Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  


Positivity – (pos’i-tiv’i-ty) noun.  Tending to emphasize what is good or laudable.  Faith and belief that events may have positive benefits.  Math – quantity greater than zero.

     At one time in my life, I thought I invented that word.  (Can you believe that?)  After all, it wasn’t in the medical dictionary.  Wasn’t even listed.  “Negativity” was listed, so I just assumed no one had ever used the word “positivity.”  Indeed, until this day when I use the word on my computer, it shows to be misspelled, as if it’s not a real word – but it is.  While I didn’t discover a new word, we can say that most of us have heard of negativity, but far fewer are familiar with “positivity.”
    One explanation for the lack of popularity of “positivity” might be that higher academics has always sneered at most “positive thinking” and “self-help” books.  Their complaint being authors who wrote about that subject almost never performed scientific experiments to prove their point, but rather relied on personal beliefs and anecdotal “self-reports” from others – considered “poor research methods.”  As a college freshman, I learned very quickly not to mention the subject of “positivity” or “positive thinking” in class because the professors would respond with statements like, “If you plan to waste your time on that drivel, Mr. Johnson, graduation for you will be most unlikely.”  That shut me up for an entire year.  But it bothered me.
     For most of my early academic life, I made C’s, D’s, and F’s.  Then, because of a bull-rider named Gary Laffew, I stumbled on to Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  Then I read Dale Carnegies’ “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  That led to Gallwey’s, Inner Game of Tennis,” and a host of others. 
     To my surprise, those books were not full of mystical mantras and far eastern nonsense – as my professors had claimed - but rather simple practical suggestions like, “Show up every day,” or “One must exert effort and spend time at study to do well.”  They suggested that instead of spending all our time saying, “I can’t,” to try instead saying, “I might be able to…if I tried.”  For me (and countless others) the resulting change was dramatic.  My I. Q. did not increase; my behavior changed…and so did my life.  Not because of some stuffy academic study, but because some caring adults wrote books about how we might do better.  But no matter how many were helped by “positivity,” those in the ivory towers of academics viewed the subject with scorn.  Then something happened…
     The first “outside the box” thinker was Abraham Maslow.  As a graduate student, Maslow realized all of the knowledge we possessed about Psychology was based on research gained from only three groups – laboratory mice, college freshmen, and crazy people!  How on earth could we know what is “normal?”  No one had ever studied “normal!”   Then came Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Nobody could look down their noses at these two guys.
     Seligman and Mihaly (I’m going to use his first name; I’m not man enough to spell it twice) were well respected in the world of academic research.  Seligman’s work with dogs and their “learned helplessness” was legendary.  Mihaly’s parents were murdered in a mass genocide when he was eight years old.  He reacted to that unspeakable tragedy by deciding to devote his life to “What makes people happy?”  (Go figure.  Most of us would get in a whiskey bottle if that happened.  Mihaly decides to figure our what makes people happy.  Good for you, Mihaly.)  Both men determined to research “positive psychology,” and learn if that subject offered something real or if it was only a waste of time.  Their results are stunning…uh, well, you might say “positively stunning.”
     Seligman looked at people who had a positive view (optimists) and those who had habitually negative (pessimistic) views.  Pessimists view bad events as pervasive, permanent, and uncontrollable, while the optimist sees them as local, temporary, and changeable.  Which is best?  Just a sampling of Seligman’s results…he found pessimistic life insurance agents dropped out sooner, pessimistic undergraduates get lower grades, pessimistic swimmers have slower times, pessimistic pitchers and hitters do worse in close games than optimistic players, pessimistic NBA teams lose to the point spread more than optimistic teams, and on and on.
     After studying thousands of subjects for years, Mihaly found what he believes is the secret of happiness.  You can’t find it in cars, yachts, condos, or a new Rolex.  (Surprise, surprise.)  True happiness comes from working at a task you love, and if you ever surpass what you thought was your potential…the result is intense life satisfaction that never wanes.  To do that, optimism is required.
     Why am I telling you all this?  So many reasons, so many examples…here’s one.  I have been to countless ropings where contestants – fellow ropers – tell me all the reasons they are not going to win before we even begin!  As in, “My shoulder is too sore to rope,” or “I can tell my horse is not going to perform well today,” or “That guy shouldn’t be in this roping.  It’s not fair!”  And all this happens before the announcer has ever taken the stand!  So it is in every walk of life.
     We have freedom of choice.  If we choose to, we can sit around and focus on how awful things are, or we can choose to see every single event in our life from another place.  I’ve tried both ways, and I prefer this view… 

God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good.”                  n  Romans 8:28

                                                                                               -- Michael Johnson

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