Resiliency Toolkit: The power of a positive thought

by Maj. David Cote
U.S. Air Force

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Many of you have probably been in a situation where nothing seems to be going right and every step you move forward, something hits you in the face, knocking you two steps back. In these moments, your biggest adversary becomes your own mind.

You’ll find yourself going from one complaint to the next and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Before you know it, you turn into this bitter, angry and unpleasant individual no one wants to be around.

What if I told you one saying can change the way you approach challenging times?

A couple years ago, while working around-the-clock on a major network issue impacting a weapon system, we were briefing our commander on the current status after a long day of troubleshooting. After delivering the news that this outage was much worse than anticipated, he looked around the table at his flight leads and saw us all sinking in our chairs. It was then he looked us all in our bloodshot eyes, smiled and said, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.” This broke the tension, got a genuine laugh and cleared our minds. As a leadership team, we discussed the positive outcomes and milestones the team accomplished. This renewed our focus and we went back to our individual work centers, re-energized, and led our teams more effectively. This enabled us to fix the issue in just a couple of hours: an outage we anticipated would last at least a full 24 hours more.

This phrase, while humorous in nature, truly illustrates the power of a positive thought. This one phrase completely changed the way I lead and live my life.

I’ve always been a pretty positive person, trying to look for the best in all situations. This is something my parents instilled in me. This has helped get me through some dark moments, but when life just keeps throwing grenades, even the most resilient gets worn down. It can be difficult to remain positive. Now, when I find myself getting pulled down by negative thoughts, I reminisce on that statement by my commander and the importance of focusing on the positives through a “storm.” Ever since this pivotal moment, I’ve picked up a couple activities to help keep me positive through the challenging demands of this military lifestyle and serving our nation:

1. High-fives. Log off your computer, get out of your cubicle or office, walk around and give high-fives or fist bumps for the germ conscious. I guarantee you and the recipient will smile. You may even generate a conversation about weekend plans or start talking about similar hobbies. Before you know it, you forgot what was bringing you down, and you just made a meaningful connection with a teammate. A win-win scenario. Tip: Focus on the elbow for the perfect high-five.

2. Connect with a positive person. We all know that one person in the office who is high energy and always seems to be in a good mood. When you are consumed by negative thoughts, connect with these individuals and don’t be afraid to seek counsel. This builds trust between teammates and is critical because they may also need you one day. It’s extremely difficult and exhausting to always be “on.” A wise chief once told me, “It’s okay to not be okay. This understanding is a sign of really good leadership.”

3. Exercise. Knock out a set of push-ups, go for a run, go on a hike, etc. Find an activity that makes you feel good, and get after it. When those endorphins kick in, your mood will shift; helping clear those negative thoughts.

4. Pray and/or meditate. Disconnect from technology, find a quiet place and shut it down. Spiritual resiliency is a powerful tool; it’s my go-to when those challenging moments hit. If religion isn’t your thing, then meditation is a great alternative to help clear your mind.

It’s easy to become consumed with negative thoughts when life gets challenging. Just remember, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.” Go out, give a high-five and smile. A positive thought or action can be just what you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the fight.

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