One of the most important lessons that I ever learned in my life, I learned from a poster not a person. Early in my career as an entrepreneur (while still working full-time as an aerospace engineer) it was glaringly apparent that I lacked any people skills. That seems to go with the territory when you are an engineer. (By the way, do you know how to tell an introverted engineer from an extroverted engineer? When you are talking to an introverted engineer he is always looking down at his shoes. When you are talking to an extroverted engineer, he is looking down at your shoes!) Even though we were struggling financially, my wife and I decided it was important for me to take a course at the local community college on ‘selling’. It turned out to be the worst course I have ever taken in my life. It was taught by a gentleman that had spent his whole life in academia. He had never sold anything to anyone out in the business world. It was a lot of boring, theoretical claptrap that had nothing to do with the real world. I stuck it out for the whole 12 weeks, because I didn’t want the family to feel bad that we had ‘wasted’ the money on tuition. I sat in the same spot, in the same desk every week for 12 weeks, staring at the same poster on the wall for two hours.
All the poster said was, “To be enthusiastic, you must act enthusiastic. " The first couple of weeks that I read it I thought, “That’s not true. How can you be enthusiastic if you don’t feel like it?" By about the fourth week I started to wonder if that could actually be true. About half way through the class I decided that there just might be an element of truth attached to that statement, so I decided to try it out. I decided that I would act enthusiastic and see what might happen.
At the time I was still working around lots of other engineers and had not yet made the transition to being full-time in my own business. When I was walking down the hall and somebody asked, “How are you?" I began responding with one of two things. I would either say, “If I were any better I’d have to be twins, just to spread it around a little bit!!!" Or I would say, “I’m terrific, but I’m going to get better!!!"
You can imagine the kind of responses I got when I started doing this – especially from a bunch of engineers. They all wondered what I had been smoking. Think about how most other people respond to you when you ask them how they are. I’ll bet that you get a lot of what I call ‘contingent’ answers: “Oh, I’m OK for a Monday. " “I’d be better if it were Friday. " “I’m great. It’s payday!" “Pretty good for this early in the morning. " “I’m doing pretty well under the circumstances. " Do any of those sound familiar?
Most people respond based upon the circumstances. But, what I found when I started responding (acting) enthusiastically, was that almost immediately, I felt enthusiastic. The poster was right. “To be enthusiastic, you must act enthusiastic. " The most important lesson that I learned was that the feelings follow the behavior, not the other way around. Every day we get to choose our attitude by how we choose to behave. It’s very difficult to behave one way and feel another. So choose to ‘act enthusiastic. ’
I found after a very few days of ‘acting enthusiastic’, not only did it work for me, but it started to affect the people around me. Someone would see me walking down the hall and get a big grin on their face because they could hardly wait to ask me how I was – they knew it would be one of the few positive things they would hear all day. I could walk into the ‘bullpen’ where I worked and I could see the energy level pick up a bit because things were just better when “old Rick is here. " People that are excited and enthusiastic about life naturally attract others. Of course there are exceptions to everything. There was one guy named Ray that I worked with. Every time he asked how I was and I responded with one of my enthusiastic answers, I could see him lock up. It really annoyed him. He was a pretty bright guy and it only took him a couple days to figure out that if he didn’t ask me how I was, he wouldn’t have to listen to my ‘goofy’ answer. For several weeks he would just pass me in the hall and totally ignore me. He wouldn’t make eye contact. He would just act like I wasn’t there.
One morning, after a few weeks, Ray turned the corner in the hallway, glanced up and started to say, “Mornin’. How are…. . ?" before he realized that it was me. But it was too late. I answered him with, “If I were any better I’d need to be twins, just to spread it around a little. " He locked up, made a U-turn in the hallway and followed me the whole length of the engineering building. I stepped on the elevator and he followed me. The elevator door closed and Ray turned around and got right in my face. He said, “That’s #@!* it! Nobody is that good all the time! You are lying!!!" I thought about it for a moment and I said, “Ray I am not lying. I am merely telling the truth in advance. " Remember, the behavior precedes the feelings. I know some of you are thinking, “Well, if you had everything going on in your life that I have going on in mine, you wouldn’t be enthusiastic and positive either. " Then you miss the point. Attitude is a choice. It is 5% what happens to you and 95% how you choose to respond.
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