Often I am asked for the secret to success, and my answer is always one word: perspective.
No matter what you’re trying to do, you are most apt to succeed if you go at it with the right state of mind. Even if you have every resource imaginable at your disposal, you will likely fall short of what you want if your attitude is negative. And if you lack resources but are armed with optimism, you can pull off the impossible. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”
Though “a can-do mindset is all it takes” is a pretty simple concept, it’s also hard work. For me, last week was a perfect example of how easily your empowering outlook can lose its potency.
Here’s what happened and how I got my perspective back on track:
I’m incredibly grateful for a husband with whom I have so much in common, but one trait I wish we didn’t share is a complete lack of home improvement sense. Between the two of us, we can barely hang a picture or keep our yard looking presentable. Usually we’re fine with our mutual domestic ineptness because, though our house is pretty unimpressive, the atmosphere inside is always buzzing with happiness.
The other day, though, when we invited a seasoned realtor to assess our house for curb appeal (because we hope to move to a smaller house that’s easier to manage), it was a different story.
Our realtor knows his stuff, so he wasted no time with placating compliments (Lovely perennials! That window trim color really pops!) and got right to the point of his visit. To attract a buyer, we must: mulch the gardens, power-wash the siding, vacuum the pool, whack the weeds, pave the driveway, shape the shrubs, trim the trees, oh, and, by the way, repaint that funky window trim with basic white.
Even though I didn’t want sugar-coating from our realtor, his perfunctory emphasis on what’s wrong with our property stung a bit. I suddenly felt like the bane of the neighborhood. Never mind the usually bolstering fact that Mike and I are perfectly content in our imperfect abode; the appearance of our house suddenly took on greater importance than our marital harmony and my life seemed lacking.
After a few days of dwelling on what’s wrong with our dwelling, I realized that I was sapping my energy unduly with a glass half-full attitude. To regroup my reserves, I had to do what every true optimist does: face the problems and get on with galvanizing strengths to apply solutions. In this case, that meant accepting that several home enhancements are in order, then working with Mike to do what we do best together: strategize a plan of action, divvy up the tasks we’re capable of completing on our own, and delegate the rest to experts.
Just as I was getting excited about creating curb appeal, my perspective took another hit.
Running is my favorite form of exercise, and four miles is my standard distance three or four times a week. So I was surprised when I attempted to run 3.6 miles around Back Cove in Portland last week and was too winded to finish. I started off assured as usual that the run would clear my head and leave me standing taller and prouder, but I just couldn’t get into my natural meditative clip.
The popular trail was teeming with faster and fitter runners who kept flying by me, leaving me literally in the dust and reflexively speeding up – and out of my preferred zone. Hoping to regain my initial momentum, I kept looking across the wide blue cove for reassurance that the end was near, only to become daunted by the sight of 3.6 miles stretched out before me in one gigantic circle. Eventually I hit the proverbial runner’s wall, gave in, and walked the last-quarter mile.
As I considered why I hadn’t been able to do less than my typical run that day, it was clear that my physical condition was not the issue. The problem was a context that threw my perspective out of joint.
My usual running locale is a mile-long loop around a condo development near my home. I rarely see other runners, only occasional slow walkers with their dogs, so it’s easy to stay focused on my own performance and comfortable with my own pace. And because the loop is filled in with trees and condos, I can’t get overwhelmed by seeing the full mile spread out in front of me.
I lost my stride on Back Cove because my perspective, positive as it was, wasn’t right for the situation and led to two confidence-busting mistakes. First, I compared myself to other runners and began to question my natural rhythm and push myself too hard. Then I took in the whole run all at once, instead of breaking it up in to small, doable sections, and became irrationally stressed out by the scope. I plan to be more diligent about honoring my own style and restricting my gaze to my immediate path next time, and my guess is, because my revised outlook factors in what I now know to expect, I’ll be better able to stay the course.
What I am reminded of this week, and any time I am challenged to renovate my perspective, is that positivity is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Having a “can do” attitude only works if my strategy is customized to the situation. Like with houses and exercise programs and a lot of other things in life, tweaking is required to keep a positive perspective in shape.