Every so often I come across a poster or magnet or some other decorative item that tells me that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% attitude. What is attitude? It comes down to how we respond, internally and externally, to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes” (Hamlet). Do we take a position of victimhood, or do we retrench, make new plans, and move forward by a different path?
First, it’s necessary to examine how we respond to obstacles internally. It’s easy to beat ourselves up over things that are, in truth, beyond our control. Learning to separate the things we can control from the things we can’t is key to changing our attitude. We can’t do much about another driver’s bad behavior when they cut us off in traffic, but we can change our response. We can ask:
“How could they do that to me?” (victimhood)
Or we can say:
“Geez, that was a lousy thing to do!”
We can acknowledge that the bad behavior is theirs, and then let it go. For some this may not seem to be an important distinction, but it is. It moves us from taking responsibility for what is not ours, to putting the responsibility where it belongs. It lifts a great weight from our shoulders.
As we learn to cast off that which is not our responsibility or in our control, we also have to learn to accept responsibility for that which we can control. Facing our own accountability can be humbling at first. It means we no longer get to blame others for things we are causing ourselves. But once we get it all straight, we have far greater power in our lives.
Once we have the internal processes working in the right direction, we can change what we do externally. We can take action that helps instead of hinders. In the case of the jerky driver, we can take steps to make sure we aren’t involved in a collision because of his or her driving, and feel good about it.
Let’s extend the driving analogy. Instead of focusing on what goes wrong as we drive through heavy traffic, we can celebrate what goes right. Appreciate several green lights in a row. Be thankful when someone lets you in to their lane. Even if most of the ride is frustrating, we can be grateful if we get to our destination in one piece. I know this can really have a positive effect on my frame of mind.
Now I’m not saying it’s always possible to be upbeat. Some days it seems like all I do is grit my teeth over one thing after another. Changing our attitude takes practice, and we’re not always going to get it right. My attitude is being constantly revised. Maybe I can start my life when I get the attitude thing straight?
But then, another part of a good attitude is forgiving ourselves for not being perfect. Life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be perfect either.