Embracing the Positive Mindset: Lessons from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Embracing the Positive Mindset: Lessons from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

A fun tradition we partake in around Thanksgiving is watching the classic (and underrated) “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. This year was different for me.  After almost 30 years of , I couldn’t take my ears and eyes off the two main characters and how they interacted with the world. To get you warmed up, watch this scene as the officer pulls them over in their not-so-road-legal burnt up car, and you can always read this article by Jason Diamond who really breaks down the brilliance of John Hughes and the movie as a whole.

At every moment, Del Griffith takes the positive approach in a difficult situation. Even in the wake of being caught red handed and their trip possibly snagged again, Del did his best to persuade the officer with smiles, positive body language, and an agreeable attitude. It’s right out of a Art of Persuasion writing or Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.  We choose to focus on the negative or the positive in what’s in front of us each day, and Del Griffith says to the officer, “…but the radio still works!”

Neil Page embodies the negative, mean, and self-centered character we all can identify with at times. Look at his body language throughout the film, it is perfectly opposite of Del Griffith’s positive movements and facial expressions. Both actors nail their opposite roles in such grand fashion that I could never imagine anyone else playing them.

Del Griffith is how we think we react or how we would like to handle those tough situations.  Yeah, Del can be annoying with some of his idiosyncrasies, but don’t we all have those?  Del just doesn’t hide them well like most of us.


It seems to me, that Steve Martin’s character, Neil Page, is how we usually react to tough situations, especially when we are traveling. Which by the way, is a true measure of patience…the way you handle things-gone-wrong when you are far from home, out of your comfort zone with little control.


Of course, both characters overdue their behaviors for comedies’ sake, but we aren’t that far off are we? How often do we approach a frustrating situation with a huge smile and positive vibe?  I have one friend that has mastered the positive outlook during a chaotic travelling time.  He always makes the best of the situation, and without knowing it, channeling Del Griffith.  How many times have we overreacted to a loved one being “annoying” instead of seeing it as endearing?  That’s your Neil Page coming out.  I sometimes turn into Neil when I lose control of a situation, not so much with travelling, but when I have every minute of my day planned out and it goes awry.  But I’m working on it!

Are you Del?  Are you Neil?  Maybe a little of both?

If you are the 2% of human beings that have not seen this movie, drop what you are doing and stream it.  SPOILER ALERT.  The old adage “fake it to you make it” plays well with Del Griffith.  Unable to accept and work through his wife’s passing, Del fakes a smiling and winning attitude 24/7.  Of course Thanksgiving is now over, but the holiday season is just starting.  Before you set out on your journey, focus on a positive mindset in preparation for losing the cab that you saw first, a cancelled flight, or bunking in a strange hotel with a shower curtain ring salesman.

You too can fake it till you make it… smile more and enjoy the holidays with a positive outlook.




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