The Most Powerful Change You Can Make in Your Life – Today

Apr 8, 2011 by

The Most Powerful Change You Can Make in Your Life – Today
I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.  ~Anne Frank

As much as I would like to claim that I was an angel when I was a little girl that would be more than a bit of an exaggeration. I wasn’t a holy terror (or I like to think that I wasn’t, at least), but I was a headstrong, opinionated only child who didn’t much like to have the attention off of her and who liked to be in charge of things. I was also imaginative and funny and liked to entertain people and would make friends with anyone, anywhere, but that’s a different article.

My mother had a phrase she used when I was acting out, getting belligerent, or just being a brat. Most often it came out when I was whining or complaining or acting in a way that was generally making myself and those around me miserable. She would pull me aside and very calmly tell me that it was time for an “attitude adjustment.”

Back then, that was generally my first warning–shape up or discipline would follow. Now, however, as I am a grown up and parental punishment is a thing of the distant past, the phrase still sticks with me and has become one of the power tools in my arsenal for tackling and succeeding at life.

This is because the #1 thing that determines how you go through life is your attitude.

We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.  ~Author Unknown

We can control a lot of things in our daily lives and make a lot of changes by willpower and discipline, it’s true.  Our habits and practices are greatly a product of our choices. But there are always elements that can come in that are outside of our control:

  • You can start the best exercise program in the world and then be waylaid by an injury.
  • You can find a job that you absolutely love, only to have the company go out of business.
  • You can have certain responsibilities that must be done which limit the time you have to spend pursuing your dreams.
  • The stock market can crash, illness can hit, accidents can happen–all outside of your control.

Of course, all of these are things we can work around and overcome. There are stories aplenty of people overcoming adversity and great odds to achieve dazzling success. In some ways, it’s the ultimate of the American Dream.  But those who have achieved that success did not do it by grit and discipline alone. They had a secret weapon underneath their willpower and determination, and it is one we must have as well.

That weapon is the right attitude.

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.  ~Kenneth Clark

Despite all the positive thinking messages out there today, it still isn’t hip to be positive. People who try to live that way are often derided as Pollyannas or told that they aren’t realistic by those around them lost in cynicism. We’re called chirpy cheerleaders (no joke, I read that just yesterday in an Amazon review) and the implication is that we’re either too naive to understand how the world works, or are selling some sort of snake-oil to other desperate, deluded folks.

The naysayers can list of dozens of things that are wrong with the world, and with life, and ask how we can possibly find anything to be positive about.  But I want to ask you this: What does that attitude accomplish? If you’re one of those cynics, how has it helped you so far? Most people adopt such an attitude to protect themselves from disappointment, but when you live your life that way–where do you get?  What do you achieve?

When you look for darkness, you will find it. And the more you find, the more your worldview is validated, and the more dark the world seems to you. There seems to be no point in striving for anything, no hope, no reason. What is the point, then? This level of thinking can lead only toward a downward spiral to misery and depression, ripping joy out of life.

Sure, you might seem “cool” as you sit around being cynical with everyone, tearing down this or that, or complaining about whatever the complaint of the day is…but when you turn out the light that night, do you feel any better?

I’ve been there. I was that person. And I can tell you that, no. I didn’t feel any better for all my cynicism and snark. I went to bed miserable most nights, lost in a sea of “why do I even bother?” It was hard to see that the world could ever get better. It didn’t matter when things went right, because I was convinced they’d just go wrong again soon.

No one could change that for me. Nothing that happened externally could shift that. I had to do it. I had to be the one to perform an attitude adjustment, to make a conscious choice to approach life differently.   It didn’t happen overnight. It took work, and it still takes work.

Old habits are hard to break, and there are still days when I catch myself in old, negative thought patterns. When I do, though, I take a breath and say firmly, but calmly (and sometimes in my mother’s voice): “Charity, you need an attitude adjustment.”

Because when I made that choice–when I decided that I would start doing attitude adjustments when I found myself in those dark places–everything changed.

Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.  ~Katherine Mansfield

I could give you tons of research and talk about the power of positive thinking all day, but that isn’t what I want to focus on right now. Right now I want to demonstrate the sheer power in one little shift of attitude. One change in how you think, and nothing else, really can effect outside changes in your world.

For several years I worked in a job where I was miserable. More than once, I closed the blinds to my office and found myself sobbing at my desk because of something someone said, or some opportunity that passed me by again. Until this job, I’d been a superstar everywhere I’d been, and succeeded at nearly everything I’d done, so the disappointment was that much more crushing.

I was a straight-A student who graduated from my MA program with a 4.0 and was in the top 10% of my law school class.  All of my employers had always loved me, and I had achieved the highest rankings ever given to a law clerk in one position I held at a law firm.

But something didn’t click at this job.  Something wasn’t working. I was working. I was putting in the effort and trying my best, but nothing I did was good enough, and I kept being passed over for opportunities I wanted and was told that my work was sub-par, no matter how hard I tried.  It was devastating and demoralizing because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

Finally, last year, I decided to stop trying to “fix” it. Not, mind you, to stop doing my work or anything. I didn’t decide to give up altogether because “why bother?” But I realized that I had come into the job already miserable from my divorce and moved to a place I had no friends. I was putting all of my self-worth into what my boss and supervisors thought of me, and whether I was promoted as quickly as others in the office. I was letting what they thought of me, and what they said about one tiny facet of my life, define who I was as a person and undermine all of my happiness.

So I made a conscious effort to stop doing that. I got more involved with things I loved outside of work. I performed in one of my favorite plays. I directed a show for the first time. I worked on my novel.  And I did some serious internal attitude adjustment.

I wrote letters that I didn’t send expressing my resolve to give up basing my self worth on their opinion and accepting that it was possible nothing I did would ever be good enough, but that I was more than that, and I knew that I was smart and capable and a valuable asset. Others had seen that and cultivated it, and if they couldn’t, it was their loss, not mine. I would continue to do my best until I had the cushion I needed to leave to pursue my passion, but this was now a job to achieve a goal, not what defined me.

Excellence is not a skill.  It is an attitude.  ~Ralph Marston

Immediately, I was more happy. It was as if a burden had lifted off my shoulders and for the first time in five years, I could breathe again. I saw new possibilities all around me and felt myself re-energized to pursue my passions and dreams. This is one of the main benefits of attitude adjustments–it awakens you to everything good that really is out there. But this one went further.

Within one week after my conscious decision to change my entire attitude toward work, I had my boss in my office offering me a chance at the opportunity I’d been wanting for two years. It came with a caveat that seemed challenging–working with one of the people who’d been most critical of my work before–and I felt my new positive attitude challenged.

But I held on to it. I promised myself that she wouldn’t define me, and I would work with her and go into it believing the absolute best about her and about myself. Everyone in the office expected me to fail, I think, such was the reputation of the person and the situation I was going into.

Instead, I had a really good few months working with her. I learned a lot, and she really helped me to grow.  She treated me with respect and asked my opinions on our work and listened to them. In the end–I got the opportunity I wanted and have been loving it.

Beyond that, I have had my boss and all of my supervisors consistently stopping by my office to thank me for my work, to praise it and to say how much they appreciate both my hard work and the quality of what I’m turning out. That just doesn’t happen much in my workplace, and has never happened to me here before.

I didn’t change anything external.  I didn’t change my work ethic (It’s always been strong). I didn’t noticeably change how I was doing my work (I’ve always tried to do my best).  I didn’t take extra classes or go to extra training to improve my skills.

I just changed my attitude. Instead of the despairing place of, “I’ll never be able to do this and they want me to fail” that I had been in, I reaffirmed my intelligence and capability and that they were lucky to have me (confidently,  not arrogantly!). And miraculously–they suddenly seemed to agree.

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.  ~Arthur Rubinstein

Admittedly, not every attitude adjustment will have such immediate dramatic results, but the possibility is there and you never know which one is going to pay off in spades. However, even those that do not literally turn your life around will make a dramatic difference.

Life is how you see it. Everything is about perception. Two people can look at the same situation and experience completely different things based upon their perception, and their perception of the situation is driven by their attitude.

Whenever I mention this, someone always wants to argue with me saying, “That’s great for you, but you don’t know what my life is like. I have to deal with x, y, and z…” That’s true. I don’t know each and every one of your situations.

But I do know that if people around the world who are far less fortunate than we are can find ways to be genuinely happy, then so can we. If Anne Frank can still believe in the goodness of people and see beauty in the world, even while hiding in an attic, afraid for her life, then so can we.

It’s a choice, and it’s the one thing in your life that is completely, totally, 100% within your control. Your outside circumstances can never infringe upon it. No tragedy or injury or bad day can take it away from you.  No one can take it away from you.

We choose our attitudes. We choose how we see the world. We choose how we approach situations.

And those choices often have consequences outside of our own heads. People with positive attitudes see more possibilities because they believe possibilities exist. The energy and attitude you project is something others can pick up on and it effects how they interact with and treat you, which can effect the opportunities with which you are presented and the relationships in which you engage.

It is not too broad a statement to say that if you change your attitude, you change your life. It is a change you can make with no monetary investment, no training, no great amount of time. All it takes is a little faith and a bit of hope.

So, what are you waiting for?  What’s holding you back? And what attitude adjustment do you need to perform today?


[For practical tips on how to adjust your attitude, please see the follow-up article: 15 Practical Ways to Adjust Your Attitude]

[Photo Credit: Pedrosimoes7]

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