We have all heard of how powerful and important attitude is. There are dozens of quotes about it and we’ve all seen the motivational posters. Despite how common it is to hear about attitude, it seems the majority of people still don’t really understand what attitude is.
The error I most commonly see is the idea that an attitude is a feeling. To be fair there are many definitions of attitude out there that include some reference to emotional state. Attitude does affect and is affected by our emotional state, but emotion does not lie at the core of attitude.
I’m going to give you a little bit different definition that will help you understand what attitude really is. From there, it’s up to you to take control of yours and reap the benefits.
Attitude: A set of stories or beliefs that one tells to one’s self that defines their experience of reality.
– The first thing I want to point out here is that attitude is entirely in your control. The only factor that determines attitude according to this definition is you. There are some incredible stories out there that attest to this. Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl didn’t write this about a rough day at the office or dealing with heavy traffic. He wrote this about being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. His example shows just how much power you have even in the worst situations.
The more difficult the situation, the greater the mental strength required to maintain a positive attitude, but it ultimately comes down to us and our choice.
– The second thing I want to point out about this definition is that is reveals the source of an attitude, namely, stories and beliefs. Between every event and our response we tell ourselves a story. That story determines our response. I can tell myself that my coworker didn’t respond to that email because he’s just not a team player and is trying to sabotage the project, or I can tell myself that he must be really working hard to make sure everything is the best it can be. The story I tell myself determines my response.
The stories and beliefs that determine attitude are simply the stories and beliefs that we tend to default to. What types of stories to we naturally jump to? Do we jump to blaming, avoiding, and hiding? Do we mentally jump to the worst case scenario at the first sign of trouble? Or do we assume the best about others and naturally look for the best possible outcome? This gut level set of stories or beliefs is the foundation of our attitude.
– Finally, I want to dig into the final part of the definition. Attitude defines our experience of reality. This is true to an extraordinary degree. What one person sees as drudgery another can find opportunity and even joy in. I’ll give an example from my own life to illustrate this.
I spend part of my time working for a service company making house calls. Usually the jobs I get are in a fairly tight geographic area so I spend as much time with customers as possible and as little time driving (my productivity is measured and reported on each week all the way up to my boss’s boss’s boss). This last week I was in a situation in which I had to drive almost an hour between jobs. Typical drive time is under 15 minutes so this was well outside the norm. This type of thing had been going on all week and my production was suffering so when I saw this my first response was anger.
It had been a stressful week and to my mind this was just the next thing to go wrong. I allowed my stories to be about my poor production, my boss’s likely response, and how poorly my time was being spent with all this driving. If you asked what I was doing I would have said something along the lines of “Driving in circles all over God’s green earth and getting nothing done because the dispatchers don’t know what they’re doing.” That was the world, reality, as I saw it.
As I was driving, I was able to check myself. I told myself a new story. That story was, “Chris, you are so lucky. You are getting paid to drive through the beautiful hill country and listen to great music.” Ask me again what I was doing and I would have said something along the lines of “Enjoying a beautiful drive with great music, and getting paid to boot!!”
Now if you just read the two descriptions of what I said I was doing, you would hardly think I was talking about the same person or event. But I lived both those realities while doing the same exact thing on the same day on the same drive. All that changed was my attitude. The second option was much more pleasant and I enjoyed my day after changing my attitude. I actually smiled and laughed. That is how powerful attitude is.
So take a moment to examine yourself. What are the stories and beliefs that you default to and are driving your attitude? Are those stories making your life better, more enjoyable, more productive? If not, CHANGE THEM! Tell yourself something new. Repeat it over and over until it becomes your default. Your attitude will change and so will your world.