You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Battle the Negative

Every day I wake up and I say, 'Something good is going to happen today.' You can have a lot of frustrations happen to you during the day, but you've got to take something good back with you before you go to bed. That's always been my philosophy. You can't tell me something good didn't happen today. It might be the smallest of things: Your phone didn't ring off the hook, your daughter gave you a hug before she went out, you watched a movie with no commercials-it can be anything, but find something good, something positive to think about before you go to sleep.

Finding the positive isn't always that easy. A friend of mine had a streak of what most of us would call really bad luck. Her daughter, who was a promising dancer, broke her ankle in three places, and her career was threatened. And just after her insurance company told her it wouldn't cover the surgery because she wanted to use a certain specialist, the right front axle on her car broke-right in the middle of traffic-while her daughter, who had just gotten her license, was driving to see a ballet in downtown Pittsburgh.

Just as she was getting ready to say, 'I can't catch a break,' I stopped her and said, 'You know, look at it this way: You're actually very lucky.'

'Lucky?' she asked. 'What are you talking about? My daughter is hurt, the insurance isn't going to pay, and my car just broke down.'

'Well,' I said, 'that's one way to look at it. I choose to look at it like this. Your daughter was hurt, yes, but you got her the right care quickly. The insurance won't cover the surgeon you're going to use, but you told me he waived his fee because he wants to help her, and so she'll end up getting the best anyway. And as for the car, thank God it happened while she was at a stoplight. A few minutes more and she would have been on the highway, and I cringe to think about what happens when an axle breaks at 65 miles per hour.'

She knew I was right, but she didn't know how to find the positive in such a streak of seemingly negative events. There is always a positive to find, but sometimes you've got to search for it.

During our 2003 season, it was a tough search, trust me. We went into the season with such high expectations and hopes, and then, wham, in our third preseason game, our quarterback, Chad Pennington, broke his hand and we lost six games. Six games. Holding everybody together was the toughest thing I've had to do as a coach. I also think it was my best coaching job so far. I had to keep giving my guys hope. You have to create hope for people because when you deny a person hope, when a person thinks in her mind that there is no hope, she gives up. I've seen it.

I had to create hope and find something positive about our season, and it wasn't easy. We got to the Monday night game against Tennessee, and I said, 'Hey, guys, they set this schedule last year. They anticipated us being one of the premier teams this season because of what you've done the last two years. This is your Monday night game, this is your deal.' We'd had some bad things happen, but those games were gone and they didn't have to transfer to this game. I said, 'We've got to come out and play like we're the team they anticipated us being, the team making a playoff run, and by the way, we still are. Anything can happen.'

I convinced them that they needed to be the team winning that game on national TV to show people who we are. We had to get people to say, 'You know, they've had some tough games. It's been hard for them, but you know what, watch them play.'

I spent all week creating that hope for everybody. Our guys were so fired up. I told one reporter on Friday, 'We're going to win this game.' Guess what? We did.

I believe in the power of positive thinking. If someone asks me if the glass is half full or half empty, I say it doesn't matter; it's still the same amount of water. But I'd choose the half-full line every time. Negative thinking drains the soul; it makes us weak. I will always see the good in whatever situation I'm facing or whatever problem presents itself. Negative thinking breeds negative results.

A guy I know didn't understand this. He was miserable in his own life, and he was intent on bringing misery to those around him, whether he realized it or not. Every day was a down day. And this was a guy who seemingly had it all. He had money, a nice house, a good job, and a daughter who was a great kid. But he could never find the positive in his own life or, especially, in his daughter's. He berated her constantly, whether it was about her schoolwork, her relationships with friends or, above all, her play on the soccer field. He yelled and screamed during the games and then repeated himself in the car on the way home. He didn't understand that he would have gotten much further with his daughter by finding things to praise and encouraging her to keep working hard. He could not see the positive through the fog his brain had created with negative energy. Eventually, she got fed up and stopped seeing him. It is a sad situation that remains unresolved.

Something that has always stayed with me is a column that Anna Quindlen wrote for Newsday about a homeless guy who spent most of his time on the boardwalk at Coney Island even in the dead of winter, wrapping himself in newspapers to stay warm. Here was a guy who had no money, no home, no food on a daily basis, no family around, and she asked him why he stayed out on that cold boardwalk. He answered, 'Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.' If that guy can find something positive in his situation, I know I can find something positive in mine.

You can always choose the way you look at something. Find the good.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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