Which is More Realistic; Downer Dan or Pollyanna?
A while back I was having lunch at a neurobiology conference. The conversation went in the way of discussing car accidents (I guess we needed to dumb it down for lunch), and I mentioned that I was hit by a drunk driver more than fifteen times, also mentioning the physical impairments I was left with. It was a dramatic story of me chasing her for forty minutes until ten cop cars finally caught up and tried to stop us both.
Initially she hit me at over 55 miles per hour while I was stopped at red light. When I got my bearings back, I realized that instead of seeing if I was OK, she was trying to back up her crumpled car so she could get away. Well, thanks to some high quantities of adrenaline and dopamine, I ignored the pain shooting down my back and quickly and could tell she was drunk. I believed that if someone did not stop her, she would likely kill someone. So I decided to help out. As she hit speeds of 80 miles per hour, I pursued her as carefully as I could (no, I really did), but each time I got close enough to see her license plate and tried to call 911, all I got was “still searching” on my phone, Ugh! She repeatedly nodded off at intersections and traffic lights, at which point I would pull my car in front of her and try to block her path, but like a drunk Tasmanian Devil, she would spring to life and slam on the accelerator.
You will have to see me in person to hear the rest of the story, but the point is that at the end of my story, the woman to whom I was telling this looked at me and asked, “Are you angry for what she did to you?” I was caught off guard; no one had ever asked me that before. I said, “Not at all. I feel like that was one of the moments I will look back on as when my life really mattered.” That driver had been arrested five times for drunk driving prior to that afternoon. After the accident, she went to prison for a year, got sober, and became a drug counselor. Now she sends me a thank-you card each year on “our anniversary,” thanking me for being her guardian angel.
Others at the table commented on my positive attitude. I smiled because until that moment, I had never seen myself as a positive person, persé I always considered myself a realist. It was then that I realized I had always viewed a positive attitude as a decision to forcibly put a positive spin on things. I’d thought it was a decision that took strength and fortitude and a giant fake smile that I always believed was more about being in denial. Conversely, for me in this story, there was no other choice, no pushing away a buried resentment; this was the only way to see it.
As I have now rewired my brain with the techniques that I teach eeryday, I see that same perception pervading all the areas of my life. Now it just takes pausing for a moment for me to see the reality of all the goodness around me, and there is no other choice but to smile and feel good about life.
People are writing me from all over the world these days, saying that after practicing the techniques in my book, their brain is now naturally leaning toward a positive perception. The sane can happen to you and It won’t take putting rose-colored glasses on—just clear ones.