George Bernard Shaw famously said “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”. Sadly, I think that my natural inclination is to dream things that never were; and say “that looks dangerous”.
I’m not, I think, a very positive person by nature. I was a lawyer in a previous life, so was a member of one of the glummest professions around, eagerly seeking out the traps in every situation. Perhaps I’m not quite at the level of Marvin the Paranoid Android in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, whose philosophy can be summed up in the quote “just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does”, but I know where he’s coming from. An old family friend used to love mis-quoting Shelley – “If Winter comes, can Winter be far behind?” he’d say. Makes sense to me sometimes.
Someone described me as a catastrophist, seeing the endless possibilities there are for things to go belly up. Perhaps I’m being a little bit flippant but it is certainly true that in some parts of my life I’m a glass half empty kind of guy. The cynic in me sometimes looks at very positive people and laughs inwardly at their naïve, simplistic, Pollyanna approach to life. But what if it is actually me that has the naïve and simplistic life view and they that are right?
As I’ve been involved in the LIFT initiative over the last 18 months, this is an aspect of my personality that has been regularly challenged. One of the 8 LIFT leadership themes that was identified by our Coyne Research independent national survey was Positive Attitude. In the LIFT materials that accompany this theme there is one paragraph, in particular, that always makes me stop and think:
Having a positive attitude does not mean that we are always happy about everything that happens. We all deal with difficult and painful things at times. However, by being aware that we control our attitude, we can make sure that we are not defeated by our problems and pain. A positive attitude allows us to focus on what we can do, rather than on our inabilities or loss of control.
Is it simple to take this approach when things go wrong in our lives? Actually, it’s far easier to look to find where the blame lies, to say there’s nothing to be done, to feel like a helpless victim, which is the cynic’s choice. Choosing to take a positive attitude is a much harder road to travel – it requires me to take ownership of my situation, to say “this is where I am; what will I do now?”.
None of us has a perfect life; and even if we are lucky enough to have good health, a roof over our heads and sufficient food to eat, the reality is that every person has his or her difficulties. The challenge for each of us, is to decide how we choose to deal with them. I’ve been working hard on my positive attitude. Not trying to go about with a smile on my face (which isn’t what a positive attitude is really about), but rather, being pragmatic and trying to focus on possibilities even where the reality is difficult. Relatively recently there have been some situations that perhaps in the past would have led me towards feelings of blackness. However, I have chosen instead to hold onto the belief that things could improve, and I have worked as hard as I could to try to improve them. So far, at least, it’s working.