9 Strategies for a Healthier Attitude
I previously introduced the importance of having a healthy, positive attitude in both personal and professional matters. The next logical question becomes – how do you sharpen and nurture your attitude?
Based on guidance provided in Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook, here are nine strategies to consider.
9 Strategies for a Healthier Attitude
1. Find Your Motivation
It is typically hard to make a change of any significance without some motivation. The bigger the change desired, the larger the motivation required. Can you think of any reasons that you wish to change your attitude? Find your motivation. Ask yourself, “what is my why?”
Do you want to be happier? Perhaps you wish to be healthier? Or you would like to be more helpful to others (e.g. family, friends, work colleagues, etc.)? Might it be that you believe that you are not yet reaching your full potential? As you remember these answers, keep asking yourself ‘why’ until you get to the root reason, the real why. What is it that you really want and why is this? A true motivation will help trigger an attitude change. This motivation can be the foundation from which you start to sharpen your attitude.
2. Have a Life Purpose
If you dig deep enough and search long enough you might well find a life purpose. This requires personal investment. Your purpose may adjust or even change as you navigate life. If you can find and be guided by a life purpose, then your path through life will be typically be accompanied by a healthier attitude.
If you can answer the ‘Life Purpose’ question or begin to answer it, then your attitude will get a lift. If you cannot or are not ready to, then have no fear as this may come to you later. Spend some more time on “Find Your Motivation” to start developing your new healthy attitude.
3. Can Do, Take Responsibility
It is very important to be persistent, to persevere. There is such a thin line between what is perceived as success and what is perceived as a failure. Never give up if your dream or goal is important to you. Why should you? Perseverance pays. Push yourself. Be ambitious. Reach for your potential. You can.
I ask you to consider the following. You are responsible for your own desired outcomes. You do not have to accept the status quo. You need to adopt a “can do” attitude for a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life. You need to take responsibility as a key part of your personal leadership.
4. Adopt Good Habits
The good news: you can sharpen your attitude. The realistic news: your attitude may not change dramatically overnight. To develop your desired attitude, you need to adopt new habits and practices.
There are many studies on how many days or months it takes to adopt a new practice and make it a habit. There is no one answer as it depends on many factors, e.g. how hard the practice is for you, how motivated are you, etc. Think how long you required to learn how to walk or ride a bike or drive a car. Mastery requires repetition. For the purpose of this section, let’s propose the following rule of thumb:
- Easy habit: 20 days
- Difficult habit: 30 days
- Very difficult habit: 60 days
- Extremely difficult habit: 90 days.
I believe it is important to acknowledge that you need to invest enough time to make a worthwhile habit stick. Of course, you will fall off the wagon from time to time, but generally speaking, it will not take as much time the second or third time around to adopt the same habit. So don’t give up! Maybe consider this three-step process to forming a new habit:
- Set a specific goal
- Set aside a specific and suitable time each day to incorporate this into your routine
- Set rewards along the way and enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
A healthy attitude helps you take on difficult and new challenges. A healthy attitude is built on the foundation of good habits. This an iterative process:
- Adopt the attitude that you will take on helpful practices as habits.
- Take on these new habits and your attitude will sharpen again.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
A sharpened attitude does not come for free. You will need to invest and adopting good habits is a great investment to help you sharpen your attitude.
5. Think Positive Thoughts
We are learning from research that the brain naturally generates more negative thoughts than positive thoughts – maybe by a factor of four to one, depending on the person. As a result of these learnings, psychologists argue that we need to generate more positive thoughts to counteract these naturally occurring negative thoughts.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that some of these negative thoughts have a large impact, often more significant than one single positive thought. Therefore, we often need three, four or even five times as many positive thoughts as negative thoughts to put ourselves in a good place.
So what is happening in the brain? Physiology explains that the neurons fire and then wire together – not always in a good way. Our normal wiring or way of naturally reacting is not always positive. The good news is that we can rewire the neurons in our brain to react in a healthier manner.
Think of it this way. We have an emotion that triggers a set of thoughts, which lead to certain behaviors or responses. Imagine the scenario. I am cycling to work and a reckless driver comes quickly out of a junction and cuts across me (the situation). I immediately get a fright and become really annoyed (the emotions). I start to imagine what I will say to the driver when I catch him at the next lights (the thoughts) and become further enraged (more emotions). When I do eventually catch up, I roar and shout at him (the response). In the process, I lose the natural calm and energy that I desired from cycling to work.
This is not an imagined situation! It might be hard to avoid these situations (bad drivers) and initial emotions (fright and anger), but I can rewire my response with reflection and experience. This is a choice I have once I realize it.
In many ways, we are our thoughts, but we do not have to be, especially if these thoughts are negative or in any way limiting us. I do like the line from Deepak Chopra, “I am a field of infinite possibilities”. Recent advances in physiology and psychology reveal that we have more control than we knew, as more of what we think and feel is understood. It is much easier to have a healthier attitude when we know how.
6. Work the Worries
The last section explains that we naturally have many, many negative thoughts each day. And I emphasize naturally, as this is how the brain is wired. Some of these thoughts are worries about what might happen. These can be positive as they help us avoid the unpleasant or unwanted. We need these worries and fears to cope and survive.
But we do not need to hold onto these worries for too long. We do not want to become paralyzed by worries.
You often heard the expression, “sick with worry”. I am sure there have been times when you have felt ill or sick with worry. Doctors tell us that some illnesses are psychosomatic, meaning the physical illness is caused by stresses, strains and emotional factors.
The worries can be messages that we have something to work. At some stage, we need to decide to ignore the worry and let it go or to work the worry. So when you find yourself getting worried, do not beat yourself up for being worried, and do not stay in the worried state. It is normal and a part of the human condition. Instead, work the worry as soon as you can. You will generally feel much better.
7. Fall Upwards
About four years ago, I read a book called “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr. I loved it. It clicked with me immediately. In fact, I have the bookmarked with stickeys and every now and again I go back to it.
One of the main points of the book is that we need to fall to grow. A very simple example is that if we fall off a bike when we are learning to cycle, we will learn how to ride a bike properly, confidently and not too cautiously. The book explains that each fall is a real opportunity to grow – if we can see it that way and grab it.
I grew up with the “silver lining in every cloud” philosophy. In my early career, I learned that we should “learn from our mistakes”. I am comfortable that both of these are still true and useful. However, I am increasingly drawn to the notion that we need to fall every now and again to grow. “No pain, no gain” as the coach used to tell us on the football field.
“Falling Upward” brings forward some other interesting points. For example, we need to let ourselves off the hook when we fall and forgive ourselves. In this way, we will be more tolerant of the falls that others have and we will be able to help in their growth.
Life will not always go as you plan. There will be many falls for you. How will you look on these falls? Can you look on them as opportunities to learn and really grow, even when those around you do not have the same perspective? If you can do this, if you can fall upwards in a crowd, then this is a wonderful investment in sharpening your attitude and your future.
8. Be Comfortable with Contradictions
Life can be confusing sometimes. Life can seem contradictory. Life is not black or white. It is the many shades of grey, made up of black and white. I hasten to add that life is of course also very colorful! The solutions to challenges are not always clear-cut but they are understandable if you think them through.
Understand and learn to be comfortable with the contradictions. Make your decisions on where to balance out the contradiction for you, and with this level of comfort, you will have a sharper attitude that will stand to you.
9. Live Intentionally Aware
Live your life on purpose. Live intentionally. You can’t control everything and it is unwise to try. But this is no excuse to drift. Decide what you want from life and what you are prepared to give and run with these intentions. You do not have to plan your whole life but do at least think through the next few months and years.
What you want from life will change as you journey through life, so you need to be open to new possibilities while remaining intentional.
In order to be open to other possibilities, you need to be aware. You need to be present. This is a very important aspect of personal leadership.
Other Elements of Attitude
Are there more than nine elements of a healthy attitude? Of course, there are. I had to restrict myself from writing about nineteen elements! These nine will get you well started. If you work on some of these nine, you will definitely have a sharper attitude to life. And hopefully, these will trigger your curiosity to search for more elements for your journey.
There are many habits and leadership practices to consider in relation to physical health, mental health, spiritual wellbeing, intellectual alertness, professional and work advancement that will help with your attitude. However, there are too many for one person to successfully take into a daily or weekly habit in one sitting. So please let yourself off the hook! The trick is not to rush, but to gradually adopt the new practices that appeal to you.
I suggest that you try a process we use at BrightWork called REP: Research, Execute and Post-Mortem. REP will lead to higher capability and mastery for you. REP will lead you to a sharper attitude once you invest.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our free book, Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook.