“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
What is the attitude you take towards challenges and conflict in your life? What are those loud, annoying voices in our heads saying to us about how should we live our lives? Raise our children? How we should view ourselves and place in this world?
“Attitude” is essentially how we perceive and judge ourselves, others, and situations; the filter in which we translate our experiences into thoughts. If I’m judging a work meeting as “This is going to suck”, I’m most likely going to have a negative and “sucky” attitude in the meeting, which is going cause the meeting to be boring and irritating. If I judge this same meeting as an opportunity for me to learn and grow, I’m most likely going to have a more positive and engaging attitude, and will more than likely gain something beneficial from it.
When we have the attitude of reprimanding ourselves for making mistakes, or believing we’re pieces of s*** and unworthy of anything “good” we feeling powerless and stuck. We carry this attitude like a stain of coffee on work clothes: No how much we blame, there is still a horrible stain; and no matter how much we hate it, it’s going to follow us all day because we didn’t bring an extra change of clothes.
When we embody the attitude that nothing is fair and it’s everybody else’s fault, we placate the attitude of the helpless victim. Despite how much we complain, we’re never able to make meaningful lifestyle changes to bring us greater happiness and meaning to our lives; eventually succumbing to the attitude of jealousy which only continues strengthen our unhappiness and suffering.
With repeated effort over time, we cement these negative attitudes so deeply into our personality the two become indistinguishable. Our self-identity essentially becomes inseparable from our attitudes.
You may even know someone who frequently has a “bad attitude”. No matter what’s said and done, it’s never good enough for them right? They’re never happy or satisfied with their lives. You avoid them like the plague because their negative attitude has become “who they are” (and it’s simply too exhausting to be around them for very long).
We sorely underestimate how powerful our attitudes are in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and actions; all of which ultimately create our experiences of success and suffering. We forget that there are two sets of experiences – “what’s really happening” (objective) and “what do I think is happening” (subjective) – that we enmesh the subjective with the objective and lose touch with the reality of any given situation.
Remember a time in your life when you faced a great challenge or struggle, and you felt hopeless, powerless, or stuck. What was your attitude towards yourself and this challenge? What did you say to yourself about what was happening and how did saying it affect you? How did you respond and what were the outcome(s) of your actions?
Now, remember a time when again you were facing a challenge or struggle, except this time you felt more confident, empowered, and grounded? What were you saying to yourself this time? What attitude(s) did you take and what impact did it have on the outcome?
Can you start to see how your attitude towards both situations influenced your thoughts, feelings, actions, and the outcomes of the situation? Just as your attitude has the power to create pain at and suffering in your life, it too has the power to create a life filled with passion, purpose, and success. The only difference between the you that is successful and the you that is suffering is your attitude.
4 Steps for Changing Our Attitudes in ANY Given Circumstance to Create Success Instead of Suffering:
1. Stay grounded and just BREATHE: Uncomfortable and distressing situations typically throw us off balance, especially when they arrive unexpected. Because we’re in such a vulnerable state, we tend to become hyperemotional in defense and behave in ways poison ourselves and amplify our suffering. So when something unexpected throws your off balance, just pause and take a few deep breaths. Create a space and do whatever you need to do to stay grounded and not react in your old habitual, self-destructive patterns. I’ve found taking several deep breaths gives me a few extra seconds to compose myself when the rug has been pulled from under my feet and not overreact in destructive ways.
2. Become aware of your automatic thoughts: Automatic thoughts are our initial reactions to our present experience. They usually occur in less than a nanosecond, and are the direct reflections of our attitude. Start by labelling your thoughts (“Inner Critic”, “The Judge”, “Self-Doubt”, “Anger” etc.). Allow yourself to be open and curious by exploring your automatic thoughts. How are you reacting to this situation right now? Do these automatic thoughts have underlying themes or patterns? As you familiarize yourself with your thoughts, gradually deepening your self-awareness, you began cultivate a watchful mind who observes all thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs without becoming “hooked” by them. Sometimes our automatic thoughts race so fast they leave us feeling confused and overwhelmed. If this is the case, take a few deep breaths and focus grounding yourself using Step 1.
3. Separate your Objective and Subjective experience: This is the most challenging step, as most of us habitually ensnare and twist “what we think is happening” with “what is really happening”, and weren’t taught how to separate the two. When focusing on the objective, describe only “facts” – who, what, when and where – of the present situation. “My coworker Jim” (who), “received the promotion I wanted” (what), “today at lunch” (when), and “in the conference room” (where). Describe as much factual details as you can. Doing this will help you be more neutral and detached from the situation.
The subjective is your thoughts and emotional reactions to the situation. What emotions are you presently feeling? How are viewing the situation as it unfolds? Are you judging someone or something as “good” or “bad”? “I felt very angry and frustrated I was passed up for a promotion”; “I felt a sense of hopelessness that I will never advance in this company”; “Jim is a selfish person”. Again, all you’re doing is being curious and mindful of your present experience with a gentler, non-judgmental attitude.
4. Focus on what you DO have control over: When we’re able to stay grounded, and separate our objective and subjective experiences, we start to understand what we have control over. By focusing on what you DO have control over instead of what you don’t, you feel empowered, and begin to cultivate an attitude based on self-confidence and inner strength instead of being paralyzed by self-doubt and fear. It is this type of attitude that will make you successful in all of your adventures.
Lastly, a quote from an amazing man whom discovered the secret to happiness, even in the dark depths of hell imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp:
“Everything can be taken from a man 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 E. Frankl