Ways to Keep a Positive Attitude…When You Do Not Feel Like it

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”
Willie Nelson, country western singer

Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Personal Commentary:

5000 years ago, a set of books known as “The Pentateuch” called it “zeal.” 2000 years ago, another set of books known as “The Bible” called it “faith.” 70 years ago, clergyman Norman Vincent Peale called it “positive thinking.” 20 years ago, psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman called it “learned optimism.” 2 years ago, professor Shawn Achor called it the “happiness advantage.”

But when you do a Google search on these terms, most people seem to lump them together and simply refer to them as “attitude,” “positive attitude,” or “positive thinking.” There seems to be a general feeling … that whatever you call it … these terms have a lot to do with success in life and success at work.

And they’re absolutely right. As Achor writes, “Recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that … when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work.”

Even the “Harvard Business Review,” on the cover of their January-February 2012 issue, featured a yellow smiley face with dollar signs as crinkles at each end of the smile. Superimposed on the face is the title, “The Value of Happiness: How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits.” Inside, the article proclaims: “Emerging research from neuroscience, psychology, and economics makes the link between a thriving workforce and better business performance absolutely clear.”

That’s why my program on “The Payoff Principle: How You Can Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation” gets such rave reviews. People not only learn ABOUT the power of positive thinking but leave knowing HOW to tap into that power. As Jan Moser, the Director of Administrative Services for Country Financial, reported, “Dr. Zimmerman gave us positive attitude skills that were applicable to all aspects of our lives … as leaders, managers, employees, spouses, and parents. We picked up some amazing tools that made us better people and more valuable to our company.”

The fact is …


1. If you’re not a positive thinker, if you don’t have a positive attitude, you’re in trouble.

Without this quality or passion, life and work become quite drab. Most everything becomes a “have to” instead of a “get to.” For example, the person who doesn’t have a positive attitude says such things as: “I have to go to work today … I have to call on another customer … I have to clean the house … or … I have to pay my taxes.”

By contrast, a person of passion says, “I get to go to work today,” because he knows that work is so much better than not having any work. A person of passion says, “I get to help another customer,” because she knows without her customers she wouldn’t have a business. A person of passion says, “I get to clean my house,” because he is thankful to have a place to live. And a person of passion says, “I get to pay my taxes,” because she is grateful that she makes enough money to even qualify as a tax-paying citizen.

The truth is, if you’re not a positive thinker, if you don’t have a positive attitude, NOTHING can make up for it.

Education can’t. According to historians, some of America’s worst presidents were supposedly the smartest and best educated. And some of the greatest Presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln, had very little formal education. A resume may get you through the door, but that’s as far as it will get you.

Talent can’t. The world is filled with talented people who never achieve personal or professional success. Watch a season or two of “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” and you’ll know what I mean. Talent that isn’t fueled by the proper attitude tends to fizzle out before the race is over.

Opportunity can’t. An opportunity may open a door for you, but without positive thinking you won’t make the most of your opportunity. In fact, it may never come to life. As professor Howard Hendricks said, “You don’t put live eggs under dead chickens.” But that’s exactly what negative thinkers do.

Other people can’t. It is very difficult to be successful without the help of other people … or at least be surrounded by the right kind of people. But even that won’t guarantee your success. A team with no heart … no attitude … and no passion … will not go very far.

There simply is no substitute for a positive attitude. It keeps you going when others quit. It releases an abundance of energy … an energy you don’t even know you have … and gets you through the toughest times. As novelist Karen Traviss puts it, “Faith keeps you going when there’s no logical reason to. In its way, it keeps life going.”

Bottom line? A positive attitude is the difference maker. So how can you get this difference maker in your life and in your work?

I’ve written extensively on the topic, in my book on “PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success.”

Here are a few tips I recommend.


2. Keep your attitude stimulated.

You may know some people who say they’ve lost their interest in life. Not much if anything turns them on anymore. It’s just another day and another dollar. Chances are they’re doing very little to stimulate their attitude.

Other people think they’ve grown past the enthusiasms of their youth. They’re too old to maintain a positive attitude. Or they just don’t feel all that well. But chances are, once again, they’re doing very little to stimulate their attitude.

In reality, a positive attitude has no connection to age. At the age of 76, General Douglas MacArthur said, “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage; so long as you are young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then and only then are you grown old.”

Your attitude acts very much like a muscle. If you don’t stimulate or exercise a muscle, it atrophies. It weakens and eventually dies. And the same goes for your attitude. If you don’t stimulate it, it dries up.

If, on the other hand, you keep an active interest in life, you will maintain a powerful, effective, happiness-inducing positive attitude. I found that to be true with my Grandma Grace. Whenever I went to visit her, I would always ask if she’d like to get out, take a ride, go somewhere, see something, or do something … because I knew she was confined to her apartment, due to her age and physical limitations. Invariably, her response would be “No, I’m not feeling that well … or … No, I don’t really want to go anywhere.”

However, with a bit of persuasion, I always got her in the car, and her attitude changed almost instantly. She wanted to see as much as possible and didn’t want to miss a thing. I even persuaded her to accompany me on a trip to Norway at age 88, despite the fact she used a walker to get around. Her passion for life began to soar, and with her renewed interest in life and her positive thinking on the rise, she spent the entire trip walking without her walker.

To keep your attitude positive, keep your attitude stimulated. Keep on learning about the world, the people, and things outside of yourself. Get in the habit of looking forward to each day, wondering what new adventure will come your way.

And then…


3. Let your attitude play make believe.

I know; it sounds childish. But the most successful people use this technique and swear by this technique.

Muhammad Ali, the world champion boxer, says, “To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. It you’re not, pretend you are.”

And Donald Trump, the world champion real estate developer, tells people, “Even if you haven’t encountered great success yet, there is no reason you can’t bluff a little and act like you have. Confidence is a magnet in the best sense of the word. It will draw people to you and make your daily life, and theirs, a lot more pleasant.”

So I advise you, picture yourself as being competent, effective, and successful. Hold that image firmly in your mind and do not let any self-doubt erase it. Soon, your mental picture will become your new reality.

You can do that if you…


4. Tie your attitude to a long-term value rather than a short-term emotion.

When I’m speaking to salespeople, I often tell them to “act” their way through a tough situation. If they’re in the midst of a sales presentation on a late Friday afternoon, for example, and don’t feel enthusiastic, they still need to “act” enthusiastic. They need to “act” like this is the most important sale of the week.

Of course, someone in the audience will always say, “Are you asking us to fake it? You just told us to be honest, sincere, and genuine in all our dealings with our customers. And now you’re telling us to ‘act’ enthusiastic whether or not we feel that way. I don’t get it. There’s seems to some kind of contradiction going on here.”

No there isn’t. There’s no contradiction whatsoever … if you tie your attitude to a deeply-held commitment rather than a passing emotion.

It’s what one clergyman had to learn. He wrestled with how he could stand in front of his congregation and speak about peace, joy, love, hope, and faith when he didn’t feel very enthusiastic at the moment he was speaking about those things. He didn’t feel authentic. And yet he realized, if he yielded to his immediate feelings, if he let his sagging emotions influence his professional conduct, he could not inspire or motivate the people he was called to serve.

The clergyman resolved his supposed “contradiction” by making an authentic choice. He chose to adhere to his calling rather than his personal emotions. He tied his attitude to something bigger and more important than his momentary feelings.

You need to do the same thing … whatever line of work you may be in. To get and keep a positive attitude, tie your attitude to a long-term value. If you’re in sales, tie your positive attitude to the quality of your product and the way it helps your customers. If you’re in leadership, tie your positive attitude to your belief in growing people. Tie your attitude to doing what is right and good, no matter what job you have. That way you can “act” genuinely enthusiastic and “be” thoroughly positive … no matter what you’re feeling.



5. Cancel any negative thoughts that interfere with your attitude.

Getting and keeping a positive attitude is a not a once-and-for all proposition. It takes daily practice … but fortunately less and less practice as you master these skills.

Nonetheless, you still need to deal with the negative thoughts that come into your mind. Cancel them out. As Dr. Norman Vincent Peale taught, “Whenever a negative thought about yourself and your abilities comes to mind, immediately cancel it out as unworthy, untrue, and unrealistic. The more vigorously you cancel it out, the weaker it becomes, until it disappears altogether.”

Don’t give your negative thoughts too much attention. And don’t put yourself down as being too small or too weak. As Bette Reese notes, “If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.”

Willie Nelson is right. Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones and you’ll start getting positive results.


Select two long-term values that are deeply held by you and tie your attitude to them.