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Published on February 22, 2021

How To Focus on the Good Things In Life (When Times Are Tough)

How To Focus on the Good Things In Life (When Times Are Tough)

Scott Peck’s first sentence in his book, The Road Less Traveled, is, “Life is difficult.” He then goes on to say that if you accept this, you are going to be okay. There is a lot of adversity in life, and none of us are exempt. That’s why we need to focus on the good things in life for us to move forward.

Here are 4 ways you can focus on the good things in life, especially during tough times.

1. “Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do”

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

The above quote is the title of Dr. Robert Schuller’s outstanding book. The title tells you all you need to know about the book.

We have been through a tough 2020, and 2021 could very well be just as tough. The hope is that vaccines and proper protocols will get us through these difficult times. Americans in the 20th century suffered through two World Wars and the devastating Great Depression. To get through these times, they had to be tough—and they were. Now, it is our turn to show our toughness.

I can think of three examples where people showed their toughness in recent years.

The first has to do with the Catholic Church and the awful pedophilia scandal. I believe it was one of the worst times in the history of the Church. What happened to the children was unconscionable. Another side of the issue was the clergy who were falsely accused. Two of them in the Chicago area knew they were innocent and showed their toughness in different ways.

The first got through it with prayer—praying especially for his accuser. Prayer can be a great way to get through tough times. The second was able to retain his optimism. He said he kept repeating a sentence from John and Bobby Kennedy’s mother, Rose: “After the storm, the birds always sing.”

Both men were exonerated after a most difficult and humiliating time. Their accusers ultimately admitted they had lied.

Another way of getting through times is by calling on the best of people. Winston Churchill, during the worst bombing of London in World War II, told the British people, “Never, never give in!” The British people did just that.

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Another way of getting through times is through determination and work. We were looking to build a gymnasium at Providence High School when I worked there. We drafted a paper giving the rationale as to why we needed the gym and presented it to people of means in our community.

The vote was 16-0 that we should not try to build during such tough economic times. Providence has a gym today because of the work ethic and the determination of one man—Father (then Bishop) Roger Kaffer.

Finally, teams go through tough times in athletics. We started one season 3-6. We decided to go back to the fundamentals. We finished 9-2 and played for the conference championship because we returned to the fundamentals. All organizations can return to their core values during tough times.

Prayer, optimism, calling on our best selves, determination, work, and our core values can get us through tough times.

2. Keep a Good Thought

“Keep a good thought” is an Irish maxim encouraging people to stay positive. We can find the good through tough times by our thinking.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy. It’s what you think about.”

I enjoyed the basketball coach who had an interesting take on thinking. He asked the referee if he could give him a technical foul for what he was thinking. The ref said of course not; the coach then responded, “I think you stink!”

Willie Nelson, in one of his many songs, stressed to be careful of negative thinking. Paraphrasing, the refrain was, “Think of the good times because the bad times weigh like lead on your mind.”

Our students at the University of St. Francis would annually go to Bolivia to help the people build and repair homes. When I asked them what they learned from the trip, they said two things—they could not believe the poverty the people lived in nor could they believe the positive attitude with which the people lived. Their kindness, humor, and compassion were incredible. Somehow, they consistently kept a good thought, despite their tough circumstances.

Mother Teresa summed up keeping a good thought when she wrote, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

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You can focus on the good things in life when you are determined to “Keep a Good Thought” through hardships.

3. Be in the Moment

We focus on the good things when we are happy. Roy T. Bennett wrote, “If you want to be happy do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.”

Two emotions that can deprive us of our happiness are guilt and worry. Jeffrey Nevid called them the “useless emotions.”

Guilt refers to the past. We can elect to carry guilt for something we did in the past. That is our prerogative, but the bottom line is we cannot change it. It’s over! What we can do, however, is learn from it, then move on. Learning from it is the easy part; moving on, the only realistic thing to do, admittedly is the hard part.

Mark Twain had a great insight into guilt’s partner, worry, when he wrote, “I have lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which happened.”

Too often, we worry about things that never materialize. If guilt and worry are tied to our past and future and if they are “useless emotions,” then the only alternative is to live in the present.

In my first 25 years of coaching basketball at the University of St. Francis, we had no bus to take us to road games. We, the coaches, drove the vans. There were 21 NAIA teams in Illinois and only 6 made the playoffs. We finally had the chance to be one of the 6 but we had to win one more game. The team we played was about 5 hours away. We were down 12 with 4 minutes to go in the game. We rallied to make 2 free throws with 2 seconds left to go and we were up by 1 point.

They inbounded the ball to our free-throw line, some 79 feet away from their basket. Their player threw a “Hail Mary” ball toward their basket—it went right in and knocked us out of the playoffs! I had the option of dwelling on that incredulous ending and living in the past or living in the present and driving our players back to campus safely! Fortunately, we made it home.

We can focus on the good by making ourselves happy. Many people have validated that we can make ourselves happy.

Aristotle kept it simple, “Happiness depends on ourselves.”

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The Dalai Lama wrote, “Happiness is not something that is readymade. It comes from your own actions.”

The actress Aubrey Hepburn had this insight, “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters.”

Mahatma Gandhi saw it this way, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

When we will ourselves into a state of happiness by staying in the present moment, we can focus on the good things in life.

4. Help Others

Mark Twain wrote, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up.”

A former high school classmate, Pat Warren, was constantly cheering up our friends when they were experiencing tough times. I would hear about the person suffering and tell myself I must get to see him. Inevitably, by the time I finally got to see him, Pat had already been there. He constantly focused on the good things he could do for others, especially during their difficult times.

Joe Madden, the former Chicago Cubs manager, used to tell his players, “Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” I saw one of his players execute the pleasure.

One of my grandchildren was playing in a Little League game on Chicago’s north side. He was playing on one field and there was another game on an adjacent field. When I looked to the other field, the game had stopped and all the players and fans had surrounded someone.

Ben Zobrist lived near the park where the kids were playing. He had been the Most Valuable Player of the previous year’s World Series. So, there was a lot of pressure on him to perform well this next year, but he did not let the pressure exceed his giving pleasure.

The Cubs had a game that day and he lived close enough to Wrigley Field, their home park, so he would often ride his bike to games in his uniform. However, before riding to his game this day, he rode over to the park where we were.

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The players and the adults were excited to see and meet the 2016 World Series MVP. He stayed in the park until he signed every autograph for every person on both fields! It was an act of random kindness as he gave the kids great pleasure. He focused on the good despite the pressure he was about to face in his game.

Numerous pundits have great insights into the many facets of helping others.

Catherine Pulsifer said, “People appreciate and never forget that helping hand, especially when times are tough.”

Martin Luther King wrote, ”Somewhere along the way, we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others.”

Charles Dickens spoke about the two kinds of people who help. “There were two kinds of charitable people: one, the people who did little and made a great deal of noise; the other the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.”

Finally, Jim Rohn wrote about the relationship between giving and receiving, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.”

Helping others, especially during tough times, enables you to focus on the good things in life.

Final Thoughts

We can focus on the good things in life during difficult times in four ways:

  • By being tough and not fearing the tough times
  • By keeping a good thought
  • By staying in the moment
  • By being there for others

Remember that tough times are inevitable, but they will also inevitably end. The key is to focus on the good, and you’ll get there eventually.

More Tips on How to Focus on the Good

Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

More by this author

Pat Sullivan

Pat Sullivan is a speaker and the author of two books "Attitude-The Cornerstone of Leadership" and "Team-Building: From the Bench to the Boardroom"

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Published on April 15, 2021

How To Be an Optimistic Person When the Odds Are Against You

How To Be an Optimistic Person When the Odds Are Against You

When life gets tough and you are facing big obstacles, it is so hard to be an optimistic person. As we try to deal with these challenges, our feelings tend to be consumed by fear, frustration, and disillusionment. Inertia and indecisiveness overwhelm us, and being optimistic is the last thing we feel like being.

“I think I am going to have to supercharge my optimism to arm myself for the battle ahead.”—Rebecca Bloom

Why Is It Important to Be an Optimist?

Being optimistic is one of the best ways in which you can deal with the hard knocks in life. Having an optimistic outlook on life also has amazing health benefits as well.

Scientific research shows us that staying in a place where we feel fearful and disillusioned—where we have no energy and no hope—is not good for our overall wellbeing.

“Optimism helps people cope with disease[s] and recover from surgery. Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity. Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.”[1]

Your Power of Choice Is Key to Living an Optimistic Life

Although you may not be born a natural optimist, using your power of choice wisely can help you develop an optimistic attitude that will enable you to defy any odds that are against you. You are the only person who has control over whether you want to be optimistic or not! As the Dalai Lama has said, “choose to be optimistic it feels better!”

I love this quote from Neale Donald Walsch as he explains very clearly how the power of choice can be used by you to get the results you want:

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“Therefore, be honest with yourself as to why you are choosing to do a particular thing. Then, do it gladly, knowing that you are always getting to do what you want. The statement “I have no choice” is a lie. You can choose. You simply do not prefer the alternatives available to you, for whatever reason. So you select the outcome that you most prefer.”—Neale Donald Walsch

Being an optimist opens you up to exploring new ideas, new experiences, and new possibilities. It frees you up to consider new options for how you can live your life for the better. It helps you look to the future with hope and positivity.

What Is Optimism?

The definition of optimism, according to Elizabeth Scott MS, is that it is “a mental attitude characterized by hope and confidence in success and a positive future. Optimists are those who expect good things to happen, where pessimists instead predict unfavorable outcomes.”[2]

However, being an optimist does not necessarily mean that you will be able to successfully deal with the challenges of life. Having a positive mindset along with an optimistic outlook enhances your chances to defy the odds and challenges you face in life.

What Is Positive Mindset?

The Oxford dictionary definition of optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something” while positivity is defined as “the practice of being, or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.”

Positive thinking looks for solutions, whereas negative thinking dwells on the problems and obstacles. Positive thinking is an emotional and mental attitude that focuses on the good and expects results that will benefit you. It’s about anticipating happiness, health, and success—essentially, training yourself to adopt an abundance mindset and cultivate gratitude for your own successes and those of others

Optimism and positive thinking go hand in hand. You can’t be an optimist and not have a positive mindset.

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To defy the odds and sustain an optimistic and positive outlook Gabriele Oettingen, a motivation researcher at New York University and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, believes that it is not just about having happy thoughts—but it is actually planning for and anticipating those positive outcomes that get us results.

She describes optimism as having positive expectations about the future based on past experiences and positive thinking as wishful dreaming, which is not a bad thing if applied correctly!

She believes that if we apply optimism (which is a personality trait), we inherit with positive thinking (which is a choice we make) what Oettingen calls “mental contrasting,” which is important for motivation and setting in motion unconscious cognitive processes that are important in goal attainment.[3]

3 Strategies on How to Be an Optimistic Person

Applying these 3 strategies will help you to defy the odds you face in life while still being an optimistic person with a positive mindset.

1. Use the WOOP Model

Gabriele Oettingen combined her ideas with those of fellow researcher Peter Gollwitzer, and they came up with a motivation exercise called WOOP.

Using the WOOP Model, you work on goal attainment by applying these 4 steps:[4]

  1. Wishing for something you’d like to achieve.
  2. Imagining a good outcome.
  3. Examining the obstacles that might get in your way.
  4. Coming up with a plan for overcoming those obstacles.

Research results conducted by Gabriele Oettingen have shown that employing WOOP is more successful than positive thinking alone in helping people to fulfill their desired goals.[5]

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Knowing how to activate your positive and optimistic outlook on life to get the results you want is key to you building your resilience to manage the hard knocks and challenges that life throws at you. Having a positive outlook on life takes work and the WOOP model is a framework that you can use to put your goals into action so that you can start to feel good about achieving the goals you set in life.

2. Cultivate a Positive and Optimistic Mindset

Adopting a positive mindset can help us get through difficult times. However, if we are not careful, we can tend to focus on thinking positive thoughts and banishing all negative ones. This can be exhausting and not a realistic way to deal with life’s challenges

I believe that the combination of a positive mindset and an optimistic view of life that is realistic is the secret weapon to successfully dealing with the obstacles and pitfalls we face in life.

Here are 4 things that you could do now that would enable you to grow and sustain a positive and optimistic mindset:

  1. Once a day, share positive feedback with a minimum of three people—work colleague, partner, children, friend, or anyone that you meet on the day. Making other people feel positive has lasting effects on your own life.
  2. Every morning when you wake up and at night just before you go to bed, praise yourself and reflect on all the positive things that happened to you during the day. Keep a journal and note down at least three positive things that you did today or are grateful for.
  3. Imagine a positive future for you – get a journal, and for seven days, write down all the great things you want to happen—tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year! This is the first step to dreaming big with an optimistic outlook on life!
  4. Consider a serious challenge or obstacle you are facing in your life right now and write down at least five possible positive outcomes. This exercise allows you to look at your challenges with an optimistic and positive mindset.

3. Recognize Negative Thinking

When you are dealing with challenging times and it feels like the odds are against you, it is hard to maintain an optimistic outlook on your life. You can’t push away or bury your negative feelings—what you resist will persist.

The best way to be optimistic despite the challenges you are facing is to acknowledge that bad things happen. Ignoring your reality isn’t helpful. Being realistic about your situation is important to you working out how to best work with the difficult situation you are facing. A healthy and realistic outlook of your life is a great way to accept that all you can do is your best and that you will be okay, regardless of the outcome.

When you are thinking negatively, take a moment to assess how realistic your thoughts are. Reframe your negative thoughts into more realistic statements that can help you maintain an optimistic view of the future and potential solutions.

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Final Thoughts

As an optimist, you believe in hope, opportunities, and a brighter future. Choosing to be an optimist is a choice that comes with surprising benefits. Scientific research has shown that an optimistic and positive view of life allows you to live a healthier and happy life, despite the odds that are against you![6] When you are trying to be optimistic, especially when the odds are against you, having a positive thinking mindset is a secret ingredient to you successfully riding that rollercoaster of life!

Optimism and positive thinking go hand in hand. Positive thinking looks for solutions, whereas negative thinking dwells on the problems and obstacles. There is no doubt that the more optimistic you are about life the happier you will be.

Applying the three strategies above will help you to remain an optimist while successfully navigating your way through the challenges and tough times in your life.

“True hopefulness and optimism are what leads one to dare. It is also what lifts one back up to dare again after a failed attempt.”—Bibi Bourelly

More Tips on Being More Positive

Featured photo credit: Hudson Hintze via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Optimism and your health
[2] VeryWellMind: What Is Optimism?
[3] Positive Psychology: What Is Mental Contrasting and How to Benefit From It?
[4] WOOP: What is WOOP?
[5] Greater Good Magazine: Can Positive Thinking Really Make Dreams Come True?
[6] Harvard Health Publishing: Optimism and your health

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