Overcoming Negative Thinking by Learning to Love the Lessons

How good are you at seeing the benefit in your biggest challenges, at work and in life?

The key to overcoming negative thinking is learning how to shift painful experiences into lessons that help make you stronger and smarter – and turn a “woe is me” attitude into a “wow!!’ learning mindset.

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.” – Nelson Mandela

Now really think about that: I win, or I learn.

There is no losing in life. There is no failure in life. You can just have some really, really expensive learning experiences. And I’ve had tons of them. When you see that, in every situation, you’re going to learn something or gain, no matter what, you tend to let go of your resistance, and find a way to move through it, to get on to the next thing.

Key Point  – Appreciate the painful experiences that make you grow stronger and smarter. If you take a look back at the most painful, excruciating experiences that you’ve had, those are the ones that developed your character. Those are the ones that made you smarter and more capable, and more determined, and more resilient.

Unfortunately, for most of us, when we’re in the middle of those situations, we dread them, we hate them, and we try to wish them away. When the reality is that those are the things that we need to make us stronger.

The main distinction in this chapter is ‘woe versus wow’. Whenever you’re saying, “Woe is me. Why is this happening? This sucks. It’s not fair. Why, why, why?”, no good will happen. You are resisting the problem that you’re having and, truly, if you’re seeing it as a problem, you will go nowhere. Your creative mind does not find ways to solve it. You’re just putting energy into staying where you’re at.

The challenge is to train your brain and build the discipline, in almost every situation, to quickly switch to ‘wow’.

“Wow, this is brutal. This is intense. This is crazy. This is hard. But I know – some way, somehow – this is good for me. I am going to be better for it.” Said differently, the quicker you can go from seeing a problem as a curse to a gift, then you can find the value, and move on.

There’s a real psychological benefit to this, as well. As human beings, we love to – and need to – see the value or purpose in things. So if I’m going through some excruciating pain and I don’t see any value in it, I’ll feel bad and it’ll to drain me. But, in the same situation, if I get my mind around it, get my heart around it, then I start feeling better about drudging through all these challenges.

You need to work on this if:

  1. You easily get stuck in ‘woe’ thinking about past struggles, even though they probably did make you stronger. You’re still looking back and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right.”
  2. When the new struggles arise, your mind quickly starts to produce thoughts of ‘woe’, and about how challenging your life is, and how you wish things like this wouldn’t happen to you.
  3. You don’t get your lesson. You keep facing the same kinds of struggles, again and again, and again, kind of like Ground Hog Day.
  4. When obstacles do arise, you get stuck and don’t move forward for a long time.
  5. You’re generally unaware or in disbelief that 99% of your story about any challenge is pure fabrication.

This last point is very important. In any situation, there are usually two or three facts – and then a whole bunch of stories, opinions, and other things that we wrap around it – but at the core, we always apply meaning to situations.

By the way, we have a choice about the meaning we apply to a situation. You can look at your car getting a flat tire as an amazing gift or an amazing curse. From a fact point of view, is a flat tire good or bad? There’s no data to say one way or the other. The truth is a flat tire is a tire without air. That’s it – and you can make up a hundred different stories about it.

As a leader, look for the good story about it – how it adds value, and how you grow stronger from it. Otherwise, as a leader, when you deal with hundreds of challenges in the week, you’ll get beaten up and destroyed if you see every single one as being negative, through the perspective of a victim with a “woe is me” mindset.

The Challenge

  • Think about a situation that you’re currently in that’s driving you crazy and burning a ton of energy. Odds are, you’re in a ‘woe’ mindset, and I’m not judging you for that. It’s a normal human reaction.
  • But what I want you to think about is, how do you get to a ‘wow’ mindset? In the grid below, list your current challenges:
    • What’s your ‘woe’ story – the story you’re telling yourself right now?
    • What’s the ‘wow’ story?

Current Challenge Grid

As simple and as cheesy as this might sound, they’re both just stories.

If the ‘woe’ story is keeping you stuck and not making you feel good, why don’t you come up with a ‘wow’ story to get you moving forward and feeling good? If this is a habit that you really see value in mastering, it might be your number one habit for the quarter.


Woe to wow: When it comes to all the challenges we get in life, if you truly love the lessons and have a, “Wow, this is painful but amazing in some way,” it will be easier for you to tackle these challenges, and you will grow stronger the more you get beat up by life, rather than beaten down.