Accentuate The Positive By Taking Control Of The Negative

Every morning you get to choose — to rise and shine or rise and whine.

Few things in life are more valuable than your attitude. Your emotional health, your relational stability, your professional achievements, in fact just about everything is rooted in your attitude.

Motivational researchers knew that years ago. Dale Carnegie said, “Happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends on what you think.” And James Allen wrote, “Man’s rise or fall, success or failure, happiness or unhappiness depends on his attitude.” The latest psychological research confirms the truth of their observations.

Unfortunately, too many people live with a negative attitude too much of the time. Benjamin Franklin said, “Most people die at age 18, but we don’t bury them until they’re 65.”

I like to play a game with some of my audience members. I will ask someone, “How long have you been alive?” The audience member will say something like “43 years.” I’ll say, “No. That’s how long your heart has been beating. How long have you been ALIVE? How long have you been on fire?” Then the audience “gets” it. They get to understand that it’s their attitude that’s pushing them forward or holding them back.

Of course, I know it’s fashionable or “cool” to joke about one’s attitude. Comedian W. C. Fields said, “Start every day with a smile and get it over with.” One negative person even carried a card in his wallet that read, “In case of accident, I’m not surprised.”

Comedian George Burns was asked, “Can you do everything at 98 you could do at age 18?” He said, “Of course I can do everything at 98 I did at 18 — which tells you how pathetic my life was at 18.”

Sure, it can be fun to joke about a negative attitude, but in reality, nothing could be more serious. And nothing could be more important than getting rid of a negative attitude.

I remember the time a friend of mine was flying cross country. Normally he doesn’t talk to anyone on the plane. But this time the man sitting next to him looked rather down, so he greeted him with a cheerful “How are you?”

“OK,” he said. Then he added, “How are you?” “Great!” my friend answered.

The man responded by saying, “You sound too cheerful for me. In fact, you make me tired just listening to you.”

My friend thought that was the end of the conversation, and it was for a few minutes. Then he asked what my friend did for a living. He explained he was a professional speaker, but some people might call him a motivational speaker.

Then, right out of nowhere he said, “Tell me something. Why does everything go wrong for me?”

My friend certainly didn’t know. He had never seen the man before. But he replied, “Got me. Perhaps if you’ll talk for a few minutes, we can figure it out.”

For the next thirty minutes he went on and on about all his difficulties. And he repeated the same negative thoughts over and over. My friend was definitely getting tired listening to him.

Then all of a sudden the man exclaimed, “Hold it. Hold it. I know why everything goes wrong for me. It just came to me. Everything goes wrong for me because I’m wrong. I think wrong, speak wrong, and act wrong. I’m just too negative all the time.”

“That’s probably true,” my friend told him. So they spent the next few minutes talking about how he could get rid of his negative attitude. He seemed extremely willing to give my friend’s advice a try.

I assume you’re the same way. You want to give my advice a try. That’s why you read my “Tuesday Tips.”

One warning, however. It’s not easy to get rid of a negative attitude because you and I are fed an almost continuous diet of negativity.

Some observers have noted that the news coverage, for example, is 90% negative. Only 10% of the stories have a humorous or human interest slant. And if there isn’t enough bad news on a particular day, the networks will replay old video clips on the anniversaries of certain disasters. One person said it would be more accurate to say CNN stands for “Constant Negative News.”

What’s the result? We end up with a culture that would rather tear people down than build them up. And according to psychologist Dr. Terry Paulson, we end up with people who have an internal dialogue that is 80% negative. In fact if we said some of the same negative things to our employees that we say to ourselves, they could file a grievance and win.

If you want to get rid of a negative attitude, here’s what you do. Remember, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ATTITUDE. No one “gave” you your attitude, and no one can “take” it away. Somehow or other, you chose to rise and whine rather than rise and shine. And you can choose a new, more positive attitude. It’s your responsibility.

Then, IDENTIFY YOUR MOST COMMON, MOST RECURRENT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. Just listen to yourself for a day or two. Don’t try to change anything. Just observe the negative thoughts that come to mind. You may find yourself telling yourself things like, “I’m too old to do that anymore…I’m such a jerk…I’ll never get ahead…I just can’t lose any weight…or…I’m no good at selling.” You’ll probably end up with a list of five to ten phrases that you repeat over and over again.

Now PRACTICE STOPPING THOSE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. Every time one of those thoughts comes to mind, think “Stop!” Just think, “Stop you negative thought. Stop.” You may have to do this ten or twenty times before the thought goes away.

If thinking “Stop” doesn’t work at first, try saying “Stop” out loud. That’s right, shout it out. Say it firmly, authoritatively. Notice how well the technique works for you.

If you’re still struggling with a particular negative thought after a period of time, use the hand signals for “Stop.” Just like a traffic cop puts up his hand to signal “Stop,” put up your hand to “Stop” a negative thought. You can even say it and do it at the same time.

Try these three “stopping” exercises. You’ll probably find that one of them works better for you than another. That’s fine. Keep on using it. You will soon master the skill and eliminate the negative thought.

Then STOP SPEAKING IN NEGATIVES. It’s a vicious cycle. If you think negatively, you’ll speak negatively. And if you speak the negative, you’ll also think the negative.

Instead of saying, “It’s going to rain. It’s going to be a bad day,” say “It’s going to be a wonderful day.” Instead of saying, “There’s no way I can pay these bills,” say “I’ll find a way to get through this.”

By speaking with positive conviction, you are, in a sense, conditioning your mind to be more positive. You are taking control of your thoughts rather than have them control you. You are affirming that great line in William Ernest Henley’s poem, “Invictus.” He wrote, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Tomorrow morning brings another day. I challenge you to rise and shine. Once and for all throw out the “rise and whine.” You’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone else in your world.

Action:  Pick one of your common negative thoughts that is particularly troubling. Then faithfully practice the “stopping” techniques every time the thought comes to mind. In less time than you think, you will have eliminated that negative thought.