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How to Stay Positive in a Negative World, Part 9

July 8, 2009
31. Practice Like You Play. Every athlete has heard the refrain, “Practice like you play. Play like you practice.” Top performers practice.

This is the ninth 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.

31. Practice Like You Play. Every athlete has heard the refrain, “Practice like you play. Play like you practice.” Top performers practice.

Champion athletes practice the same plays over and over and over. Golfers hit the range. Ball machines feed volleys to tennis players. Pitching machines fire strikes to hitters. Football teams run the same plays again and again.

If anything, musicians are more diligent than athletes. The great 19th century pianist Ignace Paderewski said, “If I don't practice for one day, I know it; if I don't practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it.”

While practice may be important for athletes and musicians, it’s critical for pilots and astronauts. No one dies when you screw up a sonata.

When Laurel Clark took her first flight aboard the shuttle Columbia, she remarked that her biggest surprise was “how much the ascent felt just like the simulation.” Neil Armstrong told mission control that walking on the moon was, “just like our drills.” After Apollo 12, Pete Conrad described walking on the moon as, “just like old home week. I feel like I’ve been rehearsing this moment for the past four years!”

Practice gives you confidence in your own abilities. It also teaches you your limits, building your confidence within those limits. Before a football game, for example, kickers will practice field goals. They’re not merely practicing. They’re learning their range for that day, field, and weather. Good coaches will not ask a kicker to attempt a field goal beyond his pre-game range. If the kicker is asked to make the kick during the game, he’s confident. After all, he already hit a field goal from that distance during warm ups.

We expect shuttle astronauts to practice. We expect Tiger Woods to practice. So why don’t we expect it of ourselves in our professions?

If practice helps an athlete, artist, or astronaut, won’t it help you? If you want to improve your presentation skills, your management skills, your salesmanship, practice. Simulate. Role play.

Practice in a mirror. Practice until the performance becomes automatic, and then practice some more.

With practice, comes confidence. Nothing gives you a positive outlook like sincere confidence in your ability.

Practice like you play. Play like you practice.

32. Face Fear. All of us face fear from time to time, but imagine facing something as scary as taking on the world’s greatest superpower almost single handedly. That’s what Moses faced.

Moses was minding his own business when God spoke to him from a burning bush…

“Hey Moses, come over here,” said God.

Is that burning bush speaking to me, wondered Moses. Cool. “Here I am.”

“Stop! What are you doing Moses? Don’t you know better than to walk on holy ground with your shoes on? Get those sandals off. You don’t wear sandals around Me. I’m God, your God, your Dad’s God, his Dad’s God, and so on. I’m GOD,” said God, cranking up the reverb.

Moses ripped his sandals off.

“Better,” said God. “Now, I’ve got a job for you. Things are pretty bad for the Israelites. Since they’re God’s people, this isn’t good. So you’re gonna do something about it. You’re gonna free them.”

“Huh?” said Moses. This was scary. Moses started shaking. “Me? You want me? You’re craz…, uh, who am I to take on Pharaoh? He’s one seriously mean dictator. You don’t want an old man like me. Pharaoh will kick my tail!”

“Moses,” said God. “Think. You’ve got a pretty serious ringer of your own helping you out. He’s called God. You know, GOD with the capital G and full surround sound reverb?”

When Moses’ ears stopped ringing, he gulped. He was thinking fast, trying to figure a way out. “Yeah, well what if I go to the Israelites and tell them ‘God sent me’ and they say, ‘God, huh? Well if you know God so well, what’s his name?’ What do I say then? What?”

“I am who I am,” said God. “Tell them ‘I AM has sent me.’”

Great, thought Moses. That’ll work really well.

“The Elders will listen,” declared God. “The King of Egypt will not.”

Now I really want to do this, thought Moses. Pharaoh’s got like a gazillion chariots and big, mean guards.

“I will show Egypt wonders and the Egypt will set you free. And the Egyptians will give you gifts. You will plunder Egypt.”

“Uh, guards? Big guards? Big, mean guards? Big, mean guards and chariots? Don’t forget them,” said Moses.

“What’s in your hand Moses?”

“Yeeeooooww,” screamed Moses as his staff turned into a snake and he jumped back. “Come on God! Why a snake? I hate snakes!”

“Grab it by the tail.”

“I don’t wanna,” said Moses.

“DO IT,” said God with full reverb.

“Okay, okay.” Moses touched the snake and it became a staff again. He looked at it suspiciously.

“Put your hand in your cloak and remove it,” said God.

“Aw, not again.”


“Alright,” said Moses, removing his hand, covered with leprous sores.

“Oooh, yuck. You gave me a zombie hand. I can’t believe you gave me a zombie hand.”

“Stick it back in your cloak.”

This time, Moses followed God’s instructions as fast as he could, removing a normal hand.

“Okay God,” said Moses, making one last attempt to talk his way out of freeing the Israelites, “You can kick Pharaoh’s butt. You can make people believe. You can do all of this God stuff. I’ll give you that. But why me? God, I’m scared of public speaking and don’t do well in front of groups.”

God cranked up the reverb again and mixed in a little thunder for emphasis. “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

“Oh Lord,” whined Moses, “Please send someone else.”

Then God got really mad and told Moses he was going to have to put up with his kid brother, who had a rather bizarre cow fetish. Moses gave in, went home, and told Jethro, his father-in-law, he was finally moving out.

Jethro later commented to his wife, “You won’t believe it, but that son-in-law is finally going to leave and find a job on his own. I always figured it would take an act of God to get him to move out.”

I don’t know about you, but God’s never spoken to me from a burning bush. Something like that would definitely get my attention. It got Moses’ attention.

Moses knew he was talking with the Big Guy, had God’s full support, and was still so terrified that he managed to get God irritated with him. Moses was scared of Pharaoh, but had God’s help handling the King of Egypt.

If God was taking care of the life threatening risk, the rest should be easy. Yet, Moses was just as scared of people laughing at him, of not being believed, and of making a fool of himself in public. Most of the things he feared would not hurt him.

Like Moses, most of us want to run and hide from things that can’t physically hurt us. According to Gallup, 40% percent of the public is terrified of speaking in public. Jerry Seinfeld quips that, “Surveys show that the #1 fear of Americans is public speaking. #2 is death. Death is #2. That means that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Usually, “fear” is nothing more than *F*alse *E*xpectations *A*ppearing *R*eal. Yet, what appears real to me, is real to me. In other words, our very fear of something makes it real and gives it power over us. The only way to conquer the things we fear is to face them head-on.

Once, I was afraid of speaking in front of a group. During one of my first, very short, speeches I memorized every word. I felt gratified when I received polite applause. Only later did I learn that no one heard a word I said. Warned about feedback, I held the microphone too far away from my mouth to pick up my voice. Yet, people still applauded.

I totally blew my first big speech. And yet, people applauded. So what was I afraid of? It was no longer speaking in public. In fact, today I even get paid to speak in public (and more on occasion if I’ll sit down and shut up).

As a kid I was never much of a street fighter, punishing the knuckles of too many opponents. When I grew older, the thought of stepping into a boxing ring with an audience terrified me. I wasn’t afraid of getting beat up. I’d already experienced that. I was afraid of getting beat up in public.

I forced myself to box anyway. I’m a lousy boxer. Yet, it felt great to lose. It felt great because I was no longer afraid. My fear no longer held power over me.

When you face your fear, you remove its power over you. You boost your confidence and feel great about the world.

33. Charge Enough. If you want to improve your attitude and outlook, charge enough to earn a profit. Earning a profit is a no-brainer, right? Apparently it’s not. One of the leading reasons small businesses fail is that they simply do not charge enough.

Companies fail to charge enough for a variety of reasons, with ignorance leading the list. In fact, ignorance lies at the root of most other reasons. Business owners are often ignorant about the market, their competitors, their own costs, and their worth to society.

I could write a book about pricing (in fact, I think I have). For now, I want to focus on how a business owner’s perception of self worth affects pricing and vice versa.

In the end, your pricing reflects your value. When you fail to charge enough to make a profit, you’re telling yourself and the world that you’re not worth much. That’s a horrible thing to live with. When you raise prices to profitable levels, you’re sending yourself and the world the opposite message. That’s uplifting by itself.

Charging too little leads to a life of austerity. It causes you to question every extra for yourself, your family, your employees, and your customers. Callbacks, for example, are resented because they’re money out of your pocket; money that you do not have.

The resentment adversely affects your attitude and outlook. Others sense it and reflect it back, making things appear even worse. It starts a spiral that only you can break. You can break it by saying, “Enough! What I do matters. It’s important. It’s important to my customers. It’s important to the world. I’m going to charge accordingly.”

Your prices should be based on generating a profit, given your business’ costs and overhead structure. If you fail to generate a profit, you can boost prices, increase sales while holding overhead in check, or cut costs. While a good businessperson will always scrutinize costs to prevent unnecessary spending, you are unlikely to save your way to prosperity. That leaves boosting sales and pricing. Either can work. However, if you cannot increase sales without increasing overhead, raise prices.

Will your market accept higher prices? Probably. After all, there’s probably someone in your market, in your industry who charges more than you. If you price more than anyone else, there’s probably another service business in a different industry with a similar cost structure that charges more than you (e.g., talk to the copier repair companies).

Just like there’s always someone lower priced, there’s usually someone higher priced. So while there is a price ceiling, it’s unlikely that you’re near it. If you only charge enough to survive, instead of enough to thrive, you are almost assuredly below the price ceiling.

You are worth a profit. Your customers deserve a service provider that’s worth a profit. No one wants a grouch. No one wants a company that skimps, that makes mistakes by rushing, and that always takes the cheap way out. No one wants a company that cannot readily stand behind its work.

Charge enough to earn a profit and your service will improve, your attitude will improve, and your outlook with improve.

34. Think Like a Texas Aggie.
Texas A&M is the Rodney Dangerfield of universities. Aggies get no respect. Maybe this makes them the Avis of universities. Aggies try harder.

While Texas A&M may not win every football game (or even half of the games this season), they never believe they lose either. Aggies don’t “lose.” They get “outscored.” While the difference between “losing” and getting “outscored” may seem like mere semantics, it’s really a huge difference in psychology.

When you get outscored, you simply run out of time. It’s not defeat, it’s circumstance.

“You’re just lucky the clock ran out. If I had a little more time, I’d show you!”

Losing is demoralizing. Running out of time is not. Losing is permanent. Running out of time is temporary.

All of us have set backs in life. Are yours permanent or temporary?

35. Block Time For Worry. In Frank Herbert’s classic book, “Dune,” he writes, “Fear is the mind killer.” Fear paralyzes. Worry and fear can stop us cold and keep us from moving forward. Worse, when we focus on the things we fear and worry about, we direct our subconscious minds towards the very thing we fear the most.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to wish fear and worry away. They nag at you, demanding attention, and refusing to be brushed aside.

Instead of refusing to worry, make an appointment to worry. Set aside 30 minutes of time when you will worry about everything that can possibly go wrong, about every negative outcome. If you start to worry during the other 23.5 hours of the day, tell yourself, “Later, I haven’t got time now. I’ll worry about this during the scheduled time.”

Trite? Maybe. This technique is effective for many. I’ve used it. Maybe I’m fortunate, but during the times in my life when I was most worried about events and set aside 30 minutes, I couldn’t fill it. I would run out of things to worry about after five minutes or so.

Allow fear and worry to run uncontrolled through your day and they will linger, paralyzing you. Concentrate them in a defined block of time and not only will it free you during the rest of the day, but your problems will seem smaller, more manageable. Most of us worry a lot when we really don’t have that much to worry about.

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