"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" cried Chicken Little. If you are unfamiliar or don't remember the story of Chicken Little, we invite you to watch one of the versions of this classic tale produced in 1943—another challenging time in our Nation's history—by Walt Disney (click here). As you will see, there are many lessons to be learned from Chicken Little's plight that can be applied to what is happening today!
Yes, make no mistake about it: we live in difficult, uncertain, and confusing times. On the economic front, the mortgage meltdown, credit crisis, and draconian job losses are all part of a vicious cycle that appears to know no end. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Recession." But let's not be like Chicken Little and add more fear-mongering fuel to the existing fire of existential angst. That's not going to solve anything. Besides weakening the efforts to revive the economy (to say nothing about how fear-mongering plays havoc on our foreign affairs), cries of "the sky is falling" may do worse; they may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy!
In life's most difficult situations, it is our capacity to cope and our personal resiliency that that are put to the ultimate test. It is then that the "freedom to choose our attitude" takes center stage (see our YouTube video clip on this topic). The responsibility for choosing our attitude, of course, lies solely and soundly with each one of us. No matter how much we may want to do so, it cannot be transferred to someone else. We have made this claim over the years not only to individuals facing personal challenges, but also to various corporate and government clients, especially in cases where workers, including executives and managers, seem intent on "bitching and moaning" about their working conditions but don't appear willing to do anything about them.
We're reminded of the Far Side cartoon that shows people mingling at a "Part of the Problem" Convention because it illustrates to an absurd level how limited and negative our thinking can become. We celebrate our freedom to choose our attitude at work only when we decide to move from being a part of the problem to becoming a part of the solution. And in our personal lives, too, it doesn't work to wait for solutions magically to arrive; we have to be a part of the solution. NBA coach Phil Jackson, in his book, Sacred Hoops, cautions us to remember that the best way to realize your dreams is to wake up! In other words, being part of any solution also means taking action.
When we choose our attitude in light of what we call true optimism, we actually make three choices: (1) we choose a positive attitude about the situation at hand; (2) we choose an attitude that supports a form of creative visualization about what's possible; and (3) we choose an attitude that generates passion for the action that makes the possible become a reality. In other words, being a "true optimist" requires more than just positive thinking. Positive affirmations, like good intentions, aren't enough; we need to be able to visualize the possibilities that may result from our choice of attitude, and be able to feel the emotion or passion behind our choice of attitude that will help us actualize or realize such possibilities.
We each have the ultimate freedom to make these choices, but it is amazing how frequently we don't. We either "choose" to abstain from taking full responsibility for what should be our conscious choices or "choose," albeit unconsciously, to remain frozen in thought patterns that may no longer serve our highest good. In short, we become prisoners of our thoughts.
Man is not free from conditions. But he is free to take a stand in regard to them. The conditions do not completely condition him. Within limits it is up to him whether or not he succumbs and surrenders to the conditions. He may as well rise above them and by so doing open up and enter the human dimension...Ultimately, man is not subject to the conditions that confront him; rather, these conditions are subject to his decision. Wittingly or unwittingly, he decides whether he will face up or give in, whether or not he will let himself be determined by the conditions.—Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D.
In our work and personal experience, we have encountered clients, co-workers, friends, and family members who are stuck in old habits of self-imprisonment (and, of course, we've "been there, done that" as well!). They display the power of negative thinking about a given work or life situation, assuring that they could never visualize a better tomorrow. Or they are steeped in so much fear of the unknown (again, remember Chicken Little!) that they have essentially immobilized themselves, effectively avoiding any kind of risk, or have reacted in ways that essentially "work against themselves." The ultimate freedom to choose their attitude and a positive future, no matter how desperate they may be, seems as foreign to them as a life in which they could feel truly fulfilled and happy.
So how about you? Even if you believe that the "sky is falling," what are you going to do about it? Are you willing and committed to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem? Are you ready to face up to the conditions that are trying to get you to surrender? Are you a "true optimist?"
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are co-authors of Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).