“Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.”
Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War
At one event, the motivational speaker on stage got me so excited that I had chills running up and down my spine. He convinced me that I could be anything or do anything I wanted. According to him, I was Superman!
I left the presentation, feeling ten-feet tall, to get on a plane, and sat in my assigned seat. The gracious flight attendant with a delightful smile walked up to me and asked me to buckle my seat belt. I politely responded, “No, you don’t understand. I’m Superman and Superman doesn’t need a seat belt.”
The first thing to go was the flight attendant’s smile. In a very firm voice she replied, “And Superman doesn’t need a plane either. Now buckle up your seat belt!”
Of course, I’m teasing. That didn’t really happen. But I have learned that everyone has problems, even though most people don’t have all the skills they need to prevent or resolve all their problems. That’s part of the reason I wrote my new book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover The 3 Secrets For Getting What You Want Out Of Life And Work.” If you’d like a sneak peak at the content, click here. The book itself will be released later this year.
For today’s “Tuesday Tip,” however, let me suggest that one of the most important skills you need to have to help you through the tough times is a sense of humor. And you can develop or improve your sense of humor by doing the following.
Resist the urge to strike back.
When life is difficult, we often feel the urge to make life difficult for someone else. If, for example, your plane is late, you might almost automatically strike out at the airline agent. Typically that is neither smart nor effective.
So fight the urge to be bad just because you’re in the midst of a bad situation or around a bad person.
For example, one of my top ten heroes in all of world history is Winston Churchill. He was an incredible leader that helped prevent the world from falling into Hitler’s Nazi horror. However, Churchill was also known to use humor to strike out at his critics.
At one dinner party where he had had too much to drink, a woman said, “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk.” To which he replied, “And Madam, you’re ugly. The difference is tomorrow I’ll be sober.”
The right thing to say? You decide.
After World War II, while Churchill was still the Prime Minister in England, he was seated in a large conference hall attending a meeting. A couple of rows behind him he could hear two people whispering, “You know, they say Churchill is getting senile. He’s too old for the job. He’s doing more harm than good for England. He should step aside and let a younger person run the country.”
When the meeting was over, Churchill walked back to those two whispering folks, stepped into their aisle, and said, “They also say he’s deaf.”
I know that it’s easier to say “resist the urge to fight back” than actually do it. So this what I recommend … a 3-step process that reduces your stress and improves your effectiveness … all by using your sense of humor appropriately. You need to SEE the facts, ACCEPT the facts, and WORK with the facts.
1. SEE the facts.
When troubles hit, most of us replay the scenarios in our heads over and over again. We even dream up things that aren’t happening or imply motives in other people that they don’t have. We get stuck in a destructive fantasy world.
Instead, get your facts straight, first. SEE the facts for what they really are, not your trumped up and over-personalized interpretations of the facts.
A new naval military commander had to learn this skill. On his first mission where he was in charge of a huge battle, he was nervous because it was a dark foggy night. In the horizon, however, he saw a light in the distance and immediately realized they were on course for an impending head-on collision. So he sent a message telling the other person to turn ten degrees to the north. The other person replied by telling him to turn ten degrees to the south.
This annoyed the commander, so he decided to pull rank. He signaled, “I am the commander of a U.S. military battleship. TURN ten degrees to the north.” The other person replied, “YOU turn ten degrees to the south. I am the keeper of a lighthouse.”
Once the commander could SEE the facts, and indeed have somewhat of a sense of humor about it all, the problem was resolved.
2. ACCEPT the facts.
We can all wish certain things in our jobs, our lives, and our relationships aren’t the way they are. But wishing doesn’t do you much good. Wishing doesn’t change anything.
But ACCEPTING the facts gives you a chance to let go of your unrealistic fantasies and get on with your life, with a bit of humor to help you through those less-than-desirable situations.
When the legendary comedians Bob Hope and George Burns were in their 80’s and 90’s, their ability to accept the facts of getting older allowed them to keep on working and enjoying every day … even though their physical bodies had some challenges.
For example, one time Burns was teasing Hope, saying that Hope was getting senile. Hope replied by saying he had checked with his doctor, who told him there were four signs of senility and that he didn’t have any of the signs. The first sign was forgetting names. The second sign was forgetting faces. The third sign was forgetting to zip up. Burns asked what the fourth sign was. Hope said, “Forgetting to zip down.”
What an answer! So much better than some folks who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with their bodies and how awful they feel. In Florida, where I have one of my national offices, we call that an “organ recital.” They would be much better off learning to ACCEPT the facts with a sense of humor like Hope and Burns did.
It’s one of the skills I teach in my ever-so-popular program called “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress and Balancing Life … On and Off the Job.” You can check it out by here, or give me a call if you’d like to discuss how this program could fit into one of your future meetings.
Finally, in the process of developing your sense of humor…
3. WORK with the facts.
You’ve only got what you’ve got. So forget the if-only’s. “If only I had a different job, a better boss, a kinder spouse, a nicer house, a stronger education, a healthier body, or whatever.” You’ve got what you’ve got. So learn to WORK with it, applying a bit of humor at the same time.
It’s like the young man who married a woman who’s father owned a very large and profitable business. Once the two were married, the father took his new son-in-law aside and said, “To welcome you into the family, to show you how much we care about you, I’m making you a 50% owner of the business. All you have to do is go to the factory every day and make sure everything is working well.”
The young man said, “Dad, I hate factories. They’re dirty, noisy, and smelly. That’s not for me.”
So his father-in-law said, “Okay, you’re still a 50% owner of the business. Just go into the office each day, sit behind one of the desks, and glance through the paperwork to see if everything is in order.”
But the young man replied, “I hate offices. I can’t be stuck behind a desk eight hours a day.”
“I just made you 50% owner of the business, but you hate factories and you hate offices,” responded the father-in-law. “What am I going to do with you?”
The young man said, “Buy me out.”
As much as the father-in-law might have wished the young man was more appreciative or cooperative, he was still stuck with the young man’s attitude. And the same is true for all of us. As much as we might wish things were different or people were different, we must learn to WORK with what we have … which is another great time to engage your sense of humor.
Without trivializing any of our challenges in life or at work, you’ll do much better when you engage your sense of humor.