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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Smith

Mindset, Part II

Last time, we expounded on priorities and focus, the first two elements of productive mindset. Now I want to introduce the next two: a positive attitude and stoicism.


Everyone has heard this one before:“Be positive” or “Put a smile on your face!” Although these sound nice, they don’t carry much weight in real life. So what does being positive truly mean? It does not mean always being happy, but it does mean you don’t whine or complain when life doesn’t fall your way.

Never Complain

Complaining is something that people often do because it makes them feel better as they announce to the world all the mundane or downright unenjoyable aspects of their day. But does it help the situation to complain? Maybe you think your boss will change his behavior if you let him or her know how it’s poorly affecting the work environment, but if you approach them tactfully and respectfully, that isn’t complaining, it’s working to improve a bad situation. Complaining is audibly recognizing the negative aspects of your circumstances. That means even if you are stating a fact, if you frame it in a negative light or bring unnecessary attention to it (without improving the situation), you are complaining. If the weather is uncomfortably cold, and you proclaim, “It’s so cold out here!” you haven’t changed the temperature even one degree. You’ve merely dragged others attitudes down with you, or at least given them permission to view it in a negative light. The better choice would be to say nothing at all, or better yet, recognize how it can work to your advantage — "this cold weather is a perfect chance to wear my new gloves" or “I love curling up next to a nice fire.”

Instead of complaining, look for the positives in every situation. Another great exercise from one of my favorite coaches, Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, is to replace every “have to” in your routine with “get to.” For example, don’t say “I have to go to the gym” or “I have to pick up the kids.” Rather, say, “I GET to go to the gym” or “I GET to pick up the kids.” This helps us recognize that every action is a choice, and if we have our health, a roof over our heads, and food on the table, we are often more blessed than we oft realize.

As Charles R. Swindoll famously said, “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how you react to it."


At first glance, stoicism might seem counter to being positive. Isn’t it all about being somber and never enjoying yourself? That’s certainly what I thought before I took a closer look. Over 2,000 years ago, the stoics of Athens, Greece, proposed that true happiness is reached by accepting life as it is, and by controlling your emotions rather than reacting rashly. By responding logically, you can not only control your own attitude, but you can have greater control on the outcome of any situation. This can be most exemplified through negative or even tragic circumstances.

On a larger scale, how we respond to negative circumstances speaks volumes about our mindset. It’s easy to be positive when things are going great, but what about when life throws you a major curveball? When you don’t get hired for the job you wanted, or you injure yourself and are laid up for months, or your loved one just got diagnosed with a terrible disorder, how should you respond? Should you still smile and act like everything is alright? Of course not. Not only is that beyond difficult, but it also isn’t healthy or genuine. But it also does no good to wallow in misery and wish for circumstances to be different. As is often the case, the best balance lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Reacting vs. Responding

The difference between reacting and responding is held within the space of your thoughts. If you can take a moment to think rationally about whatever is confronting you, you can collect yourself and RESPOND logically, as opposed to a purely emotional REACTION (even this term is used to describe an automatic occurrence when two chemicals come into contact, often uncontrollable by outside forces). As you practice this skill, you will become more adept at responding appropriately within shorter and shorter windows of time. When you first implement this, you may lose your temper, but as you practice this skill (you aren’t alone, no one is good at this at first), you will find that your response will naturally improve over time.

For instance, when you get cut off in traffic, you might be inclined to yell and scream. If you recognize that for what it is, in a few weeks or months you might find that your anger in the same situation will be more tempered, and perhaps a year later you’ll have enough perspective to take a deep breath and move on with your day. Although this is just one example, you can apply it to a wide range of situations, such as losing that lucrative work contract to another company, breaking up with your significant other, or receiving a concerning medical diagnosis.

The tough part is, you don’t get to practice mental fortitude when things are going well. You can only develop this skill when you are frustrated, angry, confused, or upset about the hand you’ve been dealt — in other words, the times you need to practice being positive are the times when you will least want to. As I often tell the members of CFD, anything worth having is rarely easy.

Life is unkind to everyone at some point (some more than others), and no one expects you to be happy about it, but if you FOCUS on what you can control (see my last post for more on this) and work to DEVELOP a mindset of perseverance and determination, you can learn to get up when life knocks you down.

Check back in a few days for the last part of this series.

Spencer Smith

Owner &. Head Coach

CrossFit Donelson

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