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Personal Attitudes- How Do You Think?
By Rich Meiss • Friday, February 8, 2008

The People Puzzle Series Vll: Puzzle Piece #5
Attitudes play a very important role in our lives. Often we hear people say things like this: “John sure has a lousy attitude.” “Sylvan is successful because of his great attitude.” “They won the game because they had a better attitude.” “Jane’s positive attitude pulled her through her illness.” Such talk is a part of our everyday lives, and yet we don’t often stop and think about what constitutes an attitude.
What is an attitude? It has been described as a state of mind, a point of view, or a habit of thinking. It is a pattern of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we’ve developed about ourselves, other people, ideas and the world. Our attitudes are clues to how we respond to life. And our life is an extension of our attitudes – those “habits of thought”.
Certainly this is not a new idea. A Hindu mystic scrolled on a papyrus leaf over 4,000 years ago: “As one’s thinking is, such one becomes.” In the book of Proverbs it says: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Plato said: “Take charge of your thoughts; you can do what you will with them.” And William James, the father of American psychology said: “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives!”
Attitudes Powerfully Affect Our Life
Psychologists and theologians from our modern era have also reaffirmed this idea. People such as Viktor Frankl, Muriel James, Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller report that each person has almost total control of his or her attitudes in life. And contemporary scientific research is giving credence to the idea that our thoughts have powerful control over many areas of our lives, even affecting our health!
Simply put, we are what we are today largely because of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we’ve cultivated and nurtured – be they positive or negative. And we will be where we are tomorrow because of those same thoughts, feelings, and emotions we fostered today, unless we choose to make some changes.
WOW! What a great revelation that is! Certainly everyone must be aware of this important information if it has that much impact on our lives, right? We must teach this at an early age in our homes, our schools, our churches and synagogues, right?
Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions is NO! We are rarely taught this important information about the power of our thoughts and our ability to choose those thoughts. So let’s examine the importance of attitudes here: how they are formed, what impact they have on our lives, and how we can change them if we choose.
How Attitudes Are Formed
Most psychologists today believe that our most important attitudes about ourselves, others, and life in general are formed in our early childhood years. If a child is given an atmosphere of physical safety, emotional security, boundaries and love in which to grow, he or she begins to develop a good sense of self-worth. He or she begins to develop a sense of control over their environment – that their choices make a difference in what happens to them. Unfortunately the opposite is also true. If a child is raised in an environment where there is dysfunction – verbal or physical abuse, lack of physical needs met, or little love and emotion shared – he or she develops a low sense of self-worth and a belief that they have little control over their lives. Psychologists call this “locus of control”: what is our attitude (our way of thinking) about how much control we have over our lives. Some people begin to understand that they have an internal focus of control, that their choices matter, while others believe they have an external locus of control, that they really don’t have many choices. The latter group believes that they are not free to act on life, but must remain acted upon by forces, events and people they cannot control.
Unfortunately, most adults do not take the time to go back and process what they interpret as their reality from the past, for they believe that what has happened to them is their fate. Many people waste their lives in “quiet desperation”, never realizing they have been given the power by their Creator to choose their thoughts, and therefore to change the direction of their lives. Fortunately, some people make the choice to begin changing their way of thinking, and therefore their lives, when they understand that it is a choice that they do have.
And even if we did not grow up in a dysfunctional home, many of us were negatively “programmed” from the time we were old enough to walk and talk. According to statistics, most youngsters who have reached their early teens have been told “no”, “can’t”, “won’t”, and “don’t” over 15,000 times. So when we become adults, we continue to program and think those negative thoughts in our own minds. “I can’t do that”, or “That’ll never work”, or “If only I had done this instead of that” are common thought patterns that many of us struggle with. We call this negative self-talk.
Creating Positive Attitudes
So how do we turn our thinking around? What are some ways we can counter-act this negative programming that we have all had? The three elements that most strongly influence our attitudes are these: words, pictures, and emotions. The words we repeat to ourselves, the pictures and images we hold in our minds, and the emotions that we have can be used to “reprogram” our minds to hold the kinds of attitudes we want for our lives. And while this is a simple concept, putting it into practice in our lives is not easy! 
To reprogram our minds with new attitudes it all begins with the thoughts that we choose to dwell on each moment. Thoughts usually translate into pictures, or mental images, and those mental images lead to powerful feelings and emotions. Over time, these emotions will be acted upon, and the actions lead to the results we get from our lives. I’ll give you a personal example to further illustrate this.
As I mentioned previously, I was born and raised on a farm. And while I grew up in a home where there was love and nurture, I do not recall receiving a lot of encouragement to seek my own path for my future. I was the son who was to take over the family farm, because “someone had to do that” and neither of my other two brothers seemed interested. But two interventions changed the course of my life. The first was that I had a high school principal who saw in me something other than being a farmer. When he discovered that my parents wanted me to go to an agricultural school, he intervened and pleaded that I reconsider and go to a four-year college. He almost became angry about it. And his pleading and persuasion eventually helped my parents and I make a decision for me to go to college. (Thank you, Mr. Pinckney, wherever you are up there with the angels!)
The second intervention was that my father was an advocate of good books on personal development, and he encouraged me to read them. I read Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. My father even enrolled me in a Dale Carnegie Course where I learned that I had a natural talent for speaking to and persuading people. These books and this course helped to change my life. I became aware of my thoughts and the power they had to shape my life. As a result I began to develop the confidence to imagine what I really wanted to be and do in my life.
As I rode the tractor back and forth across the fields, I began to talk to myself about my future. “You could be a good speaker and seminar leader”, I would say. The words triggered pictures in my mind of me up in front of groups of people, successfully sharing ideas that could help them change their lives the way mine was beginning to change. As I drove up and down the fields hundreds of times, I learned to tell myself what was truly important to me as I thought again and again about my desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
Eight years later, at age 27, I had reason to recall those imagined times and the many “Talks” I had rehearsed riding that tractor with nature as my audience. It was that year I became a national trainer facilitating a wonderful seminar called “Adventures in Attitudes” for groups of people across the country. I was up front speaking and training, doing the very things I had only dreamed about in my mind some eight year earlier. And that job set the tone for my career as a speaker, trainer and consultant in the personal and professional development business. That is the power of words, pictures and emotions – the very components that can change your attitudes and your life as well!
Other Attitude Stories
There are thousands of stories that could be told about this same idea. One that comes to mind is told by my friend Denis Waitley, author of such great best-sellers as Seeds of Greatness. Waitley tells the story of Stevie Cauthen, the boy-wonder jockey, who by the age of 18 had already accomplished the nearly impossible in horse-racing, winning the Triple Crown. Stevie was the youngest jockey ever to win the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, all in the same year.
Waitley said that when Stevie was a young boy he would be sitting on a bale of hay at home, riding it like a horse, and imagining himself winning the Triple Crown. Often his Dad would call to him to do a chore or put that bale of hay back where it belonged. Stevie’s answer was: “Just a minute Dad. I’ll do it just as soon as I get done winning the Triple Crown.” He thought about winning the Triple Crown nine years before it ever happened. And his words, pictures and emotions- along with a lot of hard work – eventually translated his dreams into reality.
So what about you? What kind of words are you choosing today about yourself and your abilities? Are you using positive self-talk? What mental pictures are you holding for yourself? What are your attitudes? Are you excited about the possibilities that life holds for you? Or are you simply trying to “get through another day”? Choose excitement! Choose life! Emerson put it this way: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm!” Achievement begins within before it manifests without. The words, pictures and emotions will lead to the actions that will produce the results.
Think of a marathon runner. I am told by marathoners that at about 18-20 miles they hit “the wall”. They just do not believe they can go on. But through the encouragement of the people lining the course, they reach deep within themselves and summon up those positive thoughts. “Just a few more blocks!” “You can do it!” “Just another mile!” Then suddenly they see the finish line off in the distance. Their body kicks in the natural chemicals, called endorphins, that give them the push to finish the race. They succeed because they chose to dwell on the positive thoughts and attitudes rather than the negative.
Your Mind is Like a Garden
James Allen, author of a great little book called As A Man Thinketh, compared the mind to a garden. A garden does not just happen. Gardens take careful planning and preparation before the seeds are put in the ground. The soil has to be worked. Nutrients often need to be added to the soil. If the gardener wants carrots and cucumbers, he or she must be sure to plant carrot and cucumber seeds, not pumpkins or potatoes. And then when the garden begins to grow, the weeds must by pulled and the plants nurtured with water and sunshine.
Our mind is like that garden. The soil of the mind must be prepared. We must plant the seeds of thought that will produce the results we want. We must be careful to eliminate the weeds of negative thinking that will want to grow. And we must nurture the positive thoughts with the pictures and emotions that will help them to grow – our mental water and sunshine. If we don’t plant the seeds of thought we want, other things will grow in their place. We choose those thoughts, or else others will choose them for us. Napoleon Hill said it this way: “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”
Remember what William James said: “The greatest discovery of my generation (or YOUR generation, for that matter) is that human beings can change their lives by changing their attitudes of mind”.
The Personal Attitudes Survey ($6.00) will help you become aware of your current habits of thoughts (your attitudes).   The survey leads you through exercises to develop more productive and positive attitudes. Free shipping if you mention this article when placing your order for the survey.
© Copyright 2008. Meiss Education Institute. All rights reserved.
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The People Puzzle Series: Puzzle Piece Number Five

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