Respond Like Shaun, Not Bitzer

Every situation is what you make of it.

One of the favorite TV shows in our house is Shaun the Sheep, a children’s show about the animals on a farm in northern England. The two central characters are Shaun and the farmer’s dog, Bitzer.

Shaun and Bitzer present an interesting dichotomy in how they respond to adversity. Bitzer is easily overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear when things go wrong. Shaun, on the other hand, will leap into action, rally the flock, and perform nothing short of a miracle to get things back to normal before the farmer notices anything is amiss.

Two very different responses, representing very different ways of looking at not only the world, but yourself.

©2009 Aardman Animations. All rights reserved.

How do you respond when things go wrong?

Do you throw your hands up in the air, curse the Fates, and resign yourself to whatever unfortunate outcome the world has for you? Or do you step back, assess the new situation, and spring into action?

Shaun’s response demonstrates what’s called an internal locus of control. No matter what happens, he is in control of his world. He may not be able to control everything that goes on around him, but he controls his response and his attitude. He is the master of his fate. He is proactive.

Bitzer’s response is much more common. His locus of control is external. He is subject to his environment. If things are going well, he has a good day. When things go downhill, his day goes right down with it.

Do you know anybody like that? How much fun are they to be around? You never know what kind of a mood they’re going to be in. They could be fine, or they could make Eeyore seem cheerful.

Do you know anybody like Shaun? How much fun are they to be around? No matter what happens, they’re cheerful. They’re full of positive energy. They see the good in people. They make the best of any situation. They don’t see failure as a mistake, just a happy little accident that sets up something new.

How many times have amazing discoveries been made on accident? Columbus was trying to discover a naval trade route to India; he failed, and discovered the western hemisphere. Charles Goodyear spilled a bottle and vulcanized rubber. The microwave was invented after Percy Spencer noticed his chocolate bar had melted after standing in front of a mangetron.

Think about the melted chocolate bar for a moment. Spencer wasn’t the first to notice a melted chocolate bar in his pocket, but he was the first to investigate it. Instead of bemoaning a sticky mess (and not getting to eat the chocolate bar) he lept into action, asked why, and forever changed how we make popcorn.

The next time something goes wrong, take a moment to choose your response. Don’t get frustrated because your day isn’t going according to plan. If there was something you could have done differently, learn from it. Then let go and look forward. Your day just changed. You just discovered something new. You have new opportunities now. Don’t ignore them just because you didn’t know about them when you woke up this morning.

You have no control over the past. (You used to, but not any more.) You can’t control what other people do. But you can control yourself, here and now. That gives you a surprising degree control over the future.

Question: How do you respond to adversity instead of reacting to it? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.