Keeping Yourself Positive During Challenging Times

by Denny Smith, Leadership and Development Trainer

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Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

In our wildest imagination I don’t think we can begin to fathom the power of the human mind. That little thing within you the size of a half grapefruit called the brain provides you with the ability to direct that power by monitoring and controlling your thoughts. The way you think determines your attitudes, your attitudes determine your behavior and your behavior determines the results that you get out of life. It all starts with the way you choose to think.

The ability to keep yourself positive and resourceful is not always easy, but it’s a skill that is imperative to good leadership. Being Mr. or Ms. Positive when things are going well is a snap, but the way you conduct yourself in challenging times is the true measure of your ability to lead. I got a reminder of that from one of my former basketball players. “You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles three things: A rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Life presents a series of tangled Christmas tree lights. Peanuts character and philosopher Linus Van Pelt so eloquently states that “there is always crabgrass in the lawn of life.”

It is not our goal to eliminate problems, but to deal with them in a calm and effective manner. In most cases, it is not the problems that give us the headaches, but our attitude towards the problems that give us the headaches. A speaker friend of mine, the late Mike Patrick, framed it this way: “The problem is not the issue, the issue is how you deal with the problem.” Paralyzed from a high school football injury, Mike dedicated his life to helping others overcome adversity and to live life to the fullest. Addressing his audiences from his wheel chair, his message clearly came from the heart. He inspired literally thousands of students and adults to rise above their challenges and move on and demonstrated a resiliency that is within all of us if we if we choose to tap into it.

So how do I do it?

First, let’s remind ourselves that when we work at self-improvement and personal growth, we do not do so from a standpoint of lack. You are already pretty good at what you do, or you wouldn’t be where you are, but your quest for excellence is ongoing and a project that spans a lifetime. I am at the age where I don’t buy green bananas and I am experiencing more progress than at any time in my life. It’s neither to early nor too late to enjoy the benefits of self-improvement.

Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. Clearly identify the problem and deal with it in no uncertain terms, but resolution comes from re-directing your emotional energy towards the solution, which is easier said than done. Anyone can fix the blame for the problem. A leader fixes the problem.

How can we fix this?

As a cast member in the delightful Broadway musical My Fair Lady, I had the opportunity to work with a highly skilled, gifted and positive director. Her knowledge of theatre was phenomenal but her skill in creating a positive climate was even more amazing. When things weren’t going according to Hoyle, she didn’t get upset, but would simply say, “We need to fix this,” or pose the question, “How can we fix this?” She then calmly got on with the business of correcting what needed to be corrected. Her approach was non-threatening and so effective. Cast members immediately focused on the solution and the problem was resolved with ease and confidence.

You can use this as a self-coaching tool. When facing a challenge or even a crisis, allow yourself some time to process worry, anger and frustration, but then direct your emotional energy towards the question, “How can I fix this?” I would suggest that you set aside time for quiet reflection or even meditation to calm yourself down. Reach a tranquil state and allow creativity and optimism to flow through you. Good ideas will come to you, you will be energized, and you will move forward with the confidence and determination necessary to go about working your magic. You may not always get the results you want, but you will know that you conducted yourself with class, poise, and positivity.

When you blow it, and you occasionally will, use that same mantra to guide you: “How can I fix this?” You made a mistake and maybe alienated a few people along the way but keep moving forward. Be honest and accept responsibility for your actions but keep faith in yourself and know that you are a fixer. Invite everyone involved to join you in a “fix it” mentality and get on with solving the problem at hand. Above all, don’t lose confidence. View the situation as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block..

Tap into Your Resilience

The Mike Patrick’s of the world have taught us that we are blessed with a powerful gift of resiliency. Determination, confidence, and optimism are just a few of the traits that pave the way for using that gift, and they all exist within you. Reflect on what you need to tap into, then hold your head up, grit your teeth, and keep on keeping on.

Clichés stick around because they have merit, so let’s conclude with one that we’ve all heard hundreds of times. It still applies. “When the going get’s tough, the tough get going.”

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