Be An Actor, Not A Reacter

If attitudes are contagious, are yours worth catching?

Few things in life are more destructive and more contagious than negativity. And you know what I’m talking about — if you’ve ever had to work with someone who was always negative. That person was always on the wrecking crew, tearing down this and tearing down that. At the end of the day, you probably felt exhausted, and you had to work at not catching her gloom and doom.

The good news is positive energy is just as contagious. In fact, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO BE AROUND ENTHUSIASTIC PEOPLE WITHOUT CATCHING SOME OF THEIR ENTHUSIASM! Enthusiasm is like a bolt of electricity that goes from person to person.

In fact I speak about that in great depth in my new 6-pack CD album entitled “TAKE CHARGE: 6 Strategies For Achieving More Than Ever.” It’s extremely powerful.

I remember a friend of mine telling about an experience he had in a hotel coffee shop several years ago. He was doing some paperwork while he waited for the waitress. It was 6:00 a.m. and dark outside, but he was trying to concentrate on his notes despite the fact he was still half asleep.

The waitress came to take his order. She was so enthusiastic that he was soon captivated by her manner. She had a cheery greeting for all the customers.

“Isn’t it a fine day?” she said, as she went bustling about, taking orders from the sleepy businessmen. “Good morning. What do you want for breakfast, honey?”

Even though it was too dark outside to know, the customers immediately felt that it was indeed a fine day. They lowered their morning papers to see her smiling face, and they caught her enthusiasm. All that is, except one.

When she approached the glowering, grumpy man in the corner with her enthusiastic, early morning predictions of a fine day, he lowered his paper and said, “What’s so darn good about it?”

She was momentarily taken back. She stood uncertainly for a few seconds before she answered him. She said, “Why don’t you just try missing a few days, buddy, and you’d find out.”

Of course she was right. When life is so important and so precious, why in the world would people waste it with a deliberate, dreary grouchiness? And why would any of us let these negative folks ruin our lives? It doesn’t make any sense.

In addition to its esthetic attributes, enthusiasm makes tremendously good business sense. After all, PEOPLE LOVE TO DO BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE WHAT THEY ARE DOING.

Again, you probably know what I’m talking about. When you’re out shopping, you’ve probably come across a clerk that made the whole experience so much easier and so much more pleasant than you would normally expect. You caught some of the clerk’s enthusiasm, and you bought more than you planned on buying. And you probably returned to that same store the next time you needed something.

Enthusiasm makes a good business better. And enthusiasm turns a dark and mundane workplace into a bright and lively workplace. So how do you get it?

You need to use the “ACT-AS-IF” principle. It comes from Dr. William James. As one of the founding fathers of modern psychology, Dr. James spent fifty years researching every aspect of human psychology. He concluded that the greatest discovery of the twentieth century was the fact that you can have any quality you want in your personality if you “act-as-if” you have that quality.

For example, if you want to be patient, act as if you were patient. You soon will be. If you want to be enthusiastic, don’t wait for some magic wand to descend upon you. Just start acting as if you were enthusiastic. Soon you’ll feel that way, and soon you’ll be that way!

Your mind and body strive to be consistent. You know that. When you sing a happy song, your mind will do its best to raise your enthusiasm to meet the energy of the song.

Of course, it can be a challenge to keep on “acting” enthusiastically. Sydney Harris, a syndicated columnist, wrote about that in one of his columns. He wrote about walking downtown Chicago with a friend one morning. They were on their way to buy a newspaper. Harris said, “I could tell that the man in the newsstand was grouchy, negative, and anything but enthusiastic.”

His friend greeted the newsman. “Good morning, Charlie. It’s good to see you. How are you today?”

Charlie replied, “Naa,” and coupled it with a spitting sound.

Harris’s friend bought the paper, paid for it, and said, “Thanks at lot, Charlie. I do appreciate it. I always get good service from you.”

Charlie’s reply was just as unfriendly as his first comment. He gave another grunt and spitting sound as he waved his hand in a “get-out-of-here” gesture.

As they walked away, the friend turned once more and said, “Have a nice day, Charlie. Keep smiling.” Again, the unfriendly salesman just groaned and moaned.

Harris asked his friend. “Does Charlie always act like that?”

“Oh, sure,” was the reply.

“And you’re always so friendly?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Why,” Harris asked, “do you continue to treat him with such consideration when he is so rude to you?”

Harris’s friend gave a marvelous response. He said, “I don’t want him to decide how I’m going to behave. I’m an actor, not a re-actor.”

What a wise response. Somehow or other he knew he couldn’t afford to descend to the salesman’s level of negativity.

In a similar sense, if you’re going to be a proactive manager, team member, or parent, if you’re going to be a proactive professional, you’ve got to be an actor. You’ve got to act enthusiastically. You’ve got to exhibit the attitude you want everybody else to catch.

You’ve got to bring people up to your level of enthusiasm. You can’t be a re-actor who gets dragged down to other people’s level of get-by mediocrity.

I waged a campaign at a university where I taught for several years. I made it a practice to wander the hallways for a few minutes each morning. I wanted to smile and greet as many colleagues as possible with a cheery “Good morning.” Before long I received a friendly response from all except one. For seven years, I greeted him each morning and failed to get any sort of a response.

I was getting a little ticked off. I was losing my patience with him, and I was about to give him what he gave me — a glare, a stare, or worse yet, a look-away glance.

Then I said, “Wait a minute, Alan.” “Are you going to let him decide how you feel today? Are you going to catch his disease? What good will that do? None whatsoever.”

I kept myself from slipping into the role of a re-actor. That would have hurt my relationships with everyone else.

What about you? Are you an actor or a re-actor? Are your attitudes worth catching? Or do you catch everyone else’s attitude?

Action:  Just for today, decide to “act” enthusiastically — no matter how you feel or what is happening. Just do it. You will see an almost immediate difference in yourself and the people around you.