You Choose Your Attitude

A picture of a stop sign with the word "complaining" written underneath the word "stop."

Everything can be taken from us but one thing; the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

- Viktor Frankl

A man was hired by the circus to clean up after elephants. A friend observed him in his new position and couldn’t help but share his perspective. “You have the worst job of anyone I know,” the friend began. “The elephant poops and you scoop. Poop and scoop. Poop and scoop. What a demeaning job! Why don’t you just quit?”

“What,” responded the pooper-scooper, “and give up show business?”

It is not the job but how we perceive it that effects our inspiration in it; that applies to all things we do. This individual felt important in his role. There was a sense of achievement and a feeling of belonging. Being part of the big top was motivation enough to continue scooping. James M. Barrie wrote, “The secret of happiness is not doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.” As in all parts of life, it’s relative to your perspective and outlook.

Margaret Visser writes, “It’s bizarre behaviour, that our lives are something we have to escape. I have to work all year to be able to go somewhere beautiful for two weeks. Think of the word vacate.” I like holidays as much as the next person. What about the other 50 weeks each year? Should it not be our goal to try and create a life that we don’t need a vacation from. Can real contentment begin at home?

What if we just stopped complaining and appreciated the lives we have?

John Maxwell adds, “I am amazed at the large number of adults who fail to take responsibility for their attitudes. If they’re grumpy and someone asks why, they’ll say, 'I got up on the wrong side of the bed.' When someone else gets a promotion they wanted, it’s because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

It takes a disciplined spirit to endure the monastery on Montserrat in Spain. One of the fundamental requirements of this religious order is that the young men must maintain silence. Opportunities to speak are scheduled once every two years, at which time they are allowed to speak only two words.

One young initiate in this religious order, who had completed his first two years of training, was invited by his superior to make his first two-word presentation. "Food terrible," he said.

Two years later the invitation was once again extended. The young man used this forum to exclaim, "Bed lumpy."

Arriving at his superior's office two years later he proclaimed, "I quit." The superior looked at this young monk and said, "You know, it doesn't surprise me a bit. All you've done since you arrived is complain, complain, complain.”

Lily Tomlin once wrote, “I personally think we developed language because of our deep need to complain.” How did you do with the complaining exercise from the last lesson? I have read about this exercise from numerous sources, but I will continue with Hal Urban’s explanation of it. With his permission, I have been quoting him quite a bit in these first blogs. His book, Life’s Greatest Lessons, is one of the core publications I use in my personal coaching sessions.

He has given this assignment to over eighty thousand people during his career as a teacher/author. Assignment: Starting right now, go the next 24 hours without complaining…about anything. Most students complained the exercise was too hard. A grand total of five people were able to accomplish the assignment. The main lessons learned were that most people complained within the first ten minutes, the majority of people could not believe how hard it was to not complain, and they also learned that they had no idea they complain that much. What if we just stopped complaining and appreciated the lives we have? Attitude is everything. Mae West lived into her eighties believing she was twenty, and it never occurred to her that her arithmetic was lousy.

Charles Swindoll writes, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. So, it is really up to you. You are in charge of your attitude.”

A lack of enthusiasm for life, for growth and for learning can get you into trouble.

Hal Urban continues, “Attitude is a mental outlook, a frame of mind. It’s how we think. It’s what goes on inside a person, thoughts and feelings about self, others, circumstances, and life in general. Attitude is similar to a mood or a disposition, It’s also an expectancy. People who have generally positive attitudes expect the best; people with negative attitudes expect the worst. In both cases, those expectations are usually fulfilled.” Actor Clint Eastwood adds, “I don’t believe in pessimism. If something doesn’t come up the way you want, forge ahead. If you think it’s going to rain, it will.”

A newspaper reporter once secured an exclusive interview with the devil. The reporter was especially interested in the deceptive techniques around which the devil had built his reputation. “What is the most useful tool you use on people?” he asked.

“Is it dishonesty? Lust? Jealousy?”

“No, no, no,” chuckled the devil. “The most useful weapon I possess is apathy.”

What’s the first thing you say to yourself when you wake up in the morning? What if you were to wake up in anticipation something good is going to happen today? Joe DiMaggio, always talked about ‘Opening Day’ of each baseball season, “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

Your day is pretty much formed by how you spend your first hour. One small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day. You did not wake up today to be mediocre. I read on a poster recently, “Your day will go the way the corners of your mouth turn.” Al Walker writes: “The most important words we’ll ever utter are those words we say to ourselves, about ourselves, when we’re by ourselves. You will never speak to anyone more than you speak to yourself in your head. The way you talk to yourself creates your reality. If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you’d never think a negative thought again.” Bob Proctor adds: “Don’t be a victim of negative self-talk. Remember, you are listening.”

Author Jim Clemmer in his blog: Bounce Back: 9 Ways to Strengthen Resilience,

“Cut off catastrophizing. I’ve used an elastic band on my wrist to literally snap my attention back from my adverse thoughts. That’s one step in the ABCDE model. Next is examining my belief about the event, looking at the consequences of those beliefs, disputing them, and energizing toward my desired future.”

Samuel Jackson adds, “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” A lack of enthusiasm for life, for growth and for learning can get you into trouble. Whatever you must do today, do it with the confidence and enthusiasm of a 4-year-old in a Batman cape. When a child learns to walk and falls down 50 times, he never thinks to himself, “Maybe this isn’t for me.”

A father was late getting to his son’s baseball game. As he sat down behind the players bench, he asked one of the boys known as a real leader on the team what the score was.

“We’re behind fourteen to nothing,” he answered with a smile.

“Really!” the dad replied. “I am surprised that you don’t look very discouraged.” “Discouraged?” the boy replied with a puzzled look on his face. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet.”

No lesson on attitude would be complete without a discussion on the optimist/pessimist question. Is the glass half-full or half empty? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? According to the theory, an optimist thinks the glass is half-full; a pessimist thinks the glass is half-empty. Is life really that simplistic? People who wonder if the glass is half empty or half full, miss the point. The glass is refillable. Remember, attitudes are habits of thought built up over years.

Whatever you must do today, do it with the confidence and enthusiasm of a 4-year-old in a Batman cape.

Loretta LaRoche, one of my favorite comediennes, writes in her book, Life Is Short, Wear Your Party Pants, “Science has proven that people who employ an optimistic attitude tend to live longer and have a stronger immune system. In uncertain times, the optimist expects the best while the pessimist thinks that if anything can go wrong it will. Optimism is not a blind and thoughtless belief that everything’s going to be okay, no matter what. A true optimist wakes up thinking, anything could happen today, good or bad, and whatever happens, I can deal with it. Optimists know that there are bad things that can happen, and they accept that’s the way it goes. They don’t ignore the pitfalls of life, but rather, understand that they exist and then don’t obsess over them.”

David G. Meyers adds, “The recipe for well-being, requires neither positive nor negative thinking alone, but a mix of ample optimism to provide hope, a dash of pessimism to prevent complacency, and enough realism to discriminate those things that we can control from those we cannot.” Walt Disney wrote, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” Harold Wilson sums this up so well, “I’m an optimist, but I’m an optimist who carries a raincoat.”

Does positive thinking always work? Of course not. But I do agree with Joel Osteen when he states: “You cannot hang out with negative people, and expect to have a positive life.” Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” Julia Child states: “A passionate interest in what you do is the secret of enjoying life, perhaps the secret of long life, whether it is helping old people or children, or making cheese, or growing earthworms.” Don’t be so full of adult, you do not experience the simple joys of life. Never, never, ever, get rid of the desire to play in puddles or run through a sprinkler.

How accepting are you? Acceptance can be defined as being open and allowing things I dislike or don’t want, in myself, others and the world around me. Actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at age 29, has become an advocate for research toward finding a cure for the disease. He writes, “Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. It means understanding that something is what it is and there’s got to be a way through it.”

How flexible are you in your thinking? Are you a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of person when it comes to decision making? Are you open to other people’s ways of doing things if they are different from yours? Or are you like the man that Jim Clemmer describes in his book, Growing the Distance, “He was so narrow minded that he could look through a keyhole with both eyes.” The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about. Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked in a storm while the willow survives by bending with the wind. Life is all about how you handle Plan B, or if necessary, even Plan C.

People who wonder if the glass is half empty or half full, miss the point. The glass is refillable.

A Mexican proverb states, “A lion believes that everyone shares it’s state of mind.”

This same lion was experiencing an off day and decided to stalk through the jungle looking for trouble.

He grabbed a passing tiger and demanded, “Who is king of the jungle?”

“You are, oh mighty lion,” answered the tiger.

The lion then grabbed a bear and asked, “Who is king of the jungle?”

“You are, oh mighty lion,” answered the bear.

Next, the lion met an elephant and asked, “Who is king of the jungle?”

The elephant grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around and around and threw him up against a tree, leaving him bruised and battered. The lion got up feebly and said, “Just because you don’t know the right answer is no reason for you to get so rough!”

How important is your need to be right? Is your need to be right greater than your need to cultivate positive relationships in all parts of your life? Comedian and writer Dave Barry says: “I argue very well, ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and stay clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me.” To live a full life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. You learn nothing from life if you think you are right all the time. When you let go of your attachment to be right, suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.

Do you occasionally stretch your self-imposed ceiling? It’s been said that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Are you willing to risk being uncomfortable as you try new things, as you grow and expand your skills and horizons? According to a survey, what’s the number one fear of North Americans? It’s speaking in public. Yet, I’ve never come across someone who died from it. Wouldn’t you rather have a life of ‘oh, wells’ than a life of ‘what-if’s.’

Do you show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there? Woody Allen states, “80% of life is just showing up.” No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up no matter how hard the journey feels. You’ll have good days, bad days, overwhelming days, tiring days, and can’t seem to go on days. Remember, you are always 100% responsible for how you act, no matter how you feel. The cartoon character Ziggy states, “Everything doesn’t have to come up roses. I’m happy with dandelions.”

In the world according to Mr. Rogers, he writes, “Some days, doing the best we can may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else. You won’t always have a good day. But you can always face a bad day with a good attitude.” Don’t be too hard on yourself. The mom in the film ‘E.T.’ had an alien living in her house for days and didn’t know it.

The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.

You can reframe your outlook at any time. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer writes, “Somewhere along the line, I made the switch and was able to look at the bright side rather than the dark side all the time. Now I look at everything I have and think how lucky I am.”

Some people bring joy when they arrive and some people bring joy when they leave. Do you want to be someone’s favourite hello or their happiest goodbye? Who do you bring to the party? How do you want to be perceived?

You spend most of your life inside your head. Make it a nice place to be. Be the attitude you want to be around.

Food for Thought

At least once each week, wake up and go through your day in anticipation something good is going to happen. Do a personal check in at the end of the day.

If you had a friend who spoke to you the same way that you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow this person to be your friend?

Can you train your mind to see the good in every situation?

How do you deal with negative people?

Repeat the complaining test, at least once each week. See if you can go 24 hours without complaining.

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

Attitude is everything, so pick a good one.

- Wayne Dyer

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

- Audrey Hepburn

Optimism is a cure for many things.

- Michael J. Fox

Write on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

- G.K. Chesterton

It takes no more time to see the good side of life than to see the bad.

- Jimmy Buffet

Be pleasant until ten o’clock in the morning and the rest of the day will take care of itself.

- Elbert Hubbard

Never give up because you never know what the tide will bring in the next day.

- Tom Hanks (in Castaway)

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.

- William James

Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

- Lou Holtz

The secret of cooking is first, having a love of it. If you’re convinced cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be any good at it. And you might as well just warm up something frozen.

- James Beard

I believe in taking a positive attitude toward the world. My hope still is to leave the world a little better than when I got here.

- Jim Henson

It is not possible for the human mind to hold both a positive and negative thought at the same time.

- Lily Tomlin

Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all: the apathy of human beings.

- Helen Keller

A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you.

- Joyce Meyer

Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

- John Wooden

The average pencil is seven inches long with just a half inch eraser, in case you thought optimism was dead.

- Robert Brault

Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.

- Teddy Roosevelt

Don’t take like too seriously. You can’t get out alive anyhow.

- Hank Williams

Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are either the masters or the victims of our attitudes. It is a matter of personal choice-blessing or curse.

- John C. Maxwell

To complain is always non-acceptance of what is.

- Eckhart Tolle

Be miserable or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.

- Wayne Dyer

Next Lesson: Happiness is an Inside Job

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