I’m all for seeing half-full glasses (or, heck, fuller than half). I’ve even written about the value in the Zen teaching that the glass is already broken.
I talk in my book, The Best Advice So Far, about becoming a pro at finding the silver linings in every situation.
But I wonder, no matter how well meaning, if all the analogies to glasses and clouds have become so common by overuse as to have lost their power to actually change our perspective in real ways anymore. Today I want to take a stab at saying some true things in a way I hope might bring them back to the forefront and motivate us to put them to good use again.
Last week, I met someone through a mutual connection on Twitter, and we got to talking. He was unusually open and honest, considering that we had just met and not in person. A ways into our chat, this new friend (I’ll call him “Chase” for the sake of this discussion) listed for me three things that he’d been struggling to overcome in order to really get anywhere in life.
These obstacles had become so ingrained as part of Chase’s identity that he’d even started a blog, the name of which incorporated one of these set-backs. I know that’s vague so let me give a “for instance.” Let’s say one of Chase’s self-identified handicaps was that he thought he smelled like Funyuns and so had named his site “www.ISmellLikeFunyuns.com.”
As far as I’m aware, Chase has no particular hang-up associated with smelling like edibles of dubious composition masquerading as onion rings. Here were the actual things he shared with me:
1. College dropout for financial reasons
2. Facing a job ending while growing into new field
3. Struggle between financial growth and financial instability
Chase also told me that no one in his family had ever graduated from college and that the expectation was pretty clear to get a secure factory job, keep your nose to the grindstone, and just accept that that’s life.
Now, I have the utmost respect for people who choose to work hard at manual labor jobs, pay their bills, and make the most of it. But this is by no means a predetermined path. I said as much to Chase.
More importantly, I wanted to offer him some thoughts on “seeing the glass as half full” or “finding the silver lining.” But I knew I might not have another chance like this, given the nature of some social media connections; and I didn’t want him to miss the truth and power behind what I was saying, glossing over those old stand-bys as merely well-meaning platitudes.
What I decided to say instead was this: “Do you mind if I try reframing your three obstacles using different words?” Chase invited me to do so. Here’s how I chose to present the three things he’d listed previously as barriers to his success:
1. “I am a committed life learner who does not rely on a classroom to motivate me.”
2. “I have been given a catalyst to choose from endless possibilities for my life, and to succeed at doing something I am passionate about.”
3. “I have a real and present opportunity to discover what is really important to me, and to learn to be happy with simplicity.”
Compare those, one by one, with the list Chase originally sent me – the list that he’d been allowing to color his view for so long.
There’s nothing deceptive, far-fetched or unfounded about my reworks. It’s not “motivational speaker mumbo-jumbo.” Based on my conversation with Chase, each of these statements was 100% true. He had just gotten accustomed to labeling them as hurdles instead of the potential opportunities they were.
Chase responded: “Thank you so much! I never had anyone rephrase my life story that way!” It made me wonder: how would our lives look if we committed to reframing each of our negatives as positives?
Circumstances wouldn’t change immediately. But we would begin to change, from the inside – as “failures” became motivators, as we focused more and more on the light than on the shadows.
Interested? Let’s start small.
Write down one thing in your life that you’ve been phrasing to yourself as a negative lately. Don’t write about it, just write it down as one concise statement. Then, beneath it, reframe it in a new light. Is there an upside, an opportunity waiting there? If you have trouble, take a risk and ask a trusted and positive friend to help you rework it.
With commitment and practice, we can each become better at choosing new words with which to write our life stories.
Words that lead to thoughts.
Thoughts that direct choices.
Choices … that lead to change.