“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” -William James
Well, here we are in Paris.
On the plane, one of the things I thought about was the fact that, when I travel overseas, I am often less able to solve problems. I attribute that to two things:
1. An increase in my sensitivity to trouble 2. A decrease in my willingness to ask for help
I suppose it’s natural. Foreign environments cast dubious shadows. Problems that would seem ordinary back home (I can’t get my wireless working) feel critical here (the French will never become modernized!).
In past issues of ETR, I’ve admitted that I suffer from that stereotypically male problem of hating to ask strangers for help. Asking in a foreign language – even one I’m modestly fluent in – makes my anxiety much worse.
The combination – timidity and sensitivity – can be debilitating.
Case in point: This afternoon, rushing to meet K at the cathedral at St. Sulpice in Paris, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a Metro ticket from the automatic vending machine. I fumbled, trying this and that. Meanwhile, a line of busy French commuters were fidgeting behind me. Finally, I gave up and left.
I was halfway up the staircase, on my way to getting a taxi, when I stopped and took a deep breath. “What are you worried about?” I thought. “If this happened to you in NYC or Chicago, would you rush out in a panic?”
I instructed my rational mind to think like I would in the States. I told my heart to do what my rational mind said.
When I got back to the machine, there was one person in front of me. Instead of fumbling around again, I asked him, “How do I use this thing?”
He gave me a quick explanation and moved away. It wasn’t enough, but it was something. And the young lady behind me, having heard the exchange, then guided me through the relatively simple process. (I had been misinterpreting a word.)
Stepping on the Metro, I promised myself that in the future, when traveling, I would expect such problems and maintain a better attitude about resolving them.
This is true of all such situations. If you are mentally prepared to deal with them, you will. If you have the wrong attitude, you risk ruining a potentially wonderful experience.
The trick I used to overcome my Metro problem is the same trick you can use to get over virtually every barrier in your life, large or small. The trick has two simple parts, one of which I’ve never acknowledged before.
One part is this: Take action. As Robert Ringer says in his great book, Action! Nothing Happens Until Something Moves
“I am absolutely convinced that neither success nor happiness is possible without action. … Ideas can be precious commodities that can change the world. Sound preparation is invaluable and knowledge and wisdom are essential when it comes to giving one an edge in the pursuit of great achievements. But ideas, preparation, knowledge, and wisdom are all but useless without action because action is the starting point of all progress. In other words, an idea of and by itself has no intrinsic value. It must be accompanied by action. It is action that cuts the umbilical cord and brings an idea out of the womb.”
The other part, the part I haven’t admitted to yet, is this: Change the way you are thinking.
I’ve always resisted the idea that how you think determines the success or failure of a goal, because I find most positive-thinking theories to be stupid and ineffectual. Most of the people I know who focus on getting their heads right are losers who never achieve anything in life. The most successful people I know are doers … achievers.
My argument-in-a-nutshell, to date, has been this: Don’t worry about what is going on in your mind. If you want to accomplish something, just focus on the specific behavior that will get you there. Find out the exact actions that others have taken to achieve a similar objective, and imitate those actions, step by step.
I still believe this approach is essentially sound. But I have to admit, it’s sometimes very difficult to take that first step until you have cleaned out the negative stuff in your head and replaced it with “can-do” thinking.
That’s what I did in the Metro. And, now that I think about it, that’s what I have done a thousand times in business when I knew I had to change my mind about something or lose out on an opportunity.
In a recent posting on his blog, Matt Furey Uncensored Group Name: ETRgoalsetting, Matt had this to say on the subject:
“Whatever you are doing with your words, pictures, and feelings in the present moment – these are YOUR FUTURE. Your future is a result of how you think about your life right now.
“Let me give you a fitness-related example. Suppose you believe you need to work out today – but you’re not looking forward to it. You’re even dreading it a bit. As a result of this, do you think you will be more or less likely to procrastinate on your workout? Do you think you will be more or less likely to have a good workout?
“All right, now change your thought to something like, ‘I love how good I feel when I’m done exercising. Exercise always makes me feel so good. I love to exercise – especially on the days I don’t want to. Those are the days that exercise does me the most good.’
“Now – as you think this thought – imagine seeing yourself working out. And as you imagine that scene, see yourself smiling, relaxed, and happy. Remove any trace of a frown from your face. See yourself laughing and having a good time – internally.
“Okay – now answer the same questions I asked earlier. Do you think you will be more or less likely to procrastinate on your workout? Do you think you will be more or less likely to have a good workout?
“My friend, it all boils down to your ‘want’ muscle. If you WANT to do something, especially if you want to do it because you LOVE doing it – well, look out. NO-thing will stand in your way. NO-thing can stop you. Not even YOU.
“Read your own mind. As impressive as it may appear to be able to pick up on another’s thoughts – your focus should be on your own thoughts MOST of the time. See what you’re thinking and make sure you keep it focused on what truly matters to you.”
So, apologies to all those who have for many years argued with me about the importance of positive thinking. Yes, I admit, it is a very important part of success. It can help you get over your fears, toughen up, and take action.
Unless you take action, nothing else will happen. So if it helps to start by clearing out the bad thoughts and replacing them with good ones, do it. Then – as Matt Furey says – you will be able to kick butt and take names![Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]