Last week I was having four consecutive flights to get from Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania to Bali in Indonesia. Initially I thought it was crazy to embark on a trip consisting of four flights, but over time I found a lot of excitement in the idea of doing something new for the first time. Unexpectedly though, my third flight from Bangkok to Singapore was delayed and I missed my connection from Singapore to Bali.
After a lot of back and forth, I got the airline to pay my hotel in Singapore while I had to book myself on the first flight out to Bali the next morning. As my friends were finding out about what had happened, many tried to solace me for the situation I was in. But I wasn't sad or frustrated. Actually, I was quite happy. I found it exciting to be stranded in a new place. As I was thinking about my situation, something dawned on me. Namely that I couldn’t remember the last time I was deeply upset or negative about something.
"Getting angry is punishing yourself with other people's mistakes."
Just a week before this incident I was hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. One of the nights – it was the last night before we would embark on a 16h+ hike within the following 24 hours – I was plagued with terrible stomach issues. I had to wake up 6 times that night to make my way to the restrooms (imagine the hygiene of those restrooms in the middle of nowhere) which were a 5-minute walk away in the bitter cold of 4,000 meters of altitude. How did I keep myself positive? I was excited about seeing the shiny stars at night on my way to the restrooms.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the "short-term ROI” of learning to think positively is the ability to deal with these day-to-day situations. Basically, by learning to think positively in life, you are building a certain muscle that can help you deal with these situations that would otherwise cause you to react negatively and frustrated.
So far, so good. But is there also a long-term ROI to thinking positively? I’d like to argue that there is. Thinking positively prepares you for what I would call “match day.”
A few days ago I messaged my friend whose wedding I had attended a few weeks before. I wanted to see how his honeymoon was going but what I got in return was quite the story. It started with “I spent the last 24 days of my honeymoon hospitalized in Asia and had to undergo abdominal surgery” and it ended with “it’s been an unforgettable experience and great marriage bonding. We took it very positively and with a lot of humor.”
Not necessarily the type of response you would expect, right? And I felt I was living through the same story of the cancelled flight, but now with the roles switched! This time it was me who was trying to be solacing a friend for a negative experience even though he was positive about that experience. Only with the difference that this was a completely different level of experience and one that would be much easier to react negatively to.
What my friend had experienced was something that had been on my mind for a long time: “maybe I can deal with the day-to-day downs of life, but how would I cope with a big downer on match day?” My friend summarized his experience saying that “all the years of training your mind to be positive and happy and all of that are essential when match day arrives and you have to deal with real pressure. So I really don’t feel like it’s been hard or tough or scary, and that’s likely because of all the mental training I put myself through to learn to be happy, positive, and forward thinking.”
To be honest, I couldn’t have said it better. One might reap short-term benefits on a day-to-day basis by learning to think positively, but what happens is that you are building your positive thinking-muscle over time which you will depend on once a real big challenge arrives.