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Do Exactly What It Says On The Tin

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I’ve been asked a lot lately about how to stay positive specifically during a difficult time. We all know how easy it is to be happy and upbeat when things are going well, the weather is nice, and the world seems to be in good form. But what about the inevitable times when you get an unexpected knock back or when it’s rained for two weeks straight or when you feel under constant financial pressure? What can you do then to keep feeling genuinely positive and not just put on a brave face?

My tip is to think about Ronseal! Thanks to some clever marketing people we can all probably quote “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. Similarly and not to state the obvious (as she states the obvious), staying positive means focusing on the positive, not dwelling on the negative.


So say you’re having a typical day when out of the blue something happens that makes you feel frustrated or depressed. Our natural tendency is often to give all our energy to mulling it over. Telling in detail to whoever will listen about how unfair it is, only to be told reassuringly, you’re right it is unfair, it shouldn’t have happened and what’s more you should feel angry about it. So having been validated you continue to think about it and all of a sudden a few days have gone by and you’ve been completely consumed by this one event. It’s even kept you awake at night. We’ve all been there, I know I have. This is all completely normal, human behaviour and it’s very possible that the thing that happened was grossly unfair. But that’s not the question here. The question is how, when faced with the bad stuff, do I stay positive? It’s a great life skill to have because no matter how lucky you are, we all face difficult times. The difference between succumbing and thriving can be down to simply being aware of balance and consciously remembering that through all the tough things that happen to us, there are often many more great things, if we consciously look for them.

I’ll put myself out there and tell you a few things about my week:

I didn’t get some business recently that I thought was a sure thing. I could feel my disappointment starting to take over a bit so I practiced what I preach and here is a list of just some of the good things that happened to me in the last week:

  1. My daughter told me “we’re best friends aren’t we mommy”
  2. The weather has been unbelievable, how is it still summer time in Autumn?!
  3. My husband made me laugh uncontrollably at least three times
  4. My sister had some of the best news of her life
  5. A colleague had some of the best news of her life
  6. A client and I made great progress together
  7. I was given a gorgeous homemade blackberry and apply crumble by my mother-in-law.
  8. I met up with friends for coffee and all 5 of us have brilliant, exciting things happening in our lives.

I’ll come back to this list in a minute, but first let’s look at it another way. For those of you who have children, did you ever hear of the advice that if they eat the right balance of food over the course of a week, then it doesn’t matter if they don’t eat vegetables one day or eat too much chocolate another, as long as on balance they are eating healthily? Another analogy is to do with time management. We all get interrupted at work or get assigned a project we didn’t anticipate. So even if one week we don’t get our To Do list done, if over the course of the month we delivered on our genuine priorities, doesn’t that sound like success, even if there was one particularly messy week?

Now before you say, “well it’s all very well but…” and tell me the specifics of why it’s different for you, like I have said in previous posts, and this is the bit none of us likes, changing our habits requires will, effort and discipline and none of that sounds like a barrel of laughs. But if the alternative is to feel down or to lose focus or to feel drained, don’t you think it’s worth at least trying? I know for a fact, even re-reading my list makes me smile because it’s so personal to me, and you will have your own list just for you.

By all means, allow yourself time to think through the thing that makes you feel negative. But try to allocate it a proportional amount of time and just decide for yourself that you refuse to let it take over. Spend 10 minutes thinking of 5 good things that have happened to you recently, big or small, write them down if that’s more powerful for you. Remember it’s entirely up to you what you choose to focus your attention on.

In Maureen Gaffney’s book “Flourishing” she talks about a study from the 1980s by John Gottman from the University of Washington. He scientifically proved that there is a magic ratio of positive to negative, where in layman’s terms, you need 5 positive things to happen in order to counteract the impact of 1 negative thing. It’s such an interesting read; he started the study in relation to marriage but the same ratio was later applied to personal relationships, teams working together in a professional environment and many more.

Look at my list again. My ratio of “bad” to “good” was 1:8. It doesn’t matter if one carries more weight than the other, the point is that if you look at it objectively, I had a great week. Of course I wish I had won the business but maybe it wasn’t for me or maybe it will free me up to do something even better. Who knows?

I’ll sign off with the lyrics to a song that I’m sure, just like Ronseal, we all know, but I’ve never thought about the words before until I sat down to write this blog. My apologies if you end up singing this to yourself all day. It was published in 1944, even back then they knew the secret to staying positive! It’s by Sam Cooke and it’s called “Accentuate the Positive”

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don’t mess with mister in between