Friday, December 11, 2009

Choose Your Attitude

Friday, December 11, 2009

This morning I had a conversation in which I was reminded that no matter what the circumstances, I can choose my attitude toward those circumstances, toward myself and other people.

This business of choosing my attitude is an active one in which I decide, step by step, what I will focus on and what feeling I'll nurture in myself. These choices are all immediate and specific to a given situation, often one in which I want to blame someone or something for what's happening to me.

By trial and error and by getting help from others, I've worked out a process that makes it possible for me to change my attitude in tough situations. I end up feeling better, and things usually work out better than they might have otherwise. Sometimes the process happens quickly, and sometimes it takes a while, but it does help. Here's a brief look at how it works for me:

     * At some point in the situation, hopefully sooner rather than later, I notice what I'm feeling -- anger, resentment, being "right" or sorry for myself, etc.

     * Once I notice my emotions, I stop and acknowledge that I don't like the way I feel. This has nothing to do with what the other person did or what's going on. I just say, sometimes out loud, "I know I don't like how I feel right now." I always get at least a tiny bit of relief after acknowledging this. Even if I still feel justified or whatever, I can acknowledge that it doesn't really feel too good in my gut or my heart.

     * Next I acknowledge that I can choose to feel better if I want to. Usually I'd rather feel calm or happy instead of resentful or justified, but sometimes I do want to roll around in my misery, and I have the choice to do that, too. Remembering this choice offers more relief because I don't have to feel better if I don't want to -- and the little kid in me just doesn't want to sometimes. But consciously remembering that I can choose to feel better at any time generally shortens my "little kid" phase.

     * Whenever I do decide to feel better, I ask myself what I'd like to feel and think instead of anger or blame or whatever.
    • I might remind myself that everybody makes mistakes or has a bad day, so I can stop focussing on their recent action or words.
    • Or I can decide that this matter is important and I need to talk about it or do something to change it. 
    • Sometimes I can't sort it out yet, but I can decide to set the issue aside for the time being and do something useful or enjoyable in the meantime. This is not the same as sweeping it under the rug. I've just set the issue to the side, knowing I will come back to it at a better time or when I have clarity.
     * In all situations, I've learned to ask myself what part I played. Did I add to the problem? Was I implying something or dwelling on negativity or blaming somebody else? I don't always do this right away because it may not feel comfortable to take responsibility for my own actions, but it helps me to ask such questions as soon as I can.

     * Having decided to let go or deal with the situation or let it rest for a while, I consciously choose to get on with my life in a positive way. I do something I enjoy or get a job done. I might make a time to talk about things or acknowledge that it isn't such a big deal. Maybe I'll realize that the same thing didn't bother me last week, so maybe today I'm tired or thirsty or feeling vulnerable for some other reason...and then I drink some water or rest or do whatever I need to.

     * At some point soon I consciously pay attention to the fact that I feel better or the situation has improved or I've learned something. This usually includes expressing gratitude for the improvements or, at least, for my decision and ability to choose a better way. This step is important because it solidifies my learning (for the next time) and helps me live in a more aware way.

Choosing your attitude is not magic, but doing so can bring practical, almost magical results in the form of calmer days and less stressful relationships. I like the advice of a guy named Mike Dooley who says, "Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones."

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