Stop Focusing on the Negatives. Start Enjoying Life.

road less traveled

Today, I’d like to share a story from my experience on the Fourth of July that I think has some broader lessons for all of us. Enjoy!

The setup

Every Fourth of July in Boston there’s a huge celebration on the Esplanade, which is a long, beautiful park that runs along the Charles River. It’s a really fun event that’s capped by a great concert featuring the Boston Pops and of course a huge fireworks show. And it’s 100% free admission.

This was the first year that our son was old enough to go and actually enjoy himself. On top of that we have our 6-year-old niece staying with us right now who is just about the perfect age for this kind of thing. So about a week before the Fourth my wife suggested that we pack a picnic dinner that afternoon and head down to the Esplanade early to enjoy everything. I wholeheartedly agreed.

Focusing on the negatives

When the Fourth actually came, I started having doubts about our plan. The main hesitance was that the night before had been a late night for everyone. We had spent it at a friend’s house and both our son and niece went to bed about 2 hours later than normal. We then all woke up at our normal time, meaning we were all operating on less sleep. That morning we went to a parade and by the end of it we were all a little hot, sweaty, tired and cranky. I knew that if we went down to the Esplanade that night and actually stayed for the fireworks, we’d be getting home at 11 at the earliest, again way past normal bedtimes. It would also be hot and somewhat crowded, it was a bit of a hike to get there and back, and I started getting visions of everyone falling apart and my wife and I schlepping 2 crying kids back home before we ever even got to enjoy ourselves. So I mentioned to my wife that we might want to think about skipping it and instead take it easy at home.

Switching to the positives

The concerns above certainly had some validity to them, but were they the only way to look at the situation? Of course not. There were plenty of positives to consider as well, which my wife was more than happy to remind me of:

The event is very kid-friendly. We would be outdoors, and though it was hot out it was also beautifully sunny. There’s a really cool playground that we could try to sit near so the kids could have something specific to do. The concert is very family friendly. And of course there are the fireworks. What kid doesn’t love fireworks?

First chance to experience it with our son. Our son is 15 months old right now and running all over the place. He’s now at the age where he can really enjoy things like this and it would be a lot of fun to experience it with him.

Potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience for our niece. Our niece lives in Florida. She might never again get the chance to come to this event. Should we sacrifice that experience for her just because we’re worried about a little crankiness?

My wife had planned for it and really wanted to go. This alone was a good enough reason. When added to the others, the decision became a no-brainer.

What actually happened?

I got over my worries and we headed out to the Esplanade. We found a perfect spot right next to the playground, within easy walking distance of the concert and with a great view of the fireworks. Thanks to my wife, we had an awesome picnic dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Our niece spent most of her time on the playground, running around, making friends and teasing boys. Our son got to run around all over the park and spent a lot of time practicing his waving at total strangers. We got to watch some beautiful fireworks. And both kids were total troopers even though we didn’t get back to our apartment until just before midnight. It couldn’t possibly have been a better night.

Lesson learned

Although my initial tendency was to focus on the potential negatives, with a little help I was able to get past that and ended up with a truly memorable experience. To me, this is a lesson that can apply to many things in life. We often have a tendency to focus on the negatives of a situation, to see all of the reasons why something might be difficult or why we might fail. We let those thoughts stop us before we even start, never giving ourselves the chance to succeed at something truly important.

Think about it. Have you ever decided not to pursue a potential romantic interest because you were afraid of rejection? Have you delayed investing because you thought it would be too hard to learn? Have you had a cool business idea that you’ve failed to pursue because of the potential for failure? Whatever it is for you, the potential negatives are certainly there, but the potential positives far outweigh them.

So let me hear it. What’s something you’ve avoided because you’ve been focusing on the negatives? What are the positives you could focus on instead? What is one step you could take right now to make this thing happen? If we can all start acting from a place of hope and excitement instead of fear, we can all make our world a much happier place.

Image courtesy of Leann Bailey

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42 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer July 8, 2013

    LOVE this, Matt! I tend to be an optimist by nature, but this post reminds me of all of the times we started on the road to debt free but got scared and quit a couple of weeks in. We were scared of failing, so we decided to quit on our own terms. Ridiculous, isn’t it? The great thing about a positive attitude is that it allows you to see things in a better, happier light, and that’s always great for the soul. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      “we decided to quit on our own terms.” I think that’s such a common occurrence. Objectively it’s ridiculous but we all do it. Either quitting or never starting because you’ve psyched yourself out. Staying positive and facing the possibility of failure isn’t easy, but it’s usually what leads us to the truly memorable experiences.

  • Holly Johnson July 8, 2013

    I can relate! Our kids are 2 and 4 and they can get crabby past bedtime. I usually don’t schedule anything from 1-4 during the day on the weekends because that’s when they nap. I agree that it’s okay to stray from the plan occasionally but I like to stay on schedule when possible! Everyone seems happier that way.
    Glad you had fun watching the fireworks!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      We definitely try to stay on a loose schedule. I think routine is important and like you say keeps everyone happy. But knowing when you can stray away from the routine is important too. But yeah, the prospect of late night meltdowns is certainly a scary prospect.

  • MyMoneyDesign July 8, 2013

    I let myself get wrapped up in that kind of nonsense all the time. I’m better about being adventurous with my family than I am at work. Probably because there are huge financial consequences at work if things go wrong. I can think of dozens of time I thought a new project or group I was going to manage was just going to be the worst! But then I get there and its really not as bad or terrible as I thought. I think most things are simply what you make of them; perception is reality.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      It’s almost never as bad as we thought it would be right? I’m always amazed when there’s something I’ve been avoiding until it’s forced upon me and then it ends up being almost nothing. Could have saved myself a whole lot of dread AND gotten it done a lot sooner.

  • I’m glad you decided to go, even if just for your last reason. I get frustrated when my wife and I make plans and then she decided she doesn’t want to go at the last minute

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      Agreed. Someone ditching out last minute is incredibly frustrating. That alone was definitely a good enough reason.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules July 8, 2013

    I can so relate Matt as we face similar situations with our little ones. At the end of the day, generally, I come back to wanting to create a fun experience for us all to remember. I am a realist (read pessimist in my wife’s opinion 😉 ) and can easily focus on the negatives. I just have to choose to not focus on them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      Haha, I can definitely related to the realist/pessimist label. My wife and I can actually both be like that, but usually about different things. Which is great because there’s usually one of us to be positive and get the other one out of the funk.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money July 8, 2013

    I would definitely say that not moving forward quickly enough with business ideas is an example of my own hesitance towards jumping into things and focusing on the positives. I sometimes fill my time with “comfortable” activities like social media, browsing the web, etc. versus really prioritizing and making time for the most important tasks. I think if I monitored my site a little less it would open up more time to spend with my wife as well as start planning my next niche website.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      Yep, I can definitely relate. I actually resolved not to check my site stats for the entire month of July, just because I felt like I was wasting time there. I do think it’s helped me be a little more productive.

  • Budget & the Beach July 8, 2013

    Great post! Glad you decided to go. I can think of a million things I’ve avoided because they seemed too hard. Most of it has to do with my work as an editor. I really want to work on some of my own material, but something is holding me back…and I can’t quite figure out what. It’s something I need to work on.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      I struggle with stuff like that too. What usually helps me is just finding one tiny little thing I can do to get started, even if it’s something as simple as writing a single sentence. If I can keep doing one tiny thing each day, it can usually expand to something bigger. Or at least that tiny thing is better than nothing.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup July 8, 2013

    Great post Matt and glad to hear you enjoyed yourself. There have been quite a few things that I have not done because I focused on what could go wrong. Buying a new house is one of them on the table right now. I need to make some progress, but just don’t want to.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      That’s such a big decision too. I can definitely let myself get paralyzed with decisions like that. It’s happening with our car search right now to some extent. For me, it’s a matter of there being so much information, much of it conflicting, and worrying too much about making the “right” decision. Then I end up avoiding it altogether. It’s usually a pretty random trigger that snaps me out of it.

  • Jacob @ MPFJ July 8, 2013

    Thanks so much for the mention!

  • Greg July 8, 2013

    You’re right, it is so easy to focus on the negatives and reasons not to do things. What comes to mind for me are the days that I don’t want to work out. I spend time looking for reasons why I will be too busy, but once I am out there, and especially when I get back, I feel much better that I did.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

      Oh yeah, exercise is a big one. It’s weird how starting is such a big hurdle, and then as soon as you get going it’s really pretty enjoyable. You’d think we’d remember that we liked it, but it can still be a struggle the next time.

  • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 8, 2013

    I definitely agree that weighing the potential negatives of a situation can be beneficial. After all, I do love me some insurance. But I think it’s important, if difficult, to try and draw the line between being a realist and unnecessarily worrying. Not always easy to do, but as you say probably best accomplished by objectively weighing the pros and the cons.

  • E.M. July 8, 2013

    I am glad you guys decided to go and enjoyed it! Sounds like a neat event. I definitely find myself focused on the negative possibilities too often. It’s important to realize the good and bad usually have an equal chance of happening in situations like this, so we might as well go for it! We had a little get together after work last week and myself and my coworker weren’t sure if we should bother going, but we did, and neither of us regretted it. We left a little early, but it was nice to talk with everyone outside of work.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      Great example. I’m often hesitant to go to events like that as well, but am almost always happy when I do.

  • Shannon Ryan July 8, 2013

    I love this post, Matt! I know exactly what you mean when you’re dealing with tired kids and trying to figure out how much they can take on without going into some sort of nuclear meltdown. It’s easy to get caught up in the worse case scenario (my kids screams will overpower the Boston Pops!) and it’s great you have a partner to help you see both sides. By nature I am positive, but I have plenty of fears that have held me back. As I’ve grown older, I realize my regret of not confronting my fears is more painful than dealing with whatever holds me back.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      “I realize my regret of not confronting my fears is more painful than dealing with whatever holds me back.” Such a great lesson. Something I seem to learn over and over again but still struggle with.

  • Done by Forty July 8, 2013

    My old roommate introduced me to the phrase that there are always a million reasons not to do something, but you only need one reason to do something. Thanks for sharing that story. A little focus on the positives is just what we need.

  • Oh I can definitely relate. I have backed out of parties and engagements because I knew I was tired and grumpy and couldn’t see the positives in going. =(

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      Sometimes it really isn’t worth going, but a lot of times going can actually make you less grumpy and tired, even if it’s hard to see that beforehand.

  • Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility July 8, 2013

    This is a good reminder, 9/10 times I will default on troll setting and avoid these events? Maybe I should be more opened minded, I’m probably missing out!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      There’s definitely a balance, but it’s rare that I regret going out and doing something I was hesitant about.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar July 9, 2013

    I’ve been guilty of that many times, but you’re right about having a great experience if you can get over the negatives. We did a crazy camping road trip a couple of years ago. It was a nine hour drive over Labor Day weekend, and we were worried it would be super crowded, but we got to see Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. It was an amazing experience, even if it was a huge drive.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      Oh god, those drives scare me with my son. But we’ve done some pretty big traveling and he almost always handles it like a champ. I would love to see Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef! There are so many cool places in this country that I haven’t been too yet.

  • JW_UmbrellaTreasury July 9, 2013

    Oh yes, I definitely do this. My husband says I have a habit of “catastrophization” — imagining the WORST possible scenario in any circumstance, often to a ridiculous extreme. But you’ve shared a good reminder that we do need to focus on the positives — there’s always a chance that something bad will happen, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying life and taking in new experiences.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      Haha, I like that word catastrophization. It definitely captures the requisite amount of drama.

  • Tie the Money Knot July 9, 2013

    I think there is a time and place for thinking worst case, and it has value in some situations. However, there are other situations where it’s just better to think optimistically. I recall taking an overseas trip when much younger, on a study abroad program, and having fears about being so far from home in an underdeveloped country (compared to here in the US). As it turns out, I though optimistically and it turned out to be one of my better decisions! Great life experiences ensued.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      I definitely agree that there’s often value in thinking through worst-case scenarios. Sounds like in your particular case though you made a great choice to ignore those worries. I had similar concerns traveling to Costa Rica recently, mostly because I just don’t have a lot of travel experience. But we went ahead with it and it was great. I feel like that’s usually how it works out.

  • Rachel@Mobilligy July 9, 2013

    Great post, Matt! Why is it so easy to focus on the negatives? For me, I’m a home-body and don’t like staying out late at night, so I’ll want to skip a lot of events that my friends go to so I can stay home and get in bed early. Luckily, my husband will drag me out of the house on occasion, and I always have a great time!
    Financially speaking, investing has been the thing I avoid. I find it really intimidating because I don’t know a lot about it. Instead of reading up on it and educating myself, I find that I tend to ignore it instead.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 9, 2013

      I definitely understand why investing can feel intimidating. Luckily, it can actually be done very effectively with very little effort. Make sure to check out tomorrow’s post!

  • cashRebel July 9, 2013

    I know I always focus on the potential negatives, but I have to tell myself that it will probably work out just fine. Sometimes I’d really just rather skip a party, but I force myself to go and I have a great time.

  • Funancials July 9, 2013

    I think it was Mark Twain who said, “I’ve suffered many great things in life…some of which actually happened.”

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