7 Ways to Sharpen Your Attitude to Life

Eamonn McGuinness
By | Updated November 16, 2016 | 5 min read

On your project and in life, you have the cards you have for now.


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Maybe you dealt the cards to yourself or maybe someone else dealt them. What matters now is how you deal with the hand of cards you have. In this regard, your attitude really matters.

On a project, as in life, we do not know for sure what is coming next. It is best if we ourselves and the people around us have a healthy attitude so we are able to deal with and navigate the natural ups and downs.

If you wish to be a leader on a collaborative project – whether you are the project manager or not – it is important to exhibit a healthy attitude. A healthy attitude is not something that we easily attain. For most of us mere mortals, attitude is something we have to grow and sharpen from time to time, but this is very doable. Read on to learn more about the role of biology in attitudes and for some practical strategies to develop a positive, healthy attitude to life.


7 Ways to Sharpen Your Attitude to Life

1. Take Your Own Drugs

Recent scientific studies have advanced our understanding of the physiology of the brain and its relationship to psychology. The brain communicates with itself by sending out chemical information – neurotransmitters – from one neuron to another. The brain is like a chemist, naturally producing drugs. The chemicals we hear most about are Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Here follows a very simple explanation from a non-scientist about the impact of these chemicals on our attitudes!

  1. Dopamine: We are learning that low levels of the chemical dopamine are associated with self-doubt, lack of motivation, and low self-esteem. But we also know that dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine is released when we achieve a goal we have set for ourselves. This helps us understand the “success breeds success” phenomenon; we crave the excitement of a reward. Therefore, it is good to set smaller, near-term goals to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain.
  2. Serotonin: Brain research is also teaching us that high levels of the chemical serotonin are associated with people who have meaning and purpose in their lives. Serotonin is known as the ‘happy molecule’ and is associated with a positive outlook on life. The research also explains that practices such as gratitude release more serotonin into the brain.
  3. Endorphins: You have likely heard of endorphins and runners high. These chemicals are released in the brain in response to pain and stress. Endorphins, a naturally occurring chemical, trigger a physical response similar to morphine. If you smile, laugh, and exercise more you will release more of your own endorphins.
  4. Oxytocin: Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone. More oxytocin can be released by more hugs each day. In a similar vein, there is a wonderful longitudinal study running out of Harvard in Boston on the subject of adult development and what makes a good life. You will find a great TED talk by Robert Waldinger explaining this study and the findings. The study shows that healthy relationships are the largest influencing factor for a longer and healthier lifespan.
  5. Cortisol: Not naturally occurring chemicals are helpful in the long term. For example, cortisol, the chemical the brain produces when we are under stress, kills neurons. Cortisol is part of our ‘fight or flight’ reaction to threats and stress. The production of cortisol should stop when the threat passes. Unfortunately, our busy, fast-paced lives often mean that the flow of cortisol is constant as we are frequently stressed, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and other health problems. But the good news is that research also tells us that we can grow new neurons in the hippocampus part of the brain. Serotonin and oxytocin also reduce cortisol levels. Amazing really.

In summary, there is a strong correlation between the chemicals being released in your brain and the good habits you adopt.


2. Attitude and Habits

There are many habits you can adapt to cultivate a positive attitude, and in turn, improve your approach to project management. These habits are really about personal leadership and dealing with different factors that distract, disrupt and drain us every day.


3. Know Your Personality

The Enneagram and The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® will help you understand your personality profile, strengths, traps, and management preferences. How you are wired and what you do with that wiring definitely affects your attitude.


4. Manage Your Physical Energy

  • Sleep well
  • Eat healthily
  • Take physical exercise
  • Enjoy breaks
  • Find non-work hobbies.


5. Deal with Emotional Factors

  • Be happy with your career
  • Manage negative emotions
  • Practice gratitude and reflection
  • Invest in healthy relationships
  • Help others.


6. Improve Your Time Management

  • Set and reset personal and professional goals
  • Make the best use of your time with schedules and routines
  • Have a coach/mentor to accompany you.


7. Sharpen Your Attitude to Life

We now know that attitude and good habits are interlinked. Consider this cycle.

  • Take on the good habits cited above and your attitude will improve
  • Invest in a more positive attitude and it will be easier to adopt good habits
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.



Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our free book, Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook

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Eamonn McGuinness
Eamonn McGuinness

Éamonn McGuinness is the CEO and founder of BrightWork. From 1995, Éamonn has been involved in the development of commercial software products on Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365, with the same basic product mission (process-driven and people inspired collaborative project management).

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