I’ve lost track of the number of people who have said that for the new year, they’re going to work on positive thinking, a positive attitude, a new outlook on life. They’re going to be less angry at their families, at work, at school, at life, and they’re going to be better people for it.

Podcasters Across Borders 2009

If they haven’t already, I would wager you the adult beverage of your choice that they’re on the brink of completely failing at that resolution, about to plunge back into the abyss of their usual outlook on the world. Here’s why: your outlook, your temperament, is as much a product of your environment as it is what’s going on inside your head. You can only willfully deny the reality around you for so long. You can only suppress your emotions and affix a fake smile to your face for so long before your head explodes.

So if your goal is a happier you and pretending you’re happier isn’t working, what are you to do? How do you achieve that noble goal in less than noble circumstances or with less than noble reactions to the things around you?

Let me share with you four questions that can legitimately help you become happier, richer, more successful, and more powerful. If you use any one of these or all of them in a situation which is generating the opposite of the result you seek, you’ll find a path away from unhappiness towards happiness. You’ll feel immensely better because you will be honestly acknowledging that things didn’t go right, but with an eye towards changing what needs to be changed.

1. What can I learn from this? This powerful question takes a flaming failure and forces you to step away from the immediate reaction to look down the road. What lessons will your current situation give that can help you prevent or mitigate similar in the future?

2. How can I use this to my advantage? A knife in the right hands can prepare a luxurious dinner. A knife in the wrong hands can murder. Look at the situation, object, or person you’re dealing with as part of the big picture. What attributes or characteristics do they have that formerly provoked you that you can instead skillfully manipulate to serve your needs?

3. What resources am I not bringing to the table? Sometimes a tool isn’t being misused so much as it’s not being used at all. Sometimes a situation isn’t being malevolently disrupted as it is simply without a captain at the wheel. What untapped potential is there around your situation that you haven’t brought into the battle? Which key players aren’t at the table? Who doesn’t have direction that, if you provided even a little prompting, could suddenly bring tremendous influence or resources in the direction that you need to go?

4. What clues preceded this? This powerful question takes you out of the present moment and makes you step backwards into the past to look for clues about what happened. If you can be a detective and find the patterns and precursors that led to the current situation, you can know the warning signs in the future that will avert yet to happen problems. One of my martial teachers, Ken Savage of the Winchendon Martial Arts Center, often tells us that if a part of a technique isn’t working, look at the preceding step for the mistake we’ve made there. Do likewise.

Instead of simply pretending that something unpleasant didn’t happen or wishing away a problem, use these four questions to start immediately rebuilding your momentum towards the results you want. Ask the questions of yourself and demand answers! You’ll get out of the funk you’re in faster and you won’t feel like you’re just pretending that life is better.


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