WILLIAM COLEMAN HAD ONLY
fifty percent of normal vision in one eye and only twenty-five
percent in the other. The year was 1899 and although the electric
light bulb had already been invented, not many people had one
because electricity wasn't available in many places. Even with
electricity, the light bulbs in those days weren't very bright.
As a law student, the only way William could study at night was
to have his parents read his texts to him. His poor eyesight
was obviously a disadvantage. Or was it?
One night William walked
into a store brightly lit by a pressurized gas lamp. It was producing
more illumination than he'd ever seen it was bright enough
to read by! He said it was the most important moment of his life.
Without the "disadvantage"
of poor eyesight, it wouldn't have meant much to him. But since
it did mean so much, he got involved in a gas lamp business
so involved he eventually owned the company.
A hundred years later,
the Coleman Company is still in business with sales at about
half a billion dollars a year. And even though electric light
illuminates most of the world, people still use Coleman Lanterns
when they go camping. More than a million of those original pressurized
gas lanterns are sold every year.
If there's something you
think is a disadvantage, think again. Assume there will be an
advantage in it and then find it or make it. This intention
is a fundamental key to a good attitude. With it, the inevitable
setbacks in life won't bring you down as much and you will handle
problems more effectively.
I know some people would
scoff at this idea. Too airy-fairy. It might remind them of some
annoyingly positive people to whom everything is great, but somehow,
behind their forced smile, you can see it's all a facade. But
this idea can be used with depth, not merely as a way to show
a pleasant face to the world to hide your pain from yourself.
It can be done with intelligence and wisdom.
I'd like to make a distinction
here. Many people think that cynicism and pessimism show that
they are mature. Usually these are young people, ironically enough.
Somehow cynicism is cool. But it is actually dangerous and unhealthy
It makes you less successful and the bad attitude it creates
In a study at Washington
University in St. Louis, researchers interviewed people who had
experienced a either a plane crash, a tornado, or a mass shooting.
They interviewed the survivors a few weeks after the traumatic
event and then again three years later. In the first interview,
some people said they could find something good that came out
of the event. Some reported they realized life was too short
not to pursue their most important goals, or they realized how
important their family was to them. Three years later, those
were the people who recovered from the trauma most successfully.
In an interview in Psychology
Today, the late Carl Sagan said, "This is my third time
having to deal with intimations of mortality. And every time
it's a character-building experience. You get a much clearer
perspective on what's important and what isn't, the preciousness
and beauty of life
I would recommend almost dying to everybody.
I think it's a really good experience."
Think now about something
you normally consider a disadvantage. Are you in debt? Did you
have a rough childhood? Were you poor? Didn't have the advantages
wealthier kids had? Do you lack education? Do you have a bad
habit? Has something terrible happened to you?
What's good about it? Or
how could you capitalize on your "disadvantage?" If
you don't get a good answer right away, that only means it's
a tough question. Try living in that question for several weeks
or months. Ponder it while you drive. Wonder about it while you
shower. Ask yourself the question every time you eat breakfast.
Live with the question and you will get answers.
As Klassy (my wife) often
says, "Things turn out best for those who make the best
of how things turn out." As I write this, Klassy is at her
ill mother's house, taking care of her, and I only see her on
weekends. I miss her terribly. Obviously this is a bad thing.
But I'm using this time
to work on a book. Instead of moping or simply suffering, I am
making the most of it, taking advantage of it. When the ordeal
is over, we will have gained a lot from this misfortune. That
was our commitment when it started and by thought and action
we're making it come true.
Take advantage of what
you have, where you are, and when you are. It's the only practical
way to deal with "disadvantages."
If you have a tendency
to simply feel bad about your disadvantages, even that
can become an advantage. Overcoming that tendency might teach
you something valuable something you couldn't have learned
without it. And you can teach what you learned to your child,
making a huge difference to the whole trajectory of her or his
Trying to make the best
of something helps create solutions. It makes things better.
It is even better for your health. It keeps you from feeling
as bad when bad stuff happens, and that's important because negative
emotions are not good for your health. As Richard H. Hoffmann,
The human body is a delicately
adjusted mechanism. Whenever its even tenor is startled by some
intruding emotion like sudden fright, anger or worry, the sympathetic
nervous system flashes an emergency signal and the organs and
glands spring into action. The adrenal glands shoot into the
blood stream a surcharge of adrenaline which raises the blood
sugar above normal needs. The pancreas then secretes insulin
to burn the excess fuel. But this bonfire burns not only the
excess but the normal supply. The result is a blood sugar shortage
and an underfeeding of the vital organs. So the adrenals supply
another charge, the pancreas burns the fuel again, and the vicious
cycle goes on. This battle of the glands brings on exhaustion."
Bad feelings play havoc
on your system. The idea that trouble brings seeds of good fortune
allows you to consider the possibility that the bad event might
not be as bad as it seems at the moment, and in a sense, makes
it possible to procrastinate feeling bad. Procrastinate long
enough, and you might just skip it altogether.
Volunteers at the Common
Cold Research Unit in England filled out a questionnaire. The
researcher, Sheldon Cohen, discovered that the more positive
the volunteers' attitudes were, the less likely they would catch
a cold. And even when they did catch a cold, the more
positive their attitude was, the more mild their symptoms were.
In one of W. Clement Stone's
books, he wrote that whenever someone came to him with a problem,
he would always say, "That's good!" This puzzled people
sometimes. They might be talking about a serious problem, and
Stone would answer back with enthusiasm. Years ago when I first
read this, I thought it was stupid, pie-in-the-sky bullpucky.
But I've thought a lot about it over the years and I've tried
it, and I've decided that maybe there are some things that sound
stupid but are really smart.
When anything happens,
usually some aspects of it are an advantage and some aspects
of it are a disadvantage. For example, when you buy a new car,
you will have to take it in to get repaired less often than your
old car. That's one advantage. Maybe it gets better gas mileage.
There's another advantage. But it is more likely to get stolen.
That's a disadvantage. And your insurance payments are higher.
You get the idea.
When you first hear about
a problem, your first reaction is probably to see only the disadvantages.
This puts you in a bad mood a state of mind that's not
only unpleasant as an experience, but also makes you less effective
at dealing with the problem. So this normal, automatic, negative
reaction to problems would be a good thing to change. I suggest
trying Stone's method. It will take some practice, but it can
eventually become a habit.
When a problem lands in
your lap, say, "That's good!" (Note: Don't necessarily
say it out loud. It will make some people mad.) And then immediately
start doing two things: 1) look for the advantages that might
be wrapped up in this "problem" (which may be difficult
at first), and 2) look to see how you can turn it to your
advantage, and take steps to make it so.
This approach will make
you more effective. You can plainly see why. There's no time
wasted on bemoaning what already exists, and action is taken
immediately to turn it to your advantage. No energy is wasted
getting into a worse mood. Your attitude toward it is open. There's
nothing fixed or permanent about your viewpoint. When you change
the way you think about something, it changes the way you feel
about it. And when you change the way you feel about it,
your actions change too in this case, for the better.
If you have trouble at
first learning to do this, that's good!
If you practice this way
of reacting to problems enough, you can some day be as good at
it as Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP. When a
student of Bandler's complained that his house was being bugged,
Bandler's reply was, "What a chance to talk to these people."
Bandler had ingrained this attitude so thoroughly in his thoughts
that he reeled off idea after idea. Why not play hypnotic tapes
over and over in his house for the listeners? Why not practice
all of your deep trance inductions and put the people bugging
you into trance and give them hypnotic suggestions?
Bandler didn't look for
what was wrong with being bugged. Anybody could do that.
He looked for a way to take advantage of it. You can learn
to have the same mental habit. Find the advantage and think of
the "adversity" in terms of the advantage.
Has something ever happened
to you that you thought at first was a bad thing, but then later
you were really glad it happened? Keep that memory in your mind
whenever something bad happens. You don't know what the future
holds. This might be good. You might as well assume it will be,
and start making it so.
mistakes are what you
make of them
A mistake might not be
a mistake. You might think that you should have done this or
shouldn't have done that. But it would be better to ask what
advantages your already done deeds give you and exploit them
in the present.
The architect Bonano erected
a freestanding bell tower for a cathedral, but he made it on
soft subsoil a bad mistake which made the tower lean over.
That mistake created a large tourist industry and put the town
on the map. Almost everyone in the world has heard of the leaning
tower of Pisa. Galileo conducted his famous gravity experiments
from the tower. He was able to use that tower because it
The compass and its use
in navigation was developed in the Mediterranean because the
sailors had several disadvantages: the water was very deep, the
winds varied a lot in the winter, and the skies were usually
overcast. So you couldn't reliably navigate by sounding, by the
wind, or by the stars. Those were the three ways sailors all
over the world used to navigate.
In the Indian oceans, they
have the monsoon winds which are so regular (they change directions
with the seasons) you could tell where you were headed by noticing
which way the wind was blowing. And they had clear tropical skies
so they could usually navigate by the stars.
In Northern Europe, they
are on one of the continental shelves of the Atlantic so the
water is shallow enough sailors could drop a lead weight attached
to a rope to the sea floor to find their depth, and thus could
tell where they were by how deep the water was. This was called
"making a sounding," and it was a fairly accurate method
of locating one's position in charted waters.
But the sailors of the
Mediterranean had to develop some way to navigate without shallow
waters, clear skies, or predictable winds. And because they had
to develop navigation by compass, Spain, which borders both the
Atlantic and the Mediterranean, was the first to find and colonize
the New World. Without having the know-how to navigate by compass,
nobody in their right mind would have sailed across the Atlantic.
There would have been no guarantee they'd be able to find their
way back without a compass. They'd have no familiar landmarks,
no soundings would work, wind directions would of course be unknown,
and whether or not they'd have clear skies was unknown.
The disadvantage of having
to sail the waters of the Mediterranean turned out to be quite
an advantage for Spain.
But of course, given the
mind's natural negative bias, I'm sure most people of Spain assumed their sailing
conditions were only a disadvantage.
So what are you going to
do with what you think is a disadvantage? What are you doing
now? Aren't there things in your life right now that you consider
a disadvantage? Aren't there conditions you "know"
are bad? That you wish would go away?
Choose one of these bad
things and ponder this question about it: Could this be an advantage
in disguise? Or could I make an advantage out of it? If
you don't want to ponder this for weeks, do a little concentrated
pondering. Use the problem solving method. Write the question at the top of a piece of paper,
"What is good about this?" And force yourself to come
up with 15 answers. Write them all out.
Then take another piece
of paper. At the top write, "How could I turn this
into an advantage?" Make yourself come up with 15 more answers.
At the end of this exercise, which will only take you an hour
or two, your perspective on the "problem" will be tremendously
altered. The "problem" will have lost most of its power
to bring you down. This process can undemoralize you. It can
give you strength and effectiveness and even good feelings.
Irwin Kahn from Franklin,
Ohio, wrote to Dear Abby to tell her what happened to him. When
he was ten years old, his mother sent him to a children's home.
He was very hurt by this. His mother kept his younger brother
and sister, but got rid of him, and she even told him why: He
was too much of a troublemaker.
He was an emotional mess
for awhile and developed a severe stuttering problem. But he
had an assigned "Big Brother" and the staff of the
children's home were good people, and this combination helped
him develop some inner strength and a sense of values. At age
seventeen, he left the children's home to make his way in the
world. "I educated myself," he said, "overcame
my stuttering, became a successful corporate CEO, and now enjoy
multimillionaire status. I retired at 52."
If you think about it,
what seemed a terrible disadvantage getting booted out
at age ten, rejected by your own mother might have been
an advantage. It might have been one of the best things that
could have happened to him. This conclusion seems so much the
opposite of what anyone would naturally think, but think about
this. Because his mom sent him away, he came into the care of
people who were devoting their lives to helping others. He came
under the influence of a Big Brother, who voluntarily and out
of genuine kindness, spent time to help a young person. Without
getting booted out, Kahn would probably never have met these
people or been influenced by them.
The actor Edward James
Olmos grew up in East L.A. and his parents divorced when he was
seven. He lived in a three room house (including the kitchen)
with a dirt floor. Eleven people lived there. He is one of those
who has made the best of how things turned out. "Some people
say they didn't have a choice," he says, "They're poor
or brown or crippled. They had no parents. Well, you can use
any one of those excuses to keep your life from growing. Or you
can say, 'Okay, this is where I am, but I'm not going to let
it stop me. Instead, I'm gonna turn it around and make it my
strength.' That's what I did."
We've got to get out of
our natural negative stance. It isn't cool, it isn't helpful,
it isn't even accurate. And after you change your own mental
habits, you can help change others' way of thinking about
this. It won't be easy. But with good persuasion skills, you can help your friends and loved ones make
their attitude better.
sugar cane savior
We're talking about learning
to have the attitude, learning to have the commitment to finding
or making an advantage out of a disadvantage. Learning to say
"That's good!" no matter what happens, and by your
actions making it good. Another way of saying this is
to convince yourself that, "Trouble brings the seeds of
When the energy crisis
hit in the 1970s, Brazil was hurt badly. Oil imports were taking
half the available foreign currency, and they were heavily in
debt. The country was in trouble. But because of the trouble,
they had to look elsewhere for fuel. They had to look no further
than their own back yard.
One of the things Brazil
had was a huge sugar cane crop. They used it to make alcohol,
and began converting their energy economy to burn and use alcohol.
Today, 90% of cars sold in Brazil run on alcohol, which burns
much more cleanly than gas.
The trouble brought seeds
of good fortune to Brazil. Because alcohol became their chief
fuel, air quality in their cities improved.
The sugar cane is ground
to a pulp, and the juice is extracted and fermented. The processing
plants also had a problem: All the juiceless pulp. They had to
pay garbage collectors to take it away.
Trouble again brought seeds
of good fortune. Uses were found for the pulp. It is burned and
the heat converted to electricity, now providing fully ten percent
of the total energy of the country, relieving the necessity of
building new dams on the Amazon river dams that cause
flooding and environmental damage. And burning the pulp adds
no permanent carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because the
growing plants absorb as much as is released in the burning.
The pulp is also made into a nutritious feed for cattle.
It is an old positive-thinking
maxim that trouble brings the seeds of good fortune. This is
one of those ideas that can make itself true. If you think
you can make an advantage out of a disadvantage, you may try,
and if you try, you increase the odds of it happening.
But if you close your mind
to the situation if you make up your mind it is just bad
you are less likely to think of a way to turn it to your
You have something to gain
and nothing to lose by taking this idea that trouble contains
the seeds of good fortune and burning it into your mind.
Make it an automatic part of your thinking. Have it so ingrained
that it is your first thought when trouble comes your way. It
will give you power to overcome difficulties and prevent life
from sinking you into the quicksand of despair.
If you want to get fast
results, try this: Repeat this idea to yourself, and while you
do, allow images of any trouble happening now in your life to
come into your mind's eye. Think about what has upset you lately.
Think about what bothers you. Think about anything in your life
right now you don't like. And while you do, repeat this idea
steadily and calmly and matter-of-factly.
Your attitude about the
things in your life will sometimes change for the better right
away. You truly don't know what good fortune may develop out
of "trouble." You may not be able to see any good to
it at all. But these are seeds of good fortune, not fruit.
cool solution to a hot
Henry Ford had lots of
"trouble" in his career, but he was a master at finding
the seeds of good fortune in his troubles. For example, on their
lunch hour, some of his employees used the scrap wood left over
from making dashboards and burned it as firewood. They cooked
their lunches with it. The problem was all the charcoal left
over. Ford needed to get rid of it. But how?
His first idea was to make
his dealers take it. He said for every train-car load of his
cars they bought, they had to take a carload of charred wood
with it. How they disposed of it would be their problem. As you
can guess, this didn't go over very well with the dealers.
Eventually, Ford's "problem"
was solved in a very profitable way. A friend of Ford's,
Mr. E.G. Kingsford, bought the charcoal and packaged it with
a little grill and some lighter fluid and sold it in supermarkets.
Kingsford briquettes have been earning a healthy profit ever
One way to look at this
is to think of it as seeing what you expect to see. If you expect
a problem is just going to be trouble, you're not very likely
to look any further. But if you expect to find the seeds of good
fortune within a problem, your creativity is aroused.
In many ways, your mind
tends to see what you expect to see, unless it is really
obvious that what you expect is wrong. When you open your front
door, you expect to see what you have always seen, but if you
opened your door and saw a Giant Panda sitting there, you would
probably see it. The reality of the Panda sitting there is obvious,
and regardless of what you expect to see, you'll see the Panda.
But we're talking about
whether something is "bad" or not. When you make up
your mind something is bad, there's nothing obvious that will
tell you you're wrong. Whether something is bad or good is just
an opinion. It's not a reality in the same way a Panda is a reality.
Since there is no obvious reality to confirm or contradict your
opinion, your mind is free to see what's bad about the situation,
and equally free to ignore what might be good about it. And that's
exactly what your mind will do unless you deliberately do something
If you think it's just
plain bad and you throw up your arms in helplessness,
you might miss what you could do to solve the problem
or turn it to your advantage. And by not doing anything, sometimes
the problem can get worse.
This idea makes you open
your eyes and see what "seeds" you might be able to
cultivate. It turns your attention to the future, to doing something
about it. It changes your attitude from one of avoidance and
rejection to one of acceptance and alertness and creativity.
It puts you in a better frame of mind for dealing with the "trouble."
When something "bad"
happens, you can accept that it's bad or you can try to concentrate
on what is good about it, or you can make something good
out of it.
If you take this idea and
make it an ingrained part of your thinking, you can take many
of the circumstances that in the past would have just been unfortunate,
and you can change them into something that benefits you. At
the very least, it will change your attitude about it for the
Make the statement: Trouble
brings the seeds of good fortune. Commit yourself to making
it so. Your commitment to the statement allows the statement
to come true. Because you think that thought, the thought can
become a true statement (and if you hadn't thought it,
it wouldn't have been true).
Use the statement like
your personal motto. This motto can help you get out of the habit
of automatically being against anything that happens that is
apparently bad. There are some things that "everyone knows"
are bad: a home burnt to the ground, a divorce, a lost job, a
sick child, and there are millions of smaller inconveniences
that if you asked 100 people, 99 of them would all agree that
yes, those are definitely bad and there is nothing good about
them. But what everyone agrees about isn't necessarily true.
There are plenty of people
who got a serious illness and almost died who say it was the
best thing that ever happened to them because they rearranged
their lives to reflect what is truly important. The rest of their
lives they really lived because they almost died.
When something bad happens
and you find an advantage in it, that doesn't make the bad thing
good. But since it already happened, even if it's bad, you can
at least make the future better because of it. Before September
11th, we knew there were terrorist training camps in Afghanistan,
but we didn't stop them. We were following a perfectly reasonable
rule that said we didn't have the right to dictate what goes
on inside another country's borders.
Afterwards, we did what
we should have done a long time ago we said we have the
right to go into another country to capture enemies if the government
of that country isn't willing to fork them over. That is obviously
right. It was an artificial rule to say that just because a known
enemy is inside the borders of another country, that we cannot
forcibly remove those people. We should be able to, and the horrible
event of September 11th made it clear that our previous rule
needed to be changed, and thousands maybe millions
of future deaths and billions of man-hours of anxiety and terror
have been prevented.
The Sultan of Oman said,
"Maybe September 11th was a blessing in disguise. Maybe
it will be the thing that will wake up the world so that we will,
as free people, take the kinds of steps necessary to see that
there is not a September 11th that involves biological or chemical
or nuclear weapons. And hopefully, we can wake up the world in
a way that can save those lives, tens of thousands of lives."
You may already know that
thinking negatively is bad for your life, but maybe you don't
know how to stop yourself from doing it. The negative assumptions
come automatically and once you think that way, it's difficult
to make the thoughts go away.
But now you have a way
to do it. Don't try to stop thinking anything. Simply think trouble
brings seeds of good fortune. And keep thinking it over and
over. Not forcing. Not with any frustration. Not trying to stop
yourself from thinking anything else. Just calmly repeat that
thought to yourself. Keep looking at your life through this point
of view, and the idea will gather evidence to it.
Keep doing it when troubles
come your way and after awhile a month, a year
you'll start thinking that way automatically. You'll believe
it. It will become a natural part of your thinking. Trouble will
happen and you'll think, "Here are some seeds of good fortune."
Can you imagine what that will do to your calm during a crisis?
Can you imagine how much better you will be at keeping your wits
Hold the thought trouble
brings seeds of good fortune and think it often. Repeat it
to yourself over and over. Make that thought strong in your mind.
All by itself, it can transform your attitude, your expressions,
and it can alter the actions you take, and through those, actually
change the world in which you live, and benefit others. Think
the thought. Focus on it. Repeat it.
You might as well think
this way because the "trouble" has already happened.
There's no sense in resisting it or wishing it didn't happen.
It doesn't do you any good. If you know of another way to think
about trouble that's even more practical than this, by all means,
go for it (and please let me know
what it is). But if not, any time and every time trouble comes
your way, you might as well think about it as something that
carries a gift with it, a seed of some good fortune. You might
past and also future
You can use this motto
to deal with trouble that has happened already, but you can also
use it for trouble that might happen in the future. You can use
the motto to end useless worry.
Let me be clear here that
not all worry is useless. If you're thinking about how to avoid
a disaster in the future, and if and this is an extremely
important if there is something you can do about it, then
worry is useful. Go ahead and think about it. Then take the actions
you can take to avert disaster.
Anytime you are worrying
about something that you can't do anything about, worry is worse
than useless; it's downright damaging. It's not only bad for
your health, it has a negative effect on your relationships,
and besides that, it's no damn fun.
And if you ever find yourself
with that kind of worry the useless kind this motto
can put a dead stop to it, because you can say, "Well, if
the bad thing I'm worried about does happen, that future
trouble will bring seeds of good fortune."
Whether that statement
is true or not, it is a good thing to think. And in truth, there
is no way you'll ever be able to prove it true or false. Even
if ten years later nothing good has come out of that misfortune,
your life isn't over yet. You never know what will happen. You
never know when those seeds of good fortune will sprout.
But true or false, it is
a good way to think because feeling bad is itself self-defeating
and counterproductive. This motto turns your mind in a useful
that trouble brings the seeds of good fortune.
comes your way, train yourself to say, "That's good!"
And then make it true.
Make up your
mind you will turn every disadvantage to your advantage.