For a brief moment, I thought I had woken up in the middle of the night, and was ready to put the old patched quilt over my head. But a quick glance at my watch confirmed it was time to get up. Looking out the wavy glass window of our 140-year-old cabin, the sky was dark, and the rain was blasting the roof like a thousand nails being dropped every second.
Reluctantly, my bare feet slid into my old rubber Bean boots, and I rushed through the rain to the other cabin for my morning brew. I’m soaked but beaming, because my favorite time on the screened-in porch is during a thunderstorm, as the roof rattles like a freight train with every boom.
The ticking clock reminds me that this is the last two weeks of normal life with our triplets, who go off to college soon. The family will leave our summer paradise, drive to their respective colleges, and return to a very quiet house. Friends told me they cried for weeks when their birds flew the nest, I’m sure we’ll be no different. Yet we’re excited about their new lives, their new adventures, and the next chapter for each of us.
I can remember my Grandmother Luella telling me she had outlived all her friends, and that she felt like one day she was 30 and the next day she was 90. I probably rolled my eyes, but now, at this very lake where we discovered Laurie’s pregnancy, our stable home time for the last 18 years is about to change. Though our time with them will increase with longer holiday breaks due to the virus, things will never be the same once they’ve experienced more independence.
Gifts of COVID?
What a wonderful time to be alive. What gifts we’ve been given. Before the kids launch off to college, we’ve had almost five months of home time when they could barely leave the house. We’ve seen more of them this year than last year, when friends and cars took them away frequently. In spite of the virus, I feel so very blessed.
And in a strange sort of way, I feel blessed to be alive during one of the most monumental events in history. Yet I’m thankful it’s not a fraction of the death and destruction of the last major pandemic. Think about what we’re learning about ourselves and others during this time. Think about the stories that will be written about these times for all of history to absorb. And though I grieve for friends and family members who have suffered through loss or illness, I still think this could be the major reset our world needed. Everyone alive in the world today has been forced into rethinking their lives, something I spoke of recently.
So how can I look at such an event with a positive approach?
It’s all about our filters.
Why is it that one person will think the sky is falling, but another will see a silver lining and opportunity?
Nature plays tricks on us. We were born with a brain that defaults to negative in order to protect ourselves. It’s called the reptilian brain — the part created to keep us alert and alive among predators in the cave days. It defaults to the negative, so the trick to life is overcoming nature. Finding a way to process every input with a positive spin.
Though some think some people are born more positive than others, I think it’s an intentional action we decide to take. I was heavily influenced by my dad, who was influenced by his mom, who was influenced by someone else. And I’m trying to influence others.
You see, I started out as a negative person, in spite of my influences. I was like the character in the Li’l Abner cartoon, with the gray cloud over my head. I could find negativity in ice cream and apple pie. I’m sure you know people like that. Maybe you’re like that.
A Kick in the Butt
One day I was visiting my high school sweetheart, a few years after college. We were not dating at that time but were still good friends. I went to visit her while she was visiting her folks, and her dad said he needed to have a “serious talk with me.”
Of course, I wondered. Was he going to encourage me to marry his daughter? What could it be?
“Eric,” he said, “you are the most negative person I know. And I don’t understand why. You have so much going for you, but if you don’t get control of your negative nature and stop it, you’re going to live an unhappy life and probably die young. I’ve seen it, and my daughter has seen it and asked me to talk to you about it.”
That got my attention. I’m sure my own parents had been trying to tell me, but I probably ignored them, as young people do.
Then it started dawning on me that I had lost a lot of friends. I realized they did not want to hang out with me. I had rationalized it as sarcasm, but it was flat-out negativity.
Thanks to his advice, some recommended books, a lot of seminars, and even some therapy, I became obsessively positive.
A New World Perspective
The most eye-opening part of being positive is that everything changed. Good things started happening, doors opened, my career soared, I made more money, my businesses started to blossom, and I had lots of friends who wanted to hang out with me.
I went from “Woe is me” to “Whoa!” I was on a wild ride and having a blast. Each day became a gift, and I became a different person. Though it did not happen overnight, it took that slap in the face to bring it to my attention.
Imagine for a moment a really dirty air conditioning filter. Years of caked-on dirt make it almost impossible for the air to get through. And the air that does get through is dirty air. Yet when you put a new filter in, the air becomes clean again.
My negativity was a dirty filter. In fact, I didn’t know it, but I was adding dirt all the time, because I was seeking negativity. I realized I felt better when others commiserated with me. I realized I took joy when others failed. What a sicko I had become.
No Idea Why
I don’t know why it happened — I grew up in a very upbeat, positive environment. I don’t know what triggered it. All I know is that I discovered it thanks to a caring friend, and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to fuel my positivity.
Though I remain very positive, I do slip from time to time, usually because I am spending time around negative influences. I’ve discovered that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As a result, I had to remove some influences from my daily life.
I once told this to a negative friend, Chris, who told me it was all nonsense. At least I tried to help him, but he was too far gone and died young as a negative person. Others think this is over the top and doesn’t matter, but all I can say is that it works for me.
I’m not one who thinks I can dream my way into anything. I am one who believes I can dream something and then make it happen with hard work and action. Belief in oneself and one’s Maker is the key.
What about you?
What way are you looking at the world?
Are you stuck in your reptilian brain?
If you’re catching yourself saying, “Yeah, but Eric, you don’t understand, there is a reason…” you’re right. But that reason is in your head only. You can overcome it.
Pay close attention to your words. I have to avoid negative words and phrases. And when they show up, I show them the door.
Pay attention to your influences. Where do you spend your time, and how are those people influencing your mindset?
Pay attention to what you’re pouring into your ears and eyes. Are you glued to negativity in politics, the news, social media?
We have to protect our brains from negative influences in order to keep our filters clean. I’ve had to purge things from my life that I loved but were not good for me.
What about you?
Stopping negativity is probably as hard as an alcoholic giving up drinking. It’s ingrained in us. It’s all-consuming. In order to overcome it, we have to develop power habits. But you can change, and when you do, the world will feel like a better place.
It’s still the same world, but your outlook will have changed entirely.
Try it. You’ll like it.
PS: I went a little negative when this COVID thing started to destroy my business. But rather than relying on hope, I made a pivot in spite of all my events being canceled. I launched PleinAir Live, the world’s first virtual art conference, and it was a huge success. It helped save my business and helped me keep employees. Many of you attended — thank you!
We’re launching a second virtual art conference called Realism Live, all about learning different forms of realism (landscape, portrait, figure, still life, flowers, etc). It will be held this October for four days, plus a beginner’s day for people who want to start learning art. It’s all online, so you don’t have to leave your home. I hope you’ll attend. We already have 600 people signed up. You can learn more at RealismLive.com.
PS2: Our big PleinAir Salon $15,000 art competition is coming to an end. Enter your best paintings before the end of the month.
PS3: Enter our Artists & Selfie Art Competition — entries due in late August. ArtistandSelfie.com
PS4: I’m on Facebook and YouTube daily at noon, seven days a week, with teaching, announcements, and daily art instruction videos. Join me.