During tough times, one of the toughest things to do is to stay focused upon the few things that you can control, while refusing to be distracted by the many things you can’t.  In my experience, I’ve found only three things that I can consistently control –my thoughts, my attitude and my effort.  Let me hasten to add that I also consistently fail at my efforts to control these things.  Nonetheless, it remains within my power to do so.  So, I thought it might be helpful to examine what practical steps we can take towards controlling the few controllable elements of our lives.

Controlling Your Thoughts

Earl Nightingale, father of modern motivational thought, said, “you become what you think about”.  Within our industry,  George Fuechsel, an IBM 305 RAMAC technician/instructor in New York, is credited with coining the well-known phrase, “garbage in, garbage out”.  Zig Ziglar made a career out of warning us against the hazards of “stinkin’ thinkin’”.  The point is clear –whatever we allow into our minds and choose to dwell upon will profoundly impact our behavior, for better or worse.

So, if we feed our minds a steady diet of doom and gloom, we inevitably become gloomy ourselves.  In fact, experts agree that the current recession is more due to consumer psychology than to economic reality.  Americans are understandably afraid to spend their hard-earned dollars and are consequently exacerbating our economic problems.  We would all benefit from these words of ancient wisdom:

Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own “. (Matthew 6:34).

Many studies have proven that the vast majority of things that we worry about never come to pass.  So, if you want to play with winning odds every time out, then simply choose to focus upon the present versus borrowing trouble from the future.  Easier said than done, but perhaps these tips will help:

  • Start your day with some quiet time devoted to positive readings, meditations, prayer and journaling. I have jump-started such times with the daily devotional Our Daily Bread for over thirty years and it has helped me immeasurably.
  • Limit the amount of negative input that you take in from newspapers, news shows, talk radio, RSS feeds, etc. It only takes a few minutes to get the highlights of local and national news to stay informed.
  • View every element of your life from a “glass half full” perspective.   Instead of complaining about the winter cold, be grateful for central heat.

Controlling Your Attitude

I’ve never forgotten the theme of a seminar I attended as a young college life insurance agent –your attitude is your altitude.  In other words, the altitude you attain will be determined by the attitude you maintain.  Truer words were never spoken.  And, it all starts with an attitude of gratitude.

Ungratefulness is not only unbecoming, but it is undermining to all forms of positive progress.  The spirit of ungratefulness stealth fully slithers into our lives, robbing us of joy and sapping the very strength we need to press on.  Slowly but surely, we begin to dwell upon what we don’t have instead of the countless blessings we do.

As you can see, our attitudes and thoughts are inextricably linked.  When you think about it (pun intended), attitude is simply the outward expression of your inner thoughts.  So, if you’re guilty of stinkin’ thinkin’, your attitude will follow suit –it will stink too.  Here are some practical tips for maintaining positive control of your attitude:

  • Eliminate negative words/phrases from your vocabulary. If you need some help in this area, strike a deal with your colleagues by agreeing to pay a small fine every time you use one of the prohibited words or phrases.
  • Look for opportunities to encourage others who might be having a bad day or have slipped into stinkin’ thinkin’ mode. A positive attitude is prerequisite to being an encourager.
  • Adopt and meditate upon positive mantras (I use Bible verses), then verbalize them when faced with circumstances that could lead to a negative attitude.

Controlling Your Effort

We’re all familiar with the saying, “don’t confuse effort with results”.  What is less familiar is what I believe to be the more accurate interpretation of this saying.  The author’s intent was to suggest that effort really doesn’t matter –only results count.  However, I believe it is far more helpful to focus upon making the best possible effort (something we can control) versus obsessing upon results (something usually out of our control).  Yes, I know this would be heresy within many businesses, but it’s true nonetheless.

It is particularly important to focus upon effort during tough times.  In fact, tough times could be defined as those times during which it takes more effort to yield a desired result.  So, there’s no avoiding the fact that the first step towards getting through tough times is to simply work harder –more hours, more effort.  The proverbial “all you can do is all you can do” wisdom only holds true if you are truly doing all you can do.

A fool is said to be someone who continues doing the same things while expecting different results.  It’s not enough to simply work harder during tough times.  You must also work smarter.  Look for low yielding activities and STOP doing them.  One of the worst things you can do is re-double your efforts on non-productive activities.  Be ruthless in culling out such tasks on your To Do list.  If you don’t, your work-life balance will suffer unduly.

So what about work-life balance during tough times?  Just because you need to work longer and harder during tough times doesn’t mean that work-life balance is impossible to maintain.  There will be bursts during which you will be out of balance, such as when in pursuit of a rare lucrative contract or when coming up on a critical delivery deadline.  Be grateful for such opportunities and do all that you can to fully capitalize upon them.  Between these bursts, you’ll be able to restore work-life balance, albeit with a harder/smarter approach to every work day.

Here are some practical tips for controlling your effort during tough times:

  • Work at least an extra hour every day, but avoid becoming a clock watcher
  • Set achievable daily goals and stay on task until completed
  • Identify and stop doing at least three non-productive activities
  • Embrace the opportunity bursts as the blessings they truly are
  • Do your best and leave the results to God

These are indeed tough times.  On that, we all agree.  I hope you’ll also agree that the above tips could do much to help us through them.  Why not give ‘em a try and let me know how it goes?    And then, as Zig says, “I’ll see you at the top”.