In the beginning of the getting to know yourself series, I outlined three basic tools—journaling, meditation, and pausing—that enable you to better understand yourself. Now, in this series wrap up, I will share five attitude adjustments that will help you own your own life.
Attitude is important. While our beliefs provide the lens through which we view the world, our attitude shapes our day-to-day choices and impressions. Our beliefs impact our attitude, but we can adjust our attitude without tackling any major belief changes, by simply choosing to approach the world differently. Belief changes can come later or not at all.
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky has found that very little of our happiness is dependent on what happens to us; 50% of your personal happiness, she says, is based on your genetic set point, 40% is your attitude or outlook toward life, and 10% is what happens to you. Thus, you can make a significant impact on your life simply by adjusting your attitude. How do you do that?
Attitude Adjustment #1: Practice Gratitude
We all become accustomed to our status quo. As psychologist Richard Wiseman writes in his book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute, “Present an individual with a constant sound, image or smell and something very peculiar happens. They slowly get more and more used to it and eventually it vanishes from their awareness.”
This is true for all of us. I become accustomed to the house I live in, having food available in my refrigerator, a car that starts and drives every time I turn the key. Even people who live in multimillion-dollar houses and drive Ferraris become accustomed to what they have and eventually come to overlook their blessings.
At the same time, bringing your attention to what you’re grateful for is easy and very effective. As cited by Wiseman, psychologists studied the effect of writing down gratitude versus summarizing annoyances or recollections and found that “those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.”
Adopting an attitude of gratitude is a choice, just like any attitude. It’s not contingent on having a partner or a better job or a new car; it’s about appreciating what you have now, in this moment.
Starting a gratitude practice can be as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for once a week. The key is to find things you are truly grateful for, not begrudgingly grateful. Even when you’ve had a bad day or are unhappy in your current job or life situation, there are things you can appreciate. Maybe someone held the door open for you, you had a delicious mocha, or you have someone special in your life. It’s that simple. As you become accustomed to appreciating what you have, you’ll be able to practice gratitude in the moment as well.
Attitude Adjustment #2: Believe in the Possibilities
We all have a choice whether to believe that what we want is possible or impossible. The former is unequivocally the best choice.
Believing what you want is possible gives you power. Even if your dream isn’t literally possible—I will never be a professional dancer as I once dreamed, for example—you can still take steps toward making your dream possible when you stay positive.
Believing your dream isn’t possible is disempowering and serves no purpose. What do you do if something’s impossible? Nothing, right? It’s impossible, so why bother?
Most of the time, our dreams aren’t literally impossible anyway. They are possible although they may be challenging, or unpopular with our family or friends, but as adults we get to choose for ourselves what works best for us.
Choose to believe in possibilities.
Attitude Adjustment #3: Focus on What You Want
The importance of focusing on what you want is twofold: 1) It helps you stay positive, and 2) reminds you that there’s no reason to seek an end you don’t desire.
Let me give you an example: Recently my husband and I were talking about making a big lifestyle change. We’d both kind of given up on a dream we had, out of practicality, and so I began brainstorming alternatives that could make us almost as happy. I’m a natural strategist; that’s what I do. However, consciously analyzing myriad possibilities and trade-offs grew overwhelming so, out of frustration, I put aside the problem-solving hat for a few days. A few days later, I had a flash of insight about how to achieve our original dream.
What happened to me is common, Dr. Wiseman writes. Our unconscious mind works in the background when we let a problem go in our conscious mind, and that is when truly innovative problem solving happens.
While I’m a big fan of exploring possibilities, they mean nothing if they’re not in service of your goal. In the situation above, I was being overly practical instead of focusing what I wanted. Luckily, my unconscious mind found a solution to my real problem when I stopped trying to analyze the situation ad nauseum.
The other facet of focusing on what you want is letting go of what you don’t; that is, staying positive versus worrying about what could go wrong. Like I suggested in Attitude Adjustment #2, most of what we want is possible. Keeping that in mind gives us power to bring about what we want.
Attitude Adjustment #4: Remember You Are Never Alone
Each of us feels hurt, outcast, or unfairly persecuted sometimes, but this is a transient thing. Something may not be going as we feel it should or we may be in a situation that isn’t serving our needs. Everyone experiences this
I recently spoke to someone I hadn’t talked with in years and she told me about a scary work situation she’d experienced. Her story reminded me of my own, very different, scary work experience, deepening my sense of empathy for her.
All of us, every human being on this planet, experiences stress and challenges, and all of us ultimately want to live happy and healthy lives. That’s part of the beauty of our human experience and there’s a great camaraderie in that, I think.
So, remember you’re not alone the next time something doesn’t go the way you intended. As long as you’re alive, there’s always another chance to get it right.
Attitude Adjustment #5: Remember You Are Worthy
I wrote an entire post about worthiness for this series, and I think it’s worth mentioning again. Believing that you’re worthy is a choice, and I know it’s not always an easy one. It is essential, however.
As Dr. Brené Brown shares, “Worthiness has no prerequisites. Those things you think of as prerequisites are your shame triggers. Where most of us get these is from our family of origin, but we can also get them societally.” Here she shares a bit more with Oprah:
Shame is “the painful belief or experience of thinking we’re unlovable, that we’re unworthy of connection and belonging.” It is a universal experience; everyone experiences it. When we do, our limbic system reacts and we respond by fighting back, retreating (flight), or freezing.
So, what do you do when we experience shame or a feeling of unworthiness? “Empathy is the antidote to shame,” Brené says, and “compassion is making a spiritual commitment to empathy.”
Because we’re talking about developing self-worthiness, let’s focus on self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three components to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness, being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with criticism.
- Common humanity, recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience—something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone (which ties nicely to Attitude Adjustment #4).
- Mindfulness, a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” So says Max Ehrmann, author of Desiderata, and me.
For more behind Richard Wiseman and Brené Brown’s work, I highly recommend the following resources:
- The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage by Brené Brown, PhD – In The Power of Vulnerability audio program, Dr. Brown offers an invitation and a promise—that when we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. Here she dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
- 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman, PhD – Troubled by the realization that the self-help industry often promotes exercises that destroy motivation, damage relationships, and reduce creativity, psychologist Richard Wiseman examines diverse scientific research that can help you change your life in under a minute and in an easily digestible format.