Focus On What You Can Do

There are some TV shows out there with a ‘Negative Nelly’ character. If you have seen this kind of character, you know what I’m referring to. When something major goes wrong, he’s the one who reacts with, “Well, that’s just great. We’re all going to die!” Then he sits down and just broods.

He’s Mr. Sarcasm, Sergeant Obvious and Mr. No-Help-at-All, all rolled into one, which makes sense because he’s producing the negativity of three people.

Sometimes he shoots down the suggested plans for salvation. He usually suggests something drastic, risky, and counter intuitive which everyone else shoots down. Sometimes he’s instrumental in coming up with the solution that saves them all, sometimes not.

In any event, he’s the one I most wish I could stun into unconsciousness as soon as he sits down after making his declaration of doom.

No one wants to talk to someone like that. No one wants to work with someone like that. He isolates himself when things go wrong and acts like everything is hopeless when all that has really happened is that the problem has presented itself. If that’s all he’s going to do, I don’t want any part of him.

Sure, there’s a problem. It may even be a life or death problem. So long as there is still life, still oxygen in the ship, still ammunition in the laser gun, still a chance there’s someone left alive to hear the distress call, there’s still time to figure out what to do.

Mr. Negativity focuses on the problem. He focuses on what they don’t have: no way to fix the hull breech, no way to get more oxygen, no guarantee the reactor won’t go critical within the next five minutes. The rest of the characters, the ones who usually find a way to save them all or who get close enough to the right solution that Mr. Negativity can provide the missing piece, are the ones working the problem. They are the ones focusing on what they have left to work with: what can be used to repair the hull breech, even if it’s not designed to do that? What can we do to conserve oxygen? If the reactor goes critical in the next five minutes, we won’t feel a thing, anyway.

Some people stare at the problem. Some people stare at the possible solutions. Some people alternate between the two – that is to say, they focus on the solutions but occasionally the overwhelm hits and they freak out for a few minutes before going back to working on the solutions.

The ones who focus on the solutions are the ones that survive. The ones that alternate between the solutions and the problem can survive, provided they focus more on what they can do than worry about the problem.

Mr. Negativity is right about one thing: if he were alone with that attitude, he’d die.

If you want to be a survivor, focus on what you can do. That’s what is going to keep you alive.

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