When I do resiliency training, we do a short exercise. I put two chairs in the front of the room. Each chair represents a different outlook. One is a positive outlook, the other is negative. Then I give a series of challenges and ask the person seated in a chair to respond to those challenges depending on the chair they are sitting in. Next, they move to other chair and think about how they would respond to the same questions from the opposite outlook.
The questions asked are minimally to moderately challenging. Here are several. I encourage you to try the exercise with these questions. How would you respond to these challenges in each chair?
- The person at your favorite coffee shop cuts in line ahead of you and you are running late.
- The person in the office next to you got a raise and you did not even though you worked harder and probably deserved one.
- You could not find your keys and now you are late for an appointment.
- You met a friend for dinner and she didn’t tell you she was bringing another person along.
- Your mother-in law told you she thinks you are spoiling your children.
The difference between a positive and negative outlook is not ignoring negative realities, rather, in finding a way to remain positive.
Let’s take the coffee shop example: The negative outlook self-talk (or maybe even spoken) would be, “What a jerk! How self-centered.” Whereas the positive mindset might be, “Boy that person must be having a day. I don’t know what they are going through but I will give them the benefit of the doubt as I don’t know them.” You could even follow this by asking the person if there is some reason they felt the need to cut in line. This would tell you their thinking. I have found that sometimes people are oblivious, also in a hurry, or maybe just rude. Depending on the answer, you can be gracious. You can ask them if they would mind following the rules as you too are in a hurry. You could just allow grace. Either way, this positive outlook doesn’t mean you like the fact that they cut in front of you, but it changes your mood because it includes empathy and doesn’t simply assume the negative.
Why is this important? Because mood is influenced by thought and can make a difference in your attitude for the day. Yes, you may have to confront some of these issues, but you can do so with compassion and care. For example, you can say to your mother-in-law, “I am going to assume you said I spoil my children because you care about all of us. Thank you for your concern. We are doing our best.” Then drop it or have a calm discussion about her concerns.
I am not saying it is easy to keep a positive outlook. I am the first to admit this takes practice and renewing your mind. Our first response tendency, most often, is to go negative. But staying positive and optimistic with people will change your mood and disposition for the day. And sometimes you disarm people by your kindness and empathy. And that is a win win.