I believe most of our success in life can be traced back to our attitude.

We all have varying degrees of control over our lives, based on our power and position, but none of us has complete control of all external factors. We do have complete control over our thoughts, however, and we therefore control our reactions to external factors. Knowing this will help make it a reality.

As Dale Carnegie puts it,

Yes, if we think happy thoughts, we will be happy. If we think miserable thoughts, we will be miserable. If we think fear thoughts, we will be fearful. If we think sickly thoughts, we will probably be ill. If we think failure, we will certainly fail. If we wallow in self-pity, everyone will want to shun us and avoid us. “You are not,” said Norman Vincent Peale, “you are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are.”

Am I advocating an habitual Pollyanna attitude toward all our problems? No, unfortunately, life isn’t so simple as all that. But I am advocating that we assume a positive attitude instead of a negative attitude. In other words, we need to be concerned about our problems, but not worried. What is the difference between concern and worry? Let me illustrate. Every time I cross the traffic-jammed streets of New York, I am concerned about what I am doing—but not worried. Concern means realizing what the problems are and calmly taking steps to meet them. Worrying means going around in maddening, futile circles.1

See the distinction? His concern about New York traffic is mitigated by his own corrective actions (looking both ways before crossing the street, avoiding particularly terrible intersections, and whatever else). Previous posts have provided techniques for mitigating worry. Turn worry into action.

Carnegie continues,

A man2 can be concerned about his serious problems and still walk with his chin up and a carnation in his buttonhole. I have seen Lowell Thomas do just that. I once had the privilege of being associated with Lowell Thomas in presenting his famous films on the Allenby-Lawrence campaigns in World War I. He and his assistants had photographed the war on half a dozen fronts; and, best of all, had brought back a pictorial record of T. E. Lawrence and his colorful Arabian army, and a film record of Allenby’s conquest of the Holy Land. His illustrated talks entitled “With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia” were a sensation in London—and around the world. The London opera season was postponed for six weeks so that he could continue telling his tale of high adventure and showing his pictures at Covent Garden Royal Opera House. After his sensational success in London came a triumphant tour of many countries. Then he spent two years preparing a film record of life in India and Afghanistan. After a lot of incredibly bad luck, the impossible happened: he found himself broke in London. I was with him at the time. I remember we had to eat cheap meals at the Lyons’ Corner House restaurants. We couldn’t have eaten even there if Mr. Thomas had not borrowed money from a Scotsman—James McBey, the renowned artist. Here is the point of the story: even when Lowell Thomas was facing huge debts and severe disappointments, he was concerned, but not worried. He knew that if he let his reverses get him down, he would be worthless to everyone, including his creditors. So each morning before he started out, he bought a flower, put it in his buttonhole, and went swinging down Oxford Street with his head high and his step spirited. He thought positive, courageous thoughts and refused to let defeat defeat him. To him, being licked was all a part of the game—the useful training you had to expect if you wanted to get to the top.3

Bad circumstances are made worse when they are a surprise, so expect downturns in your luck, and mitigate what’s in your control. When you are pursuing success, things are bound to break against you at some point.4 Expect this, and use it as an opportunity to forge self-discipline.

Thinking happy thoughts is not always easy, but you must do it anyway. This is made all the more so if you are a leader at home or work. In my own life as the commanding officer of a fighter squadron, my mood is contagious. I have seen this in action, so I refuse to accept a bad mood at work.

In order to pull this off, I find or fake a good mood whenever I step out of my office.5 Ninety-nine times out of hundred I am in a genuine good mood by the time I return to my office. What about that one-in-a-hundred time? I suck it up, find some self-discipline, and keep faking a good mood. I’m in charge, so it’s not about me.

Think happy thoughts. When you can’t find happy thoughts, manufacture them. When you can’t manufacture them, toughen up and try again.

This post is one part in a series on worry. Feel free to dip in anywhere or start at the beginning.

  1. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, pp. 113-4. ↩︎

  2. …or woman! Damn it, Dale! ↩︎

  3. Carnegie, p. 114. ↩︎

  4. If life is easy, you are not trying enough new things. ↩︎

  5. Another part of being a leader is getting out of your office. As an introvert, this is something else I have to work at. ↩︎