.e., response speed, service quality, pricing). To try is to introduce unnecessary stress and tension in your life and organization.

Correct incompatible customer relationships by dissolving them. Fire the customer. Remove stress and tension from your organization. Improve life.

45. Eat Well. Diet affects attitude. Bernard Gesch, a senior researcher at Oxford University tested the impact of vitamin supplements on prison populations. One group of prisoners was given supplements with vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. A second group was given an identical looking supplement containing nothing. No one at the prison knew who received the supplement and who received the placebo.

Gesch reported that the prisoners receiving the supplements saw a 35% reduction in “anti-social behavior” and a greater reduction in violent acts. The behavior of the second group was unchanged. In other words, the first group was less “grumpy.”

Here’s the key point. The supplements were designed to do nothing more than ensure the prisoners met the British government’s standard diet for prisons. The standard diet contains nutritious food, but the prisoners did not always choose to eat the nutritious food.

Based on the number of decaled service company vehicles I see outside fast food restaurants at lunch, I would guess that many service technicians fail to eat well. As Gesch reported, a healthy diet makes one less grumpy. It’s not good for sales or customer service when our front line service personnel are grumpy.

There’s a lot more research than Gesch’s. Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas gave K through 5th graders daily vitamin-mineral supplements at 100% of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance, added a structured daily exercise program, provided the kids with nutrition education, and improved the nutrition in the school’s breakfast and lunch menus. The results were even more dramatic than Gesch’s.

The year before the changes were made students were sent to the principal’s office for “out of control” behavior 438 times. The year the diet changed, kids were sent to the principal’s office a mere 18 times all year. That’s a 95% reduction.

The school had 13 school suspensions, compared to 52 the year before (down 80%). Suspensions due to violent acts dropped from 34 to one (down 97%). Teachers reported that it was easier to control their classrooms and were able to spend more time teaching. Perhaps most remarkable, the school’s Math and English test scores improved from last out of ten schools to the district’s best in Math and second best in English.

Your diet affects your mood, your attitude, and your overall mental sharpness. The more balanced your diet, the more balanced your mood.

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