There is a famous saying that ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it’. This means that your success or failure in life depends a ‘lot less’ on what circumstances you are exposed to and ‘much more’ on what attitude you have towards those circumstances.
All the famously successful people who failed at first concluded the same from their life that ‘attitude is everything’. For instance Winston Churchill was so poor in academics that he failed in grade six, his father sent him to the army and there too he got selected his in third attempt but he maintained a positive attitude and ultimately became the elected Prime Minister of UK, turned the tide in the Second World War and also won the Nobel Prize, that too in literature. He famously said that ‘attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’.
Dale Carnegie failed to become an actor despite attending American Academy of Dramatic Arts and spending all his hard-earned savings there but he did not lose hope because of his positive attitude and established himself as an all-time great lecturer and writer of self-improvement, his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ was a best-seller from the debut with five million copies sold even before his death, and there had been four hundred and fifty thousand graduates of his institute. His famous quote is that ‘Our mental attitude is the X factor that determines our fate’. He is also reported to have said, ‘Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions; it is governed by our mental attitude’.
Albert Einstein was expelled from school; he was so slow in learning that his parents and teachers thought he was mentally handicapped. He was refused admission in a polytechnic institute but his positive attitude did not let him stop trying till he became one of the greatest scientists who changed the dynamics of modern physics and eventually won the Nobel Prize. He declared that ‘Outer changes always begin with an inner change of attitude’. He also said that ‘Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character’.
Attitude is defined as a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person or situation. Attitude has three components:
▪ Cognitive Component. This includes the belief/knowledge about an attitude object. For example, “I believe risk is compulsory but loss is optional”.
▪ Affective Component. This contains feelings and emotions about an attitude object. For example, “I am not scared of disasters”.
▪ Behavioral (or Conative) Component. This comprises behavior and actions (the outcome of first two components). For example, “I will anticipate the disasters and prepare to take them on”.
In simple words attitude is how a person thinks, feels and acts under the circumstances. There are four types of attitudes:
• Positive Attitude. If one thinks positive, feels positive and acts positive, it reflects in the form of:
• Negative Attitude. If one thinks negatively, feels negative and acts negatively, it replicates in:
• Neutral Attitude. If one neither thinks positive nor negative, he or she remains unconcerned with their own problems and waits for others to take care of them. This attitude gives nothing.
• Sikken Attitude. Negative attitude to an extreme degree is sikken attitude.
Let’s understand the outcome of these types of attitudes with an example. If you protect yourself without damaging others, your attitude is positive; if you protect yourself by damaging others, your attitude is negative; if you are unconcerned with your or someone else’s interests, your attitude is neutral; and if in an attempt to damage others, you do not hesitate even to damage yourself your attitude is sikken.
Attitude is interrelated to stress which is our natural reaction to any event that disturbs our mental and physical equilibrium. When stressed, our bodies release chemicals into our bloodstreams which provide more energy for better possibility of survival under dangerous circumstances. For example, if you come across a roadside accident or an attack by someone or any other emergency, it will cause a physical and mental imbalance in you. As a result, your biology will generate stress to provide you with an additional strength to either fight the situation or take flight from it. But prolonged stress (resulting from a situation where neither fight nor flight is possible) transforms into stress disorder.
Stress disorder is very common in societies where freedom, justice and peace are curbed, and corruption, poverty, lawlessness, violence and violation of merit are rampant. Therefore, majority of people living in the so-called third world suffer from negative or sikken attitude because:
▪ They live in a state of uncertainty; what to talk of any other thing when they are not sure even about the quality of the costly milk and medicine they purchase for the kids and parents.
▪ They live in a state of distrust; go to any shop to buy anything, whatever price the shopkeeper tells, you are sure he is telling a lie.
▪ They live in a state of fear; start from the fear of going to school or failing exams or passing with low grades and come over to the fear of facing police or court even if you have not done anything wrong.
▪ They live in a state of emotions; they cherish extremes, in a moment they would declare someone the best, and within the next instance they would start calling him the worst.
▪ They live in a state of impatience; the tolerance level is zero with no room for arguments, the people are in a habit of jumping to the conclusion and making opinion about things without understanding them.
▪ They live in a state of hurry; nobody needs a reason to be in haste, they waste hours to save a minute and this approach can best be seen on roads, especially at peak traffic hours.
▪ They live in a state of confusion; they believe in conspiracy theories to the extent that they remain confused even about the things they see with their own eyes and listen with their own ears.
▪ They live in a state of denial; all are experts, no one admits a mistake, and everybody tries to justify it even with the weakest of arguments.
People suffering from stress disorder are more likely to have depression which we all know is such a serious medical illness that it can ultimately lead to drug addiction, self-injury and even suicide.
Deterioration of attitude is the worst thing since it can destroy your whole life, however, it can be rehabilitated and reconstructed in the following seven simple ways as per my personal experience.
• Sublimate your destructive impulses into productive actions. You already know that the reason for your stress disorder is the unutilized additional energy given to you by the stress (the fight or flight response of your body), so you just need to utilize it to be well again. What if you channeled this strength into some charitable work? A classic example of this approach is the construction of a cancer hospital by Imran Khan (Prime Minister of Pakistan) in the name of his mother Shaukat Khanum who died of cancer due to the lack of specialized treatment. And the Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. mastered a famous nonviolent civil rights movement for sublimation of stress brought to him by the segregation and other types of racial discrimination meted out to his race (the black people). All the great people one way or the other did the same but if you don’t want to be one of them you can at least subside your frustration by some physical activity such as playing some game or doing some exercise or cleaning your washrooms or polishing your car etc.
• Focus on what you want, do not focus on what you do not want. If you converge your attention on something then (in words of Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist) ‘The entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’ (his philosophy is that if a tiniest thing like virus can disturb your whole body, why can you not change your universe by changing yourself?). By focusing on bad things, you will attract more bad things because of the law of attraction which in three simple words is defined as ‘thoughts become things’. So you have to keep thinking about good things (the things you want for you) because (in words of Bob Proctor, teacher of the law of attraction) ‘If you see it in your mind, you will hold it in your hand’. It’s not less than magic but I stand witness to the fact that it works.
• Regulate your breath. You might have noticed that you start taking quick, shallow breaths and your heart rate increases when you are anxious or angry. You may reverse these increases to get back to normal. That’s why anger management counselors ask you to take long, profound breaths when you are upset. You may do this exercise (pursed lip breathing – slowly and deeply inhale through nose and exhale through mouth, preferably with your eyes closed) for at least 15 minutes every day and do always remember that the prolonged hostility and anger not only makes your lung functions ‘significantly poorer’ but also alters your neurological and hormonal processes to disturb your immune system which results in slow healing of even physical injuries. According to Dr. Paul Lehrer of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, "Indeed it is hard to find a disease for which emotion or stress plays absolutely no part in symptom severity, frequency, or intensity of flare-ups”.
• Follow truth and honesty. Be willing not to steal, cheat, lie or be unfair. Honesty and truthfulness are two sides of the same coin; you can only be honest if you are truthful and vice versa. Honesty and truthfulness are the inverted commas within which the positive attitude lies. The durable success and happiness is not possible without these two characteristics. Confucius very rightly pointed out that “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”. And according to William Shakespeare, “No legacy is as rich as honesty”.
• Be aware of the hormones that generate happiness in your body. Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Primarily endorphins are stimulated when you do exercise and/or laugh, dopamine is released when you accomplish tasks, serotonin is secreted by being nice to others and helping them, and oxytocin generates when you spend time with the people you love. Let’s make a list of activities that can activate these hormones and regulate our neurological processes to make our immune system stronger and help us develop a positive attitude:
▪ “Early to bed and early to rise”.
▪ Must have 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day (every 24 hours).
▪ Expose yourself to sunshine for about an hour a day in morning or evening (nothing else can give you what sunshine can).
▪ Drink a lot of warm water (with at least two to four glasses every morning after getting up and one glass every night before going to bed), and green tea (preferably with no sugar).
▪ Have balanced diet but eat less and have dinner at least four hours before going to bed.
▪ Do spend some time with your friends every day.
▪ Listen to music, play games, watch movies or do any other thing that you enjoy on a regular basis.
▪ Do spend some time with children and elderly people.
▪ Smile even if you have no reason for it and never forget that a smile is caused by flexing of muscles on both ends of your mouth; it is in fact the movement of these muscles (and not the reason for it) that triggers the relevant hormones.
▪ Make at least three people smile every day by being nice to them; nothing else can make you as healthy and wealthy as helping others can.
▪ Thirty minutes brisk walk (at least) is necessary every day but you must do it with a smiling face.
▪ Try to feel the happiness caused by the four hormones while doing the above-mentioned activities.
• Be grateful to God. It is a general tendency that people complain about things they don’t have and forget the things they have. Doing so deprives them of the joy of things they have on one hand and attracts more deficiencies on the other, as per the law of attraction. The equation is very simple, be grateful for what you have and you will have more to be grateful for, as maintained by Gilbert K. Chesterton, “Thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”. One must always recall that ‘gratitude is the best attitude’ and must give as much as possible to charity, even a smile can serve the purpose if you have nothing else to share. God gave us life to feel love and happiness and the best way to extend gratitude to Him is sharing our love and happiness with others.
• Help kids make gratitude tree. This is a real heartwarming and mindfulness activity you can have at your home, particularly in leisure hours. Make it a family tradition to count your blessings by adding leaves to the gratitude tree as a thanksgiving gesture. Kids may also share their gratitude trees with teachers and class fellows, to provide them with the stimulus to do the same.
In life almost everything is achievable if you stick your heart to it, and keep on applying your mind to it, and do not stop trying to achieve it. Feel positive, think positive and act positive, and take charge of your attitude if you want to take charge of your life.
The writer is a disaster risk management consultant currently working with Asian Development Bank (Pakistan Resident Mission) as Regional Coordinator for National Disaster Risk Management Fund.
E-mail: [email protected]
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