What do I mean when I refer to your “attitude?”
You could go into so much detail and complexity in this. You could dive into the psychology and the neuroscience behind it. Reams and reams of academic papers and research have gone into the study of human attitude…
Just to give you a taste, here is Wikipedia’s definition of attitude:
In psychology, attitude is a psychological construct, a mental and emotional entity that inheres in, or characterizes a person. They are complex and an acquired state through experiences. It is an individual’s predisposed state of mind regarding a value and it is precipitated through a responsive expression toward a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object) which in turn influences the individual’s thought and action.
Pretty dense stuff. Pretty bland stuff really.
Like just about anything, you can delve as deep as you want. The skill is in knowing when to go deep and when to choose not to dive into that rabbit hole.
So let’s keep it simple for our purposes here.
Attitude is simply how you take in the world around you, its events, its situations and how you react and respond to these
It’s about seeing things in the correct light. In a different light. It’s about seeing opportunity where others see problems.
It’s kind of like your mental model of the world, a framework for how you make decisions given the circumstances around you.
Your attitude is your internal compass. If we view life as a series of decisions that led us to where we are now, then your attitude is your internal compass that constantly guides your decision making. It’s a force that directs and channels your time, energy, brains and resources.
I’m going to be placing particular emphasis on your attitude in the face of failure, challenges and difficult times.
What I don’t mean by attitude
First I just wanted to clarify I’m not referring to all this positive thinking mumbo-jumbo. You know, those think happy thoughts everyday and you will become happy and the world is a bed of roses…
No the way you think has got to be rooted in reality. You can’t just be a blind optimist and think everything is fine even when it is not. That’s escapism.
It might sound like a contradiction but I believe it’s actually even possible to be pessimistic/negative yet have the right attitude.
Let’s say you take a good hard look at yourself and your current situation. You assess where you are at and maybe you may find you’re in a very difficult situation at the moment. You don’t have to force yourself to smile and feign happiness and positivity. We are human and it’s okay to be upset during tough times.
What matters is whether your overcome your feelings and how you react. That’s what counts.
If possible, of course it is better to also be positive while you’re at it. Just be aware of the dangers of overoptimism, mainly that you run the risk of not being rooted in reality.
Okay now that that’s out of the way, it’s best I dive into some examples.
I am going to take you back to kindergarten and children’s tales…
The Tortoise and the Hare – dealing with a seemingly impossible task ahead
Wait…what?? A tortoise races a hare…and wins…how is that even possible??
This beloved of Aesop’s Fables is a timeless classic children’s tale. However, adults could use some of its lessons too.
You all know the story. There was an arrogant speedy Hare who always boasted about how fast he could run. Tired of the Hare’s arrogant behavior, the Tortoise decided to challenge the Hare to a race. Naturally, the Hare agrees as he is so certain and confident that he will win, and win by miles.
The race begins and the Hare zooms ahead and leaves the Tortoise far behind. Halfway he decides to take a nap due to overconfidence as well as to rub it in to the Tortoise: “Hah I took a nap and STILL beat you.”
He falls asleep and when he wakes up to his shock and dismay he finds that the Tortoise has crossed the finishing line before him.
So what’s the lesson here?
The Tortoise had the right attitude. In cases like this, most people would give up before they even start as the challenge seems insurmountable. The ability-gap seems too much. The chasm to cross too wide.
When people see someone so far ahead or seemingly superior than them they often feel dismayed and discouraged thinking that they are so far behind that there’s no point even trying.
My co-worker and the gym
To further illustrate the point, I had a co-worker once, let’s call him Steve (not his real name). He was pleased when he signed up for a gym membership as it was the “trendy” thing to do at the time and “everyone was doing it” as their Facebook/Instagram feeds would attest to.
Excitedly he went for his first gym session with another co-worker and I, but his excitement turned to discouragement pretty quickly after we started on the bench press. He was struggling to lift 90 pounds (~40kg), which is to be expected for someone just starting out and certainly nothing to be ashamed about. But when he saw the guy next to us benching 240 pounds (~110kg) he just started being so negative for some reason.
He was saying things like “I’ll never be able to lift 240 pounds…what’s the point of even trying.” Maybe he felt embarrassed. Maybe he thought it would be too hard. Maybe he genuinely believed it was impossible. Who knows.
He barely lasted a week before calling it quits.
His behavior perplexed me. I couldn’t understand it at the time. I thought how could you give up so easily especially before you’ve even tried. To come to conclusion like that before even really getting started seemed pretty crazy to me.
But now when I think about it and as I read more I realized this is quite a common pattern in the world. Many people have self-defeating attitudes such as this. As I reflected over the years, I saw that sometimes you might not even realize it. You might have blind spots. Like I did. For years I wasn’t satisfied with my job and always wanted to find a way out. But I always had this negative defeatist attitude. I always thought “I didn’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, to start something on my own.” This made me not even start. Maybe I was too afraid to start. Or too lazy.
So I came to this flawed conclusion before I even started, before I even tried anything.
You see, “pot calling the kettle black” right? Sorry Steve for judging you…when I was doing exactly the same thing without realizing it, just in a different area of my life.
Now this may be an extreme example. Maybe you know someone like that or worse. Maybe you’re not quite that bad.
Now on the other hand…
Now you might find this interesting. I have another friend who went through the exact same situation. Here’s the gist of it: he went to the gym for the first time and having seen how much stronger the people around him were, he was like “man I need to work harder at this. I’m so far behind I’ve got to work twice as hard to catch up.”
He wasn’t kidding, he started meal-prepping, eating clean and hitting the gym 5 times a week consistently. Long story short he has now made pretty nice gains and you can tell just by looking that he gyms.
This may be a trivial example but looking back on this I could see an important life lesson:
You see the point is two people, facing the exact same situation, due to attitude can perceive it and react in totally different ways.
That’s the power of having the right attitude.
Overlap with Perseverance
You might be reading this and thinking “boy that sounds an awful lot like perseverance doesn’t it?”
Well done! Yes it does.
That’s because they really are related concepts and often come hand-in-hand and are in fact complimentary.
Having the right attitude is having the right view and perspective on things which determines how you act on it.
Whereas persistence is staying power and sticking to it in spite of failure after failure. In other words, not just having the right attitude ad hoc but sticking to it time and time again.
This is because it is possible to get “attitude fatigue” – a term made up by me just then which means people can really get tired of constantly trying to have the “right attitude.”
Maintaining this takes plenty of effort and patience. So it is easy to think even though you keep doing the right things and having the right attitude, you are still not seeing any results, so why bother? Why not just give up?
This is especially when you need persistence to hang in there.
Do yourself a favor and don’t fail by default…
Remember. Don’t defeat yourself. There’s 101 reasons you could fail from factors completely out of your control. It’s already easy enough to fail.
Just don’t let yourself fail by default – a concept I explore a little in my persistence article and will explore further in the future.
You may think it’s a cliché but really “your attitude determines your altitude.” Your attitude is like your mental model of the world and how you view and perceive the world and situations around you. Two people in the exact same situation can perceive, view and react to it in totally different ways leading to totally different results – one towards success and the other towards failure (i.e. failure by default for lack of even trying). Attitude is what separates them. Your attitude determines your actions.