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The Power of Reference Points by Jeff Keller


We all face difficulties and setbacks in our lives. And it seems that when adversity does strike, our positive attitudes can go right out the window. We tend to whine and complain and get mired in negativity -- and, as you know, nothing good ever comes from that.

How can we maintain a positive focus even in the face of difficulties and disappointments? To break the cycle of negativity and regain a positive attitude, I use something called "reference points." These are stories of people who have faced tremendous challenges -- far greater than whatever I am facing. And yet they handle their difficulties with strength and grace. Just thinking about these people inspires me and gets my mind off my own negative experience and on to more constructive things.

Let me tell you a little about my dear friend, Viola. From 1987 to 1996, Viola worked as an instructor in a Louisiana plant that made t-shirts. In 1992, however, she began to develop a debilitating ailment known as rheumatoid arthritis. The pain got so intense that Viola had to leave her job in 1996 and go on disability.

Viola is in pain every day. It's just a question of how much pain, and where it's concentrated. She takes a weekly injection to alleviate some of the discomfort. There are days when she can't walk and she must use crutches to get around. There are days when she can't even get out of bed. Fortunately, there are also days when she is able to move around. But the amazing thing about Viola is that she never, never complains. She has an incredibly positive attitude, and if you talked with her on the phone, you'd think she enjoyed perfect health.

So, whenever I encounter a trying situation, I immediately think of Viola. She serves as my reference point and my mood improves instantly. I realize how fortunate I am, and that compared to Viola, I don't have any problems at all.

I was fascinated to learn that Viola herself uses a variation of this principle to maintain a positive focus. When she has a lot of pain, she focuses on people who are worse off than she is. Here are Viola's own words: "When I am unable to walk, I think about people who did not make it today. When I turn around in bed, I think of people who can't turn until someone does it for them. When I can't get out of bed for a while, I sit up and write letters of inspiration to people who are sick, in prison, lonely or just someone who needs a few words of encouragement. Most of the time, when I'm done with the letters, I am able to get up and go about my day. I am so blessed!"

Wow! You, too, can use this technique to maintain a positive focus even in the midst of setbacks and challenges. Here are some guidelines for choosing your own reference points:

1. You're not limited to illnesses and tragedies. While your reference point may involve someone who has dealt with a serious illness, this doesn't have to be the case. Your reference point may be someone who lost a job, made a career transition or overcame severe financial setbacks.

2. Choose examples that inspire you and evoke positive feelings. If you choose someone who has gone through a devastating experience, often that will cause negative feelings. Be careful not to focus too much on their pain and suffering. Instead, select as an example someone you find uplifting. Every time I speak to Viola, for instance, or get an e mail message from her, I feel a foot taller! She inspires me with her inner strength, great attitude and spiritual focus.

3. Select someone you know personally. While your reference point can be a celebrity or someone you read about in the newspaper, it's even more effective when you know the person and actually interact with him or her on a regular basis.

4. Share the story with others. When I tell Viola's story to others, I find that they're uplifted. They see their own challenges in a new light. And it reinforces my own sense of gratitude. I don't dare to complain after I think of what Viola has to contend with every day! (Of course, it's essential that you get permission from the person whose story you are using.)

Now, it's time for you to start thinking about the references points you can use. Are there any people you know who come to mind? Give it some thought. When you've selected one or more reference points, you'll have a new tool in your arsenal -- a tool that will instantly lift you from negativity to a dynamic, positive outlook.

-- Jeff Keller
Attitude is Everything, Inc.




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