Take control of your attitude

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Attitude can be defined as a general feeling, our general disposition or our habitual manner of thinking. We interpret everything we see or hear in terms of our habitual thinking; it provides the lens through which we view our world, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
Commonly we think of attitude as being on a scale somewhere between pessimistic and optimistic, or negative and positive.

It’s influenced by a lifetime of experiences, our beliefs and values, our sense of self-worth, our physical and mental health, circumstances and situations and most importantly by our own awareness of how we think.

Our habitual thinking leads to selective attention, such as focusing on one detail while disregarding other information. For example, this explains why a person with social anxiety sees the only frowning face in a room full of smiles. Remember the adage "what you focus on is what you get"?

Attitude is a life response mechanism and we do get to choose what our attitude will be, no matter the situation we find ourselves in or the people we are surrounded by.

A "healthy" attitude allows us to respond to situations in a balanced and even manner, giving us some control back even in unpleasant circumstances. Possessing a healthy attitude doesn’t stop life throwing hurt and challenges at us — it will. However, strengthening a healthy attitude does allow us to deal with the curve balls in a manner that helps us to be more resilient, preserves our wellbeing and helps stop us beating ourselves up and blaming ourselves for mistakes made. A healthy attitude is life affirming.

When your attitude is affirming, others are more likely to enjoy being around you and the opportunity to make friends, meet partners and enjoy a real and meaningful connection with people is increased.

Meaningful connection with others opens up opportunities, leads to being happier, more fulfilled, healthier and feeling supported, especially when life takes a turn for the worse. When your attitude is affirming you are more likely to enjoy being around yourself, perhaps the most important thing to consider.

When life does toss muck, people with a healthier attitude are more likely to take control of their life and ask, "what happened there?", "what can I learn from that?", "what worked and what didn’t?", "what do I need to do to avoid the same situation in the future?"

They ask questions, take responsibility for their part in a situation and learn for the future, even though that can be quite challenging and confronting. They might get a bit down on themselves, but they avoid continually beating themselves up and blaming themselves.

The reverse is true for a non-affirming attitude. This habitual thinking can push people away personally and professionally; it can build a wall that shuts others out. Life can become quite solitary and withdrawn.

Those who have a more negative disposition are often perceived as angry, selfish and arrogant. The rub is that often this attitude is mistakenly used as a defensive or protective mechanism by people who are fearful, hurting, blaming themselves for something and who can’t muster an ounce of self-compassion. It creates a nasty, vicious downward cycle.

Here are my top tips to help polish up your attitude:

Firstly, look at what your general attitude really is - honestly. What are your habitual thought patterns? This is not a time to gloss over the cracks and flaws that every human has.

Then take a good look at your:

• beliefs and life values

• standards and boundaries

• your family influences

• your cultural influences

• your life experiences

• the people around you and their attitudes.

How have these influenced you?

What unhealthy attitude "hot spots" are there?

If you’ve identified any hot spots, consider what your past attitude/responses have been and what you want your future attitude/responses to be.

Who do you want to be and how do you want to live in the world?

What do you need to do to change your attitude - who could help you?

Remember, attitude affects every area of our lives, body, mind and soul. You control your attitude, not outside influences - take that control back. Do more of what allows you to be more positive and uplifted. Weed out the people and situations that affect you negatively or learn to mitigate their effect.

We are not born with these attitudes. We’ve learned these patterns of thinking. The task of changing this habitual thinking is to recognise the self-defeating attitudes and replace them with new, healthier ones.

Changing our attitude can take time - it requires commitment, intent and practice, but the benefits are far reaching.

"I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz.

Twitter:@jan—aitken

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