I once talked to a guy on my radio show who was scared—really scared. He called because he had just gotten laid off from his job of 28 years. He was making $38,000 a year and didn’t see the layoffs coming. He was afraid, and he was hurt.
My response caught him off guard. First, I told him I understood. And I did. I got fired once, and it was devastating. I felt worthless and lost when it happened. Then, I told him I was glad he got fired. Why? If you’ve worked somewhere 28 years, and you’re making less than $40,000 annually, your job stinks. And the thing is, he would have never left on his own. But suddenly, he had the chance to go somewhere better, and be a new, improved version of himself. I explained if he lands a $50,000-a-year job in the next two months, then he can pocket four months of his six-month severance package as a signing bonus to a better life.
In college, I took a class called Motivation and Emotion. One of the things I remember from that class was the idea, or theory, that we name our emotions. For example, your physical reaction in your body is the same for Fear as it is for Anger. In both cases, heart rate goes up, eyes dilate, proteins are released, endorphins are released, perspiration begins, and in extreme cases you begin to shake. And somewhere in all this physical upheaval we name it . . . either Fear or Anger. “I’m so angry” or “I’m really afraid.” Same physical reaction, though.
Depending on what we name it, our actions will change. Name it Fear and you run—Flight. Name it Anger and you confront—Fight. Fight or Flight are such a part of our lives. The idea that when I’m angry I might really be afraid, or when I’m afraid I might really be angry, is confusing. But also gives hope—hope that I can decide. Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty? It’s comforting and empowering to realize I’m not a slave to a predetermined person inside me that made the half-glassed decision for me before I was born.
The late Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about a psychology experiment with a little boy named Pessimist and another named Optimist. Researchers placed each in a room filled with horse manure. An hour later, the researchers returned and opened each of the doors. In one room they discovered Pessimist in the corner crying. “Why are you crying?” they asked. Pessimist answered, “You locked me in a room full of horse manure!” Then, they opened the door of little Optimist, and found him smiling, giggling, and frantically searching about the room. “What are you doing?” the researchers asked. Optimist answered, “With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
I don’t know about you, but self-control is hard for me. Sometimes I’m a pessimist or a glass-half-empty guy. But the quality of my life and my relationships went up dramatically when I decided I can, and must, intentionally give every situation a name that causes me to win. I might need to name this an Opportunity, instead of a Challenge. I might need to fight for what is right, rather than run.
Life is coming at you. Sometimes it’ll bring a room full of manure. It happens to everyone from time to time. But you have the power to decide how to name the situation, and how you’ll react to it!
* Leadership and small business expert Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored numerous best-selling books, including EntreLeadership. The Ramsey Show is heard by 18 million listeners each week on more than 600 radio stations and multiple digital platforms.