S1032469My very first experience on French soil occurred in 1989. I spent two weeks in southern France helping with English programs in a church there. I’d studied a bit of French, oh, about nine years earlier. Not too much left in those archives. I recalled a smattering, though. That is why I was so perplexed when I kept seeing a billboard with these words: “Je positive”. That means “I positive”. That’s right, no verb. I knew enough French to know that it made no sense at all.

Years later I understood. The sign, which was an ad for Carrefour Supermarkets, featured a word they wanted people to stamp onto their minds, positive, and made a verb out of it. Likely some French people had a similar reaction to mine. They may have stopped and said, “Wait a minute—” (or maybe it was, Attends une minute—) Being positive gives a sunny, happy flavor to any experience, even shopping in a very crowded 3-story superstore. (I didn’t buy it either. Not my idea of a good time.) But you get the idea.

So much for billboard marketing tricks. How can that apply to daily life? Let’s face it, in any day of any life, there is a list of good things happening as well as a list of less-than-desirable things. Maybe you have a fairly mundane, predictable life. But then the cat gets sick, you develop a cavity, your car breaks down and there is a threat of cutbacks in your company. Oh, and your brother is mad at you for something you can’t even remember. The tendency most of us have is to fixate on those. They swim around in our minds like obsessive-compulsive fish in a teeny tiny aquarium. We woefully conclude that life sucks, that things couldn’t get worse, and “why does this always happen to me?”

This is called your default setting, and left to itself, it will thrust you backwards. Why? Because your thoughts determine your emotions. And your emotions will color everything else in your life, like a gray wash. So not only do you focus on your negative list, but your emotions are trotting right alongside, taking you down.

Change of plan. Instead of letting the default take over, be deliberate. When the negative story spools out in your mind, stop it before it gets to the second chapter. Instead, make an alternate story. A counter-list, if you will. On that list put things like: I have a job (it’s not perfect, but in this economy I’m one of the lucky ones.) I have a loving family, we have our home, we’re reasonably healthy. We have a vacation coming up in a few months (if you don’t, then plan one!) I am young enough and intelligent enough to find another job in the future, or expand my possibilities as soon as I can. I have loads of ideas I can’t wait to try.

See? Just the act of writing these down makes you feel better. It forces you to deliberately channel your thoughts towards what’s good. Then you have a physical list you can re-read and imprint on your mind. I have one of these lists that I pull out every few days or so, whether I feel like I need an emotional boost or not. It really helps to makes me feel better. That doesn’t mean I ignore what needs attention. In fact, feeling positive opens me up to solutions.

Don’t do the list only when you’re down. Make it a habit. After a while, the positive will be your new default. Warning: this may take time, as does the development of any new habit, so don’t give up.
I’m still not crazy about the expression “Je positive”. I don’t think they use that ad anymore. It’s a bit cheesy, in a French way, and maybe they knew it, even though the French do love their cheese. But I still like the idea of putting a positive brushstroke on my day, first thing. Makes a big difference in the hours that follow.