“Negative thinkers need to get their minds out of the sewer and positive thinkers need to get their heads out of the clouds.”
John-Roger and Peter McWilliams, authors
The research is clear. The debate is over. A positive attitude brings good results and a negative attitude brings bad results. It’s as simple as that.
Unfortunately, too many people just don’t “get it”. They don’t understand the real meaning of a “positive attitude” or “positive thinking.” And so they don’t use those skills properly or effectively.
There’s only one caution. Positive thinking is over-rated … as some people understand and practice it. They equate positive thinking with the denial of reality. They deny the truth of what is actually happening.
For example, a “positive thinker” might get a small cut on his foot and tell himself, “Your foot is fine. The cut is only an illusion. Just imagine your foot as healed and it will be perfectly fine.”
By contrast, a “negative thinker” might get a small cut on his foot and tell himself, “This could be serious. My tetanus shot might be out of date. I could get an awful infection … and who knows … I could even lose my foot.”
Both extremes are off base, and neither approach is very helpful. So instead of teaching “positive thinking” and all the overused misunderstandings of that phrase, I agree with John-Roger and Peter McWilliams when they recommend a “positive focus” instead.
With a “positive focus”, you might say, “I’ve got a cut on my foot. I’ll clean up the wound, apply some antiseptic, and bandage it.” But you would also ask, “What happened? How did I get this cut? And what can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
So how can you put a “positive focus” into your work and life?
1. Remind yourself there’s plenty of evidence to support your positive focus.
At any given moment, there is plenty of evidence to “prove” that life is very good or very bad … or that life is a bed of thorns or a garden of roses. And how you feel about your life, your work, your relationships, and everything else depends on where you place your attention.
The good news is … you get to choose your focus and which evidence gets more of your attention.
In fact, take a moment right now to try a little experiment. Without even moving from where you are, you can find ample evidence to prove your life is a miserable, depressing, terrible burden, or you can find evidence to prove your life is an abundant, joyful, exciting adventure.
Let’s start with the negative. Look at all the imperfections around you. No matter how good anything is, it could be better, couldn’t it? Look for the dirt, disorder, and dust. See all the things that need cleaning, repairing and replacing? An endless array of clutter, chaos, and catastrophe is assaulting your senses. Dis-gusting.
Now, look at your life with an attitude of gratitude. Look around the same area you just surveyed and find the good. You can start with whatever you’re sitting or lying on. It’s probably softer than a concrete floor. Look at all the other objects you use but take for granted — glasses (both seeing and drinking), tables, windows, and the walls and ceiling sheltering you from the elements. Consider the wonder of the electric light. A hundred years ago, you would have to have been very rich or very lucky to have had even one. And you probably have more than one — and a TV and a computer and dozens of other electronic marvels.
What around you do you find aesthetically pleasing? A painting you haven’t really looked at in years? The detail work on the clothes you’re wearing? A flower? A vase? Wallpaper? Carpet? When was the last time you took a moment to appreciate colors?
The point is obvious. You can find plenty of evidence for whatever case you want to make. As Roger and McWilliams write, “It’s as though there were two attorneys in your mind, one gathering evidence for ‘Life is Awful’ and the other gathering evidence for ‘Life is Wonderful.’ You’re the judge and can rule out any evidence you choose. Your decision is final. Which judicial ruling do you suppose would lead to more joy, happiness, peace and ease?”
A positive focus, certainly.
2. Remind yourself that a positive focus always feels better.
In the little experiment I just asked you to try, did you notice that you felt better when you focused on the positive things in your surroundings? The process of focusing on the positive to produce more positive feelings works the same way with everything else in your life.
If you were to look for all the things wrong with your body, for example, you’re going to find them. Pains here, bumps there, rough spots over here, too much fat down there. The list goes on and on.
But, take a look at all that’s right with your body. Even if you have a pain in your left foot, you can be thankful there’s not one in your right. How about all those systems you take for granted? Digestion, circulation, respiration, assimilation, etc.? And your five senses are still working to some degree.
When you focus on the positive, you don’t disregard certain warning signs that … if ignored … might lead to inconvenience at best and disaster at worst. Not at all. With a positive focus, you take note of negative information, decide what to do about it, and, while doing it, return to focusing upon the positive. You’ll not only feel better but do better.
3. Remind yourself there’s great power in keeping a positive focus.
As therapist Carol Quinn sees it, “It is not obstacles or circumstances that determine results; rather it is the attitude toward conquering them. Obstacles don’t make people stop … people stop themselves.”
She’s right. It’s not your problems or your obstacles that have the biggest impact on the results you get at work or at home. It’s your attitude or your focus. And as you’ve just learned, there’s real power in keeping a positive focus.
Jill Weston, who works in the Clinical Research Office at a major medical center, experienced that first hand when she attended my program. She wrote me, saying, “Dr. Zimmerman: What a GREAT seminar. After I finished the program and got back home, the first thing my boyfriend said to me was ‘You’re glowing. What happened today?’ I said, ‘Nothing out of the ordinary. I just listened to a fantastic speaker on using the power of a positive attitude.”
“He asked me to tell him more, so I jumped right in and told him what we had learned. At dinner that evening, I asked my family if they would like to try an experiment that I had learned in your JOURNEY program. They all agreed and I chose my daughter’s fiancé. He was a willing participant. He is also a body builder and VERY strong. I had him hold his arms straight out to test his strength and I could hardly move his arms! Then I had him leave the room while I told the others about positive and negative thoughts and how they affect people’s energy.”
“They were not sure that I was in my right mind when I told them to think/pretend negative thoughts about Adam for 30 seconds … just for the sake of the experiment. I then explained that the mere thinking of those thoughts … not even saying them to him directly … would cause him to be weak. We invited him into the room, had him close his eyes for 30 seconds, not telling him we were going to think negative thoughts about him.”
“After 30 seconds, I tested his arm strength again and to everyone’s surprise (especially Adam’s), his arms went right down. You should have seen the jaws drop! This was a great teaching moment for my children about the effects of thinking and speaking negatively about each other and how thinking and saying nice things to others can actually bring about a stronger, positive environment inside the home and at work. After all, we don’t want to be ‘energy vampires’ and suck the living life out of each other, right?”
Jill and her entire family learned the danger in having a negative focus and the power of having a positive focus.
No one can give you a bad attitude and no one can give you a good attitude. It’s a choice you make. Choose to focus on the positive … which is always possible … and you will be well on your way to an enduring, pervasive positive attitude.
Action: Take a moment to try the “evidence” challenge. Look at all the evidence why you could be miserable. And then look at all the evidence for being joyful. Then consciously choose where you want to focus your energy.