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How to Stay Positive in a Negative World, Part 8

June 17, 2009
This is the eighth in a series of articles by Matt Michel about how to stay positive when we’re surrounded by bad news and negativity.

This is the eighth 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.

26. Celebrate. “Celebrate,” shouts one of the coaches of my daughter’s soccer team after we score. It’s important to celebrate. In a soccer game, and in life, there are ups and downs in the normal course of events. Celebrating victories, even minor victories, leads to more and bigger victories. Celebration lifts the entire team. It makes the game more fun. Even when the team is behind, it’s important to celebrate goals.

What works for a youth soccer team, works for you, and works for your company (or any organization). Celebration lifts spirits. So celebrate your personal victories. Celebrate your company successes.

When I was a grunt engineer with the Turbo Refrigerating Company, the company achieved an injury free record. As Turbo closed in on an entire year without a lost time accident, the company president announced that everyone would celebrate with a company-wide barbeque and chili cook-off.

Some employees brought to the plant and show off where they worked and what they did. Others brought their cooking gear to show off how well they could cook chili. Morale and attitude increased in anticipation of the celebration and stayed high for more than a month afterwards.

We should celebrate more often, I thought. We should. But we don’t.

If 12-year old girls must be cajoled into celebration, how much more effort is required for adults? We’re far too reserved and dignified.

I know of a consulting company where every new project is celebrated. When a consultant successfully wins a job, he or she is required to ring a ship’s bell located outside of the CEO’s office.

It’s not natural to ring the bell. New consultants are especially reluctant to ring the bell. Left on their own, no one would ring the bell. The CEO doesn’t leave people on their own. He makes everyone ring the bell.

While the consultants may not want to admit it, they like ringing the bell. It’s a shot in their self-esteem. It’s scratching an old itch…
“Look at me,” we used to scream before we learned we were supposed to act more reserved.

People not only need permission to celebrate, they need encouragement. The embers of celebration must be fanned into flame. It’s worth the effort.

Celebration, whether personal, private, or company wide, creates an afterglow that burns long into the future. Celebration’s afterglow can warm you though dark and depressing times.

Few companies celebrate as well as Southwest Airlines. In the book, “Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success,” authors Kevin and Jackie Frieberg write that at Southwest Airlines celebration builds relationships, communicates a history, helps people visualize the future, reduces stress, motivates, re-energizes, builds self-confidence, helps people deal with change, and removes fear.

Celebrate company successes. Celebrate personal successes. Even if you celebrate privately, celebrate.

27. Study Successful People. In the excellent movie “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” Midshipman Blakeney, loses his arm in battle. Blakeney is young, really just a kid. His dreams of a career in the navy lying in ruin, Blakeney was nearing despair, but doing his best to keep the proverbial British “stiff upper lip.”

While Blakeney is recovering, he’s visited by Aubrey, the ship’s captain. Aubrey hands Blakeney a book on the great British admiral, Lord Nelson, and encourages the boy to read the book.

After Aubrey leaves, Blakeney thumbs through the book and sees an illustration of Lord Nelson. Nelson is missing an arm. The audience can almost hear Blakeney’s thoughts. If Nelson could become the greatest admiral in the world’s most powerful navy with one arm, then Blakeney’s prospects might not be so bad either.

Successful people who overcome the odds inspire us. Their lives lift our spirits. They serve as role models. This is especially true when we discover they overcame odds similar to those we face.

While successful people are considered exceptional, many were thought to be anything but exceptional at first. Successes were not born that way. Many are like the company that took 20 years to become an “overnight success.” Superficially, they appear gifted, fortunate, instant successes. Only when we study them, do we learn the truth.

Like you and me, they struggled with periods of confusion and uncertainty. They wrestled with fear. They fought with doubt. They faced obstacles just as daunting as any that lie before us.

Yet, they persevered. They are people like us who persevered past their struggles, thereby transforming themselves from ordinary to extraordinary. They inspire us, not by what they have done, but by how far they traveled. They inspire us because they were so very like us at the start.

How do you find inspirational people to study? They’re everywhere. Read the biographies and autobiographies of successful people. Watch their profiles on the History Channel and the Biography Channel.

Autobiographies, especially, are gifts. When someone of accomplishment (or someone and a ghost writer) takes the time to share his thoughts as he faced challenges and triumphs, it’s like he’s having a conversation with you. It’s priceless. So listen closely.

Don’t limit yourself to people who are featured on cable or are the subject of books. Study successful people in your community and profession. Most will be more than happy to share their experiences with you. In fact, they will be flattered.

When we studying successful people we us realize what’s possible in our own lives. We’re inspired. Our spirits are lifted. We’re motivated.

28. Look Forward, Not Backward. The runner was in the lead. It was the race’s home stretch. The finish line and victory neared. Then he heard footsteps. Someone was coming from behind, threatening to overtake him. He turned to see who it was and how fast the competitor was closing.

Big mistake. When he looked back, the runner’s focus left the road before him, increasing the chance he might stumble. In the final sprint, looking back is wasted motion. It saps energy and will at the precise moment every bit of it is needed for the final kick.

Focused on the pursuit, the runner was passed. He lost his race.

Some people limit their future by looking back at the wrong moment. When they should focus on the road ahead, they look back to their past failures, sapping energy and will. They allow old failures to overtake them.

Examples abound. The adult who lets a childhood slight control his self-image is still a child, reliving childhood experiences but never learning from them. The business owner who continues to pursue a venture with little potential for future gain because of the sunk costs he’s already invested, risks his company’s future because of past mistakes.

The past has passed. You can learn from it, but you cannot change it. So learn from your past, and then let it go. Focus on today and tomorrow.

You cannot change the past. You can change the present. You can prepare for the future.

Do not let last week, last year, or the last decade overtake your future. Do not let your future be limited by your past. Look forward, not backward. Focus on the future.

29. Seek Joy. We live in a society that trumpets immediate gratification at every turn. The problem with immediate gratification is it doesn’t last. It’s like a drug. We need more, more, more, now, now, now.

The need for gratification becomes the perpetual pursuit of pleasure. When we allow the pursuit of short-term pleasure to drive us, its absence leaves us empty, depressed.

Joy, by contrast, is more eternal. Joy lasts.

Think of your happiest memories. What stands out more, a new car or the birth of a child? The car gives momentary pleasure. The birth of a child offers eternal joy.

A few drinks also offer a night of pleasure (that becomes something else the next morning). Time with a loved one gives a lifetime of joyous memories.

The pleasure that comes from immediate gratification is momentary. It fades. Joy lasts.

Joy typically comes from creation, from building, from sharing, from giving, from activities and experiences that are larger than ourselves. It’s more than us. Pleasure is all about us, only us.

Immediate gratification leaves us empty, longing for the next pleasure fix. Joy fills our souls, leaving us feeling better about ourselves and our lives.

Seek joy. Seek lasting joy.

30. Work Hard. According to psychologist Theodore Rubin, “Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”

Few things improve your attitude and outlook as much as hard work. Applied effort is intensely satisfying. Hard work seems to carry its own reward.

When we work hard, we feel good. No matter the outcome, we feel good about ourselves after a good day’s labor. Why?

Extrinsic rewards are external. Someone notices something we’ve done and gives us a pat on the back, a bump in pay, or some other from of praise and compensation.

Extrinsic rewards count on others. They may or may not be deserved. They may or may not be forthcoming for our greatest efforts and achievements.

Intrinsic rewards are internal. The come from the inside, from knowing we did well. Hard work is intrinsically rewarding. We know we’ve done well and feel good about ourselves as a result.

The importance of intrinsic satisfaction is captured perfectly in one of my favorite poems, “The Man in the Glass.”

The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say

For it isn't your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum
And think you're a wonderful guy.
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

He's the fellow to please - never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear to the end.
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass.

Dale Wimbrow, 1895-1954

As “The Man in the Glass” suggests, it’s impossible to fool yourself and difficult to live with the attempt. In fact, it’s depressing. Deep down, you know when you’ve done well, when you’ve worked hard, and when you have not. Hard work feels good and improves your attitude. Hard work makes the man in the glass your friend. And when that happens, the world seems a better place.

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