If you’ve taken some time to read about my history, you’ll already know that my father-in-law was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein’s regime back in the early ‘80s – because he was teaching in the religious seminary of Najaf, Iraq, and was deemed to be rallying political unrest.
Of course, he had no such intentions at all.
He was in his early 20s, and had a family of two young children (one of whom I would later marry) and a newlywed wife. The two had only been together for three years.
The family had to fend for themselves while he was in prison, yet my father in law turned this situation into a positive event. He began teaching theology, philosophy and jurisprudence while in prison, which (funnily enough) is the reason he was put there in the first place.
Yet this perceived negative was turned into a positive, and my wife’s family became a stronger unit that worked together to survive, thrive and grow into the inseparably close group they are today.
Those prisoners my father-in-law taught have now gone on to become ministers and other political leaders in Iraq… and they owe a lot of their intellectual prowess to him.
On the flip side, my father’s cousin was also imprisoned in his twenties during the same time, and for the same reasons, but he considered it a disastrous event. He allowed himself to be swallowed up by resentment.
He left prison in the late ‘90s, but he emerged a broken man. Today, he rarely leaves his home and doesn’t contribute in any meaningful way to Iraqi society.
Both these men were tortured, shut away in solitary confinement, physically and psychologically abused… but my father-in-law always stayed focused on the positive. He would think of educating, fostering and promoting the intellect of the next generation of Iraqis, some who are now part of political think tanks in developed nations.
When I decided to leave my NHS job in 2010 and go do charity work in Iraq, most people were quick to remind me of the negatives. They jumped straight to the dangers – the bombings, abductions, lack of electricity, poor security, poor health and wellbeing… not to mention my “inevitable” financial suicide.
Rather than focus on these warnings, like my father-in-law I chose to look at the positives – knowing I would be working to help the blind and visually impaired, opening new clinics and hospitals, training doctors, organising trips and conferences and collaborating with other charities like the Lady Fatemah Trust and Al Ayn Social Care Foundation.
These opportunities opened the doors to teaching the English language and culture, getting involved in discussion circles about eastern and western culture and Islam, providing value and contributing to not only Iraqi, but ultimately global society.
You see, I could concentrate on the risks, the dangers, the scary statistics and the outright horrors of Iraq’s conflict zones… or I could concentrate on the good work of the charities I would assist, and the potential of the people I could help.
I definitely know which one led to my life becoming richer… and I’m sure that by now you do, too.
Where negativity drowns us, positivity helps us grow
Having a genuinely positive view of all people and situations will prepare you for anything – whether it’s getting ready to attend a job interview, your first day starting at a new workplace or even just doing a mundane task you’ve done a million times before.
We humans are adept at holding ourselves back through negative thinking – always getting mired in the dangers, the reasons not to do something, or in anger and resentment when someone does us wrong.
But focusing on the negative doesn’t allow us to grow, to stretch out and fill our lives with ourselves. It forces us to retreat and guard, pushing ourselves into a prison of our own making and, in turn, doing ourselves the very disservice we later feel resentment for.
We hold ourselves back, and then we feel angry about it and hold ourselves back even more. To escape this trap, we need to maintain a positive view.
Of course, bad things happen and it’s only natural to be angry or upset on occasion, but as you read this, consider whatever difficulty you’re going through today. Look for the positive angle in it – what constructive lesson can you learn from this? What can you do next time that would provide a more positive result?
Make doing this a habit – take those thoughts and spin them around. How can you learn from the situation, and is it really something worth ignoring all the other positive things in your life because of?
Are you holding your thumb in front of the sun and pretending the apocalypse has arrived?
Techniques for building your positive mindset
I’d like you to try introducing the following techniques to your life – and you’ll be able to enjoy the resulting effects on your happiness and success quicker than you ever thought possible:
- When you meet a person, whether it’s in a professional, family or leisure setting, mentally list 20 things you see, hear, smell, and touch that’s positive about that person. This will take practice (you naturally don’t want to seem like a staring weirdo or anything), but take it slowly and enjoy each element that you pick out.
- Out of these 20 positives, choose the biggest, most positive aspect in that person and compliment them on it – either during your meeting or at the end.
- In your journal (and if you don’t keep one, you really should – they are a fantastic mindset tool), keep a list of people you meet regularly. These could be family members, workmates or casual friends. Next to each name, list the three most positive attributes you notice about them when doing the above mental exercises.
- Think of a disastrous event that happened in your life. A serious, complete disaster. Then list 30 positive things that came out of it. Give yourself time, and think about this carefully – you may be dredging up some dark thoughts, but go slow and controlled, and focus on the positives that the event generated… even if it took time for them to manifest. You’ll be astonished when you see the positives that came about from this presumed disaster listed right before your eyes.
If you enjoyed reading this and found the exercises helpful in easing your mind, keep an eye out for my upcoming book which is packed with daily activities to help you regain focus, eliminate stress, escape from burnout, and take complete control of your professional and personal lives in just 30 days. Click here for more details.
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