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The Magic Word

By Donnie McKinney  c 2003, 2005

Wouldn’t it be neat to know one word that could change your life?  That word has been used so much that it has become a cliché.  Most teens raise an eyebrow in an, "I can't believe you're telling me THAT again" sort of way.  Yet, the fact is that it is one of the most important words you can ever make a part of your life.  That word is attitude.  How can a simple thing; such as your attitude make such a huge difference in your life?


Webster defines attitude as "a mental position with regard to a fact or state."  There is very little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.  The little difference is attitude.  The big difference is whether it is positive or negative. The fact you see or the state you're in remains the same; it’s just the way you look at it that changes.  Oh, no, here comes that “positive thinking” stuff again!  Keep reading.  You’re going to learn why positive thinking doesn't always get the job done.  Right now, just grasp the idea that your attitude in any given situation is your choice; and you attitude will determine your happiness and achievement in life.

See The Stars

By Donnie McKinney  c 2005

A good illustration of this principle is a story that was in "Bits & Pieces" about twenty years ago.  It was about a young bride from the east whose husband was stationed on the edge of the desert in California during WWII.  She decided to go with him even though she was told that the living conditions were deplorable. She lived in a run-down shack near an Indian village.  It was 115 degrees in the shade, if you could find any shade.   The wind constantly blew, and sand got into everything.  The days were long and boring.  The only people she saw were the Indians and they didn't speak English.

When her husband was ordered further into the desert on maneuvers, she decided she just couldn't take it anymore.  She wrote her mother and told her that she was coming home.  Her mother answered with just two lines, Two men looked out from prison bars.  One saw mud, the other saw the stars. After reading the lines over and over, she began to feel ashamed of herself.  She didn't really want to leave her husband.  She made a choice to look for the stars.  Over the next few weeks, she made friends with the Indians and started learning their language.  They taught her weaving and pottery.  She became fascinated with their culture, history - everything about them.

She also began to study the desert and found it to be fascinating, not the desolate place she had been seeing.  She wrote her mother and got her to send books about the desert.  She studied all the different cacti, the yuccas and the Joshua trees.  She collected seashells that were left there millions of years ago when the sand of the desert was an ocean floor.  She eventually became such an expert that she wrote a book about it.

What had changed?  Not the desert; not the Indians.  By simply changing her own attitude, she had transformed a miserable experience into a highly rewarding one.  That's the lesson to learn.  Your attitude is key to happiness in life, and you have complete control over it.


        Each of us shapes our own life, and the shape of it is determined by the atitude we hold most of the time.


Do you want to change your life?  Over the next few days, start noticing how you look at things.  Do you wake up expecting a great day or dreading it?  Do you see your problems as obstacles or opportunities?  Do you look for reasons why you can't do something instead of ways to do it?  Choose to look at each fact or situation in a positive way. 

It's your choice!



Positive Self-expectancy


Even though a positive attitude makes a magical difference in your life, the resulting phenomenon - a positive self-expectation - is much deeper.  I want to introduce you to some of the factors that are involved in developing a positive self-expectancy.  I spent my first few years working with teenagers by telling them that all they needed to do was, "Think positively. With a positive attitude, anything is possible."  Over time, I learned through experience that this wasn't completely true.  When I discovered the laws of the self-image, I learned that you can never do anything that is inconsistent with your own self-image.  We'll talk about that in the next section. Simply put, all the positive thinking in the world won't overcome conditioning.  It must be changed.


Denis Waitley, who has worked with Olympic athletes and astronauts, said, "A positive self-expectancy is the single most identifiable trait of a winner in life."  So, where do you get one of these?  A positive self-expectancy is the result of several key elements in addition to a positive mental attitude.   Having a positive self-expectancy is how you take advantage of a basic principle of life.


       You tend to get what you expect.


That underlying principle sounds so simple that it's hard to believe. But it's true.  I get kidded about always expecting to find a parking space by the front door.  You know what?  I nearly always find one!  That may sound weird to you, but it illustrates this principle.  It applies to everything in life.  Simply put, winners expect to win in advance.

You'd think that if you understood the basic law that “you tend to get what you expect,” you could simply expect good things, and they would come to you.  It's not quite that easy.  Unless you allow yourself to think that you deserve good things (self-esteem) and unless you have a reason to believe that you can achieve good things (self-confidence), you are unable to even imagine yourself having those good things. Over the next few days begin to change your attitude to develop a positive self-expectancy. 


Winning Is More Fun


When I heard Shane Gould's name mentioned in the coverage of the recent Olympic games, it brought back memories of the fifteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sidney who took five medals home in the 1972 games.  Shane Gould was virtually unknown before she broke three world records, and won medals in all five freestyle swimming events.  Denis Waitley used Shane as an illustration for one of the key principles of success in life in The Psychology of Winning.

When this young girl won her first event, the reporters didn't pay much attention to her. After she'd won a couple more events, they asked her how she thought she would do in the longer, more difficult events. She said, "I think I might win."

By the time she got to the 400 meter freestyle event, all eyes were on the young swimmer. The reporters asked, "Shane, you've been doing well, so far, but how do you think you'll do against those older and stronger swimmers?" She said, "I think I'll do O.K. Besides, my parents said if I win, they'll take me to Disney World." She not only won another Olympic Gold Medal but also set a new world record in the process!


       Winners expect to win in advance.


Through Shane's experiences, Waitley teaches that a positive self-expectancy is the single most important attribute of a winner. Shane Gould expected to win in advance.

When I first began working with teenagers, I told them that all they needed was positive thinking. With a positive mental attitude, anything was possible.  Over time, I learned that positive thinking alone wasn't enough.  It goes a lot deeper than that.


I learned from experience that you can never do anything that is inconsistent with your own self-image.  Positive thinking alone won't overcome human conditioning.  It takes a winning self-image to overcome the negative conditioning you've received from other people and to allow yourself to be a winner in life. You already have all of the talents and abilities you need. All you need to do is release them by setting new limits in your life. A winning self-image has to be developed. A positive self-expectancy is an important part of a winning self-image.

Over the next few days, start changing your mental attitude to a positive self-expectancy. Start "expecting" to win in advance. Even if you can't imagine your life being good right now you can still take baby steps.  Don't worry, you'll get there. I know that from experience.

It’s your choice!


Why Did God Let This Happen?

By Donnie McKinney c 2001, 2005

It was at our local high school that a boy brought a gun to school one Monday morning, killed three girls and wounded several others during a prayer meeting.  Coincidentally, the lesson in my teen Sunday school class the day before was about making the principle of being thankful in all situations a part of our lives.  What a severe and immediate test!  How can anyone be thankful when something like that happens?  The answer is the essence of positive self-expectancy.

The discussion was pretty lively that Sunday.  Our community had been shaken to its core.  Satellites were sticking up out of vans transmitting news coverage to CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and Headline News.  Our high school principal was on Larry King Live.  The question on people's minds was, "Why did God let this happen?" Don Young, a local pastor, explained it well at the funeral for the three girls when he said, "God didn’t orchestrate this tragedy.  I couldn’t serve a God who would orchestrate something this horrible, or a child having cancer." 

No, God didn't cause this tragedy.  But remember that God gave us humans the power of choice. He will never interfere with our free choice, no matter how confused we get. This tragedy was a result of the law of cause and effect from human beings exercising their power of choice.  We can't change what has happened.  We can only learn from it and move forward with our lives.  It was through us, however, that God could allow good to come from tragedy.  My class suddenly had a chance to take what we had learned and apply it to a tough, real-life situation.

It is imperative that we understand I Thessalonians 5:18 - " . . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" and Romans 8:28 - " . . . we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."  Then, when bad things happen in our lives - and bad things undoubtedly will happen - we can endure them and move on because we can look to the future and anticipate good things. 


        Things tend to work out for the best, if you let them.


Once you learn this principle, it allows you to expect good things in your life in the midst of bad things happening.  You can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can't see what good lies ahead just yet.  This principle is the basis for the old saying, "Every cloud has a silver lining."  Napoleon Hill said it another way, "Every problem has within itself the seed of an equal or greater benefit."

Does that mean that we should be thankful for bad things?  Well, actually we can, in retrospect. We usually don’t see the whole picture when we’re right in the middle of a bad situation. But basically, we just have to learn to accept bad things for what they are - events that have occurred.  The subtle difference is that we can immediately start moving in a positive direction instead of being dragged down by something we can't change.  And we will be shocked to discover that we became happy and fulfilled in the process.

        Basic Truth #2 - You cannot change anything that has happened in the past. All you can do is learn what you can from it, fix whatever is possible, and then start right where you are and move forward with your life.


After the tragic shooting at Heath High School, people reacted in a loving and forgiving way.  I talked to people as far away as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other parts of the world who saw the news reports and were inspired by what they saw.  Although we couldn't take back that horrible day, our school system put programs into effect to help identify teens who needed help.  We started teaching the principles of life along with the three R's, and Steven Covey's son even came down to speak and brought enough copies of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers for every student. 


We couldn't change what had happened, but we could learn from it and make our lives better as we moved forward.  You can do the same thing in your life. 

It's your choice.

How can you put the principle of forgetting the past and developing a positive self-expectancy in your own life? Hopefully, these true-life experiences will "click" in your mind and help you understand how to change your own thinking to become happy, successful and fulfilled in life. The same principles apply to every area of your life, from school work to sports to planning your career. Here's an illustration showing how our local girl's basketball team learned an important life lesson.


The Past is a Bucket of Ashes

By Donnie McKinney  c 2001, 2005

Pandemonium broke out as the Heath Lady Pirates won the regional high school basketball tournament and headed to the Kentucky state tournament for the first time in fifty years.  But, the real story began a few days earlier in the girls' locker room.

I was in the stands eating my popcorn when someone came to get me to "say something" to the team.  I had never done that before.  The girls were up against an undefeated Marshall County team that was favored to beat them by fifteen points.  No Heath team had won the regional tournament in fifty years.  I was in shock and couldn’t even appreciate my first time in a girls’ locker room!

I told the girls a story about a young football player releasing potential that no one had seen before.  These girls were similar to him. They already had the skills needed to be champions, but up until that time they had not played up to their real potential, except for about one quarter, in any game.  That wouldn't cut it at the regional level.  It was only logical that, if they could play great basketball for one quarter, then they had the ability to play great basketball for the whole game.  It was all in their minds.  All they needed to do was relax and do what they already knew how to do.

The Heath girls beat Marshall County by fifteen points!  The next day, the Marshall coach was quoted in the paper saying, "When the Heath girls came out of that locker room, they looked like nobody could beat them."  I don't believe anyone could have.  What had changed? Nothing, but their attitudes.

The big test awaited them in the final game when they faced the defending champs, Calloway County.  Calloway was undefeated, tough and heading back to the state tournament.  During the semi-final game, one of our players had thrown the ball away five times.  She couldn't stop thinking about messing up and just kept repeating the same mistake.  We've all been in that rut!  Most of my locker room talk the second night was for her.

Carl Sandburg said in his poem, Prairie, "The past is a bucket of ashes."  I told the girls, mostly for Sharon's benefit, to forget about mistakes they had made, and instead to visualize what they wanted to do in the future.  Then, just relax and do it.  It was a pretty short chat.

The girls played inspired basketball.  They shot 100% from the free-throw line!  With only five seconds to go, our center fouled the #1 player in the region and fouled out. Without her, going into overtime would have been disastrous. The player hit both free throws and the score was tied.

Our girls had to bring the ball down the entire length of the court and score in less than five seconds to win!  Sharon got just across the center line and waited for the ball.  She had two opponents all over her, but she snatched the ball out of the air, spun around and threw it over the two girls’ heads.  The buzzer went off while the ball was in the air. It came down and ripped the net.

Sharon told me that during the time out she had closed her eyes and visualized herself getting across the center line, getting the ball, and hitting the final basket!  That’s a million-dollar idea for you.  "The past is a bucket of ashes." Visualize what you want rather than what you don't want.  That’s the key to releasing your hidden potential in life. 


It's your choice.



The Attitude of Gratitude


As we discussed earlier, one of the key components of positive self-expectancy is learning to be thankful in ALL situations.  The Scriptures teach us this basic principle of life. 


        In any given situation, you can take one of two attitudes:  You can either be thankful for what you have, or regret that you don't have more.  The attitude you choose will determine your happiness in life.


All of these basic principles of life are so closely intertwined that it is hard to discuss them separately.  The law that says you tend to get what you expect is a part of the attitude of gratitude.  The more you learn to be thankful in life, the more things come into your life for which to be thankful.  The attitude of gratitude is one of the most important principles we will discuss.  Put it to work in your life and you will begin to see a dramatic improvement in your happiness.


Taking Responsibility


Another subtle influence on attitude is simply taking responsibility for everything in your life.  Winners take responsibility; losers look for someone to blame.  It's a simple fact that if everything in your life was caused by other people and circumstances beyond your control, then you would have no control whatsoever over your life.  What a depressing way to live!  Successful people feel that they have control over their lives.  They take action.  They learn from their mistakes instead of placing blame.


We tend to get what we expect.  Right now, start by being thankful for what you already have.  Make a list if you need to.  You'll be surprised.  Right now, take responsibility for your own actions.  Right now, look for the good that will come out of whatever problem you are facing.  Right now, accept yourself as an imperfect, but changing and growing, worthwhile human being.  Right now, start expecting good things to happen in your life - and they will.

Everything we've talked about is totally within your own control.  You only have to change your attitude in order to change your life.  It's just a decision. Think about what William James, the father of modern psychology said, and apply it to your own life: 

"I have no doubt whatever that most people live whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness . . . much like the man who, out of his whole body organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.   We all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream!"


Miracle on Ice

By Donnie McKinney  c 2001, 2005

CNN Sports Illustrated said, "It may just be the single most indelible moment in all of U.S. sports history. One that sent an entire nation into a frenzy."  All of America was glued to the television February 22, 1980, when the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team attempted one more time to beat the "unbeatable" Russians.  Until that day at Lake Placid, the United States had never won at hockey.  The odds against beating the Russians were incredible.

Recently, team captain Mike Erusione said, "We weren't in a very good situation as a country at that time.  Inflation was absurd, people were waiting in line to get gasoline, hostages were held in Iran, and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan."  All that was forgotten, however, when Mike scored the winning goal in the game that stunned the world. 

I was thrilled to have a chance to meet Mike a few weeks later when he spoke at a meeting I attended in Hawaii.  He told us several stories that I will never forget, but one especially illustrates one of the simple principles of success in life.  The team was under unbearable pressure.  They were intimidated and nervous.  They were just minutes away from facing the "unbeatable" Russians. During their talk before the game, one of Mike's teammates was sitting there in the locker room fooling with something the whole time.  When they got up to go out on the ice, they saw that he had cut out some little cardboard wings and stuck them on his skates.  He said, "I don't know about you guys but I'm going to be flying out there!"

The team stopped right where they were and had a good laugh.  The tension was broken.  Then those boys went out on the ice in a relaxed state, did what they already knew how to do and made world history.  The U. S. Olympic Hockey Team learned by accident a simple principle that you can use to change your life.

My eight and twelve-year-old daughters missed the significance of what happened, and were more excited about getting their pictures taken with Miss Hawaii than they were with the captain of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, but don't you miss the point.  If you want to beat incredible odds in your life, relax and “allow” yourself to release your true potential.  We all have incredible talents and abilities, which are limited only by our fears and other conditioning.

There is no limit to what you can achieve when you turn yourself loose. 

It’s your choice!


It's up to you how you put these basic principles to work in your own life. Now is the time to take responsibility for your life and start changing your stinkin' thinkin' into a positive attitude. Once you develop an attitude of self-expectancy you will find that you are happy and are looking forward to the future.

Copy the following questions into a Word document and REALLY answer them. Your work on these exercises at the end of each section is where you put theory into action, and the principles involved will become a reality in your life.

How do you answer when someone says, “How are you?”


Do you think it’s true that you tend to get what you expect?


Do you understand what “In any given situation, you can take one of two attitudes: Be thankful for what you have, or regret that you don’t have more” Means?


Write down some of the things you’re thankful for.


Do you expect to win in when you try something?


Think of something that happened in your past that has been affecting your life.


Do you understand how you can change the way you “react” to that event?


Do you need to ask someone’s forgiveness, or God’s forgiveness, or forgive yourself?


Do you take responsibility for everything in your life? Or, do you blame others?

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