The right attitude
Our attitude is what makes or mars our life, says Annesha Banerjee. A positive attitude can bring us peace, happiness, and prosperity, whereas a negative one can take us down the road to hardships
In my final year of college, everyone was overjoyed when a trip was planned to Himachal. After planning the itinerary and making all the arrangements, a group of around 25 girls, along with a few of our professors, left for the tour. Among my group of friends, only two of us made it, but we thoroughly enjoyed with our classmates. However, the excursion was remarkable in the way it changed my perception towards one of my class-fellows, who I previously thought of as too loud and authoritative. I learned that she had grown up always voicing her opinion, and her loud voice was just how she sounded normally, even when she was not shouting. I realised that I had jumped to conclusions without actually knowing her. That incident made me aware of my largely judgemental attitude towards people and still stands as an example of being more accepting of people and not being quick in passing judgements.
Our attitude is a strong indicator of our basic personality and the fears and beliefs which govern our life. Everything—the way we behave, view others, and are viewed by them—depends on our attitude. Our attitude shapes our overall conduct as well as gives a peek into our past.
My mother has a decidedly positive attitude towards her neighbours. She treats them with extreme kindness and is always willing to help them. This has made her very popular among people. She has inherited this attitude from her mother who believed that in times of need, it’s the neighbour who comes to your aid first; therefore, one must be very sweet to them.
I too have positive and negative attitudes which are a reflection of my past experiences, beliefs, and conditioning. I am mortified of cats. I avoid them like the plague because of a bad experience in my childhood. Having gone to my friend’s house to look for my grandmother, I had spotted a little kitten on her front porch. With the intention of petting it, I had beckoned it to myself. To my surprise and shock, the kitten came near me, but instead of rubbing itself against me, it scratched my hands badly and leapt way. Now, with a pet cat having been introduced in the family of one of my relatives, I think I would have to get rid of this irrational fear and change my attitude towards cats.
“My maternal grandfather was strictly against entertaining any ochre-robed mendicant. He firmly believed that most of them were lazy people who did not want to work for a living. However, my paternal grandfather revered the sanyasis (renunciates) and would treat them with a lot of respect, if ever any of them came knocking on his door,” says Rishabh Soni, a marketing expert. “I feel that both of these attitudes were coming from learned experiences. While one may have had a bad experience vis-a-vis spiritual people, the other was a beneficiary of a blessing by a revered baba (spiritual adept), and he remained eternally grateful to the spiritual community,” he adds.
The origin of our attitude
I asked a few people what, according to them, was ‘attitude’? The answers ranged from ‘outlook towards life and things,’ ‘behaviour,’ ‘way of thinking,’ to ‘degree of confidence.’ While attitude does reflect all that people mentioned, it is much more. Psychologists define attitude as a learned tendency to evaluate people, issues, objects, or events. Such evaluations are reflected in our actions and behaviour and are often positive or negative. From a plate of fries to celebrity personalities to political views, we have an attitude towards everything and everyone. It is the very nature of attitude to summarise how we feel about pretty much everything. How we set our expectations and how we handle the situation when our expectations are not met is also determined by our attitude.
We are all born with clean slates, without inhibitions or apprehensions. Like glasses with no shade or tint, we begin by viewing the world as it is—no judgements, just observation. But as we grow, learn, and experience things, we begin to attach meanings and emotions to things, people, situations, and ideas. Through direct or indirect exposure, personal experiences, social norms, and conditioning, our attitude develops over time and reflects not only our background but also how we will proceed in the future. Whenever we come from a deeply fixed belief, disposition, or mindset, it becomes a part of our attitude. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change.
Our attitude, which is a sum total of our basic beliefs, determines our personality and how we choose to view life and decide to go about it. It is also determined by our circumstances, upbringing, and the company we keep. Since attitude is a deep-seated behaviour or outlook towards people, things, events and ideas, it is important to double-check whether our attitude is helping us grow in all spheres of life or contributing to our problems.
Not knowing the difference between right and wrong, many youngsters tend to believe that a haughty and cocky attitude will make them stand apart and establish them as leaders. Many cultivate an attitude of being selfish and are only focussed on personal gains. However, there are others who are very thoughtful and considerate in their attitude, and people feel very happy around them. A belief becomes an attitude when it goes deep into our subconscious and begins to exert control over our reflexes and everyday behaviour. Therefore, it is important to monitor the thoughts we are feeding ourselves with, as done over a long period, they can become our overall attitude. We should ensure that we do not become a victim of our attitude.
While there are several types of attitudes, each leading to a certain destiny, broadly, attitude can be divided into two categories: positive and negative. The best attitude is the one which keeps making our life better and happier.
Although most people think that their attitude is the right one and there is nothing negative about it, it often takes difficulties and hardships as well as a rare burst of awareness to make them reconsider their attitude.
The power of attitude
I have seen umpteen people who have a perpetually negative attitude towards life in general and people in particular. No matter how hard you try, they refuse to believe in anything positive and uplifting, and dismiss optimistic people as naive and gullible. However, the state of their own life reflects their attitude towards it. Nothing seems to work, people always cheat and betray, and life is a tale of endless failures and misfortunes.
On the other hand, there are a few who believe in themselves more than the gloomy picture painted and promoted by the world and mass media. They aim to unlock the principles on which life works, focus on self-improvement, and give their best shot to life, regardless of the circumstances. They change themselves by changing their thoughts, outlook, and attitude, and gear up to face life with a smile on their face and courage in their hearts. Your attitude can make a bad situation better or a good situation go downhill.
Priti, my ex-colleague, shared with me an incident from two years ago when her health had started to deteriorate after a simple viral infection. “I was stressed and couldn’t share it with anyone because I felt like no one would understand what I was feeling. I still remember the nights when I couldn’t sleep and suffered panic attacks. Many of my past traumas and hurts would haunt my mind making me feel miserable and unworthy. My ill-health also impacted my studies, and I didn’t perform well in my competitive exams. I also had to quit my job.”
Priti consulted multiple doctors but nothing helped. She felt suffocated, and her disturbed thoughts robbed her peace of mind. Unable to bear it all, she decided to go to her sister’s place to get a change of environment. It was only after that, that the situation started to improve. She was in a different and new space and felt free.
“When I came back, I decided to hold the steering of my life. The change of scenery gave me a new perspective, and I felt empowered to break the cycle of gloom. I introduced a few changes in my lifestyle, switched from allopathic medicines to ayurveda, and started yoga and meditation to keep myself focussed on things which were necessary.”
The effort and willpower required to break out of a toxic cycle is huge, but Priti realised that it was up to her—and only her—to get back her health. “I realised that there is no therapy such as personal development and improvement. Even a therapist won’t be able to help you if you are not willing to get better. The will to live can bring new vibes and energy within you,” she adds. Her decision to put the negativity aside and reclaim her outlook towards brighter things helped her resurrect her life.
Prakash Anand, a doctor by profession, despite all his qualification and knowledge, was a very biased man. His general attitude towards women was chauvinistic. He did not like to see them as leaders and decision-makers, and ensured that his wife and daughters stayed quiet, submissive, and obedient to his command. However, when he got to know that his younger daughter was being abused and tortured by her husband, and she had suffered everything silently for years without breathing a word of it to anyone, he was shocked.
One day, he was informed by her daughter’s in-laws that she had been hospitalised because she had slipped accidentally and hurt herself. When he rushed to see her, the doctors told him that she had suffered a miscarriage due to being badly hit by her husband. When he probed his daughter, a long story of suffering constant abuse and humiliation tumbled out. On asking why she never told him about this ill-treatment, she said, amid sobs, that she was afraid of being considered disobedient, a bad daughter and wife by her father; therefore, she had stayed quiet.
Prakash was jolted by this revelation. He realised how his negative attitude towards the equality, freedom, and emancipation of women had cost his daughter her whole life and happiness. “All my life, I had harboured the view that girls should stay in control if they want to lead happy lives. But when I saw the repercussions of this belief in the life of my own child, I was rattled. I had to fight a long battle to get my daughter justice, but it was a huge learning for me to consider women as equal to men and give them wings to fly,” he admits with rare humility.
Since we can always justify our attitude, it is important to check if it is coming from a space of fear or love. If the basic emotion behind any attitude gives rise to feelings of negativity, anger, fear, judgment, or obstinacy, it’s time to correct that attitude; otherwise, we might miss out on a vital joy of life or encounter a serious problem.
The peculiarity of a positive attitude
J K Rowling’s famous line from the Harry Potter series goes, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
A positive outlook helps a person think clearly and explore options that may not have been visible previously when one was too preoccupied with thinking about all that could go wrong. Dealing with negativity does not need good aptitude but a good attitude. Opportunity in times of adversity is hidden from plain sight and only revealed to those who are willing to look closely, leaving behind their fixed perceptions. When an eagle is attacked by a flock of crows, it chooses to fly higher and out of the crows’ reach rather than fight back. As it is said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that caused the problem.”
Vikas Chandra Rayal, an engineer by profession, left his city job to start a school in his village in Uttarakhand. His dream was to start an English-medium school where students could engage in a modern way of learning, which would eventually open up a galaxy of opportunities for them. But many villagers discouraged him and tried to stop him from getting land or a loan to build the school. Despite that, he kept going. He says, “I have invested my own money for the future of my village. I know that I will face more obstacles in future, but that thought doesn’t stop me from doing what I am doing because I know I am working in the right direction.” His never-give-up approach and faith in his cause gave him the strength to work for it strongly and effectively.
Talking about his attitude, he said, “Either you are dead or alive, but if you are alive, you cannot give up. All of us have dreams, and we make a lot of strategies to achieve them, but our efforts can go in vain if one is not backed by a positive attitude. Had I paid heed to all the negativity that people surrounded me with, the children that come here today would not have had the opportunity to learn.” The lack of support and enthusiasm of the villagers hurt Vikas, but he had no other option but to fight back. His positive attitude and perseverance paid off productively and, today, many children from the nearby villages also come to study in his school. Now, many of his fellow villagers support him. “The main thing is to never set boundaries to your mind. Be open to thoughts,” Vikas insists.
Today, if we look at the world through the lens of newspapers, news channels, and statistics, there is a lot to be depressed about. People treat each other with so much rudeness, selfishness, and egoism. There is a lot of evil, darkness, and cruelty in this world. We cannot look the other way, hoping to forget the perplexities and complexities of life. That would be living in a fool’s paradise. But you do not have to succumb to negative energies, no matter how convincing they might seem. The best you can do is work around the situation and not give up hope. A positive attitude can help us to persevere through the hardships of life because there is a reason to.
Anne Frank (the well-known Jewish victim of the Holocaust) in her diary, said, “I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death . . . I think . . . peace and tranquillity will return again.” Even through a time of hatred and great animosity towards her people, Anne displayed tremendous courage and great optimism. It isn’t that she was excessively positive about everything. She was honest, sometimes brutally so. Yet, it was her toughness and unwillingness to lose her faith in humanity, given the social condition, which overwhelmed people. Positive attitude, when not superficial, does not crumble with negativity in the surroundings.
Maitri Shah, CEO, Mind Assets, suffers from congenital muscular dystrophy and has always been on a wheelchair for as long as she can remember. But her disability never bothered her. She says, “My dystrophy is only a small part of me. A bigger part of me is what I do.” Reminiscing, she shares, “I loved going to school; I was great at academics. After my doctor’s appointments, my parents would always take me to the beach. I’d tell my friends that I’m going on a picnic; I didn’t want their pity. For my 10th, I studied hard; I wanted to get admission based on merit and not through the disability quota. I was on cloud nine when I got 95percent!”
It is not that an optimistic person does not have to battle their doubts and insecurities. Rather, it means that they don’t let their fear get the better of them and empower their positive thoughts to prevail. To find negativity in an extremely positive situation requires you to just be human. But to find positivity in an extremely negative situation requires you to be an evolved human.
When Maitri was rejected in an interview because of her disability, she decided she wanted to start her own business and help other people like her. Her company, Mind Assets, has already given jobs to over 30 differently-abled people. She also co-founded the Wills on Wheels Foundation, a non-government service provider, which employs differently-abled people, and she was recognised for this as a Young Changemaker in 2015 by APJ Abdul Kalam, the then President. She credits her parents for being a pillar of strength and support for her and for always believing in her and her dreams, even when she felt discouraged at times.
She says, “It feels amazing when youngsters from all over reach out to me; the only thing we want are equal opportunities. None of us see our disability as a setback. It’s only a matter of perception.”
The chain reaction
Your vibe attracts your tribe. Often, you must have realised that once you consciously start looking for the good, it becomes all the more easier to spot the same. Author
Charles R. Swindoll once famously stated, “I am convinced that life is 10 per cent what happens to me and 90 per cent of how I react to it.” That 90 per cent is our attitude.
In the epic Mahabharata, where human attitudes and standpoints emerge in all shades of the spectrum, it becomes evident that the attitudinal stance of individual characters led them to their destinies. Duryodhana’s mind was prejudiced against his cousins, and this attitude was fuelled by his scheming uncle Shakuni. His poisonous thoughts shaped his negative attitude which never let him be in peace, even after living in the luxury of a palace. Whereas, despite facing turbulent and unjust situations, the Pandavas built the beautiful city of Indraprastha on the small piece of land given to them by king Dhritarashtra. It was their positive attitude that allowed them to focus on the prospect of rain rather than the darkness of the looming clouds. Also, one of the most conflicted characters of the epic, Karna, the great warrior, could not let go of his vengeful attitude towards the Pandavas. Immersed in his own conflicts and contempt towards them, he turned a blind eye to Duryodhana’s conspiracies, who used him as a pawn, which eventually led to his end.
History and legends are replete with examples of great pupils falling to their doom and also of the greater personages who rose beyond extraordinary circumstances, all because of their attitude and consequent interaction with life. Positive attitude acts as a catalyst and increases our energy level and productivity as well as our willingness to learn new things. On the contrary, if we have a negative attitude all the time, our efforts to improve the situation will be half-hearted and not driven, merely because we don’t believe in the possibility of better results.
Though, it is easy to fix the blame on others for our misfortunes, if one observes acutely, it becomes evident that nine out of ten times, the problem lies with ourselves. Our reality is our state of mind. People don’t see life as it is; they see life as they are. Consequently, when we change our perception of reality, we change our reality.
Learning and unlearning attitudes
I read a quote somewhere that said, “Somewhere along in our lives, we have acquired and learnt discriminatory attitudes—casual sexism and racism. We may have even indulged in such behaviour. But it is our responsibility to unlearn these attitudes, if not for someone else but for our soul.”
In life, changing our attitude and adjusting to situations brings us closer to happiness. Much like walking, writing, playing sports, and acquiring any other skill, attitude can also be learned and changed. Improving one’s attitude is a continuous process and requires discipline. A change in attitude is not possible unless it’s backed by effort. We have to become more conscious with what we are consuming, since constant consumption of anything over time becomes an attitude. If you are trying to keep a positive frame of mind while being around negative people, you will either revert to your old pessimistic ways or will change your circle to be with more joyful people.
How to change your attitude:
• Find what exactly needs to be changed
The result of a poor attitude is never positive. Therefore, if troubles never leave you and you are in a perpetual state of unhappiness, you need to figure out what needs to change in your attitude. Also, society is our mirror. If you get accused of being partial, discriminatory, haughty, or prejudiced, instead of getting defensive, think if these accusations are true to any extent. An honest reflection would reveal how correct they are, and then you can resolve to work on them.
• Change the way you look at the situation
If you feel like a victim of your circumstances, then, for a moment, think what is the best learning you can get from them, instead of caving into your attitude of complaining all the time. For example, if burdened with extra work, change your thinking to imagining how good it would feel to finish all the work and get the credit for it, instead of thinking that your boss has a grudge against you.
• Find role models
Not having a positive role model is reflective of your cynical attitude. Many dismiss the success of others as the result of their good fortune, privileged background, or corrupt means. However, if we truly wish to change, there is plenty to get inspired from and mould ourselves around. Self-improvement writer Kara Heisman at Life Hack suggests, “Find someone who has the kind of attitude that you want to have, and let his or her life give you inspiration and encouragement to move beyond your temporary failures in your journey towards becoming a better person.”
• Think how your life will change if your attitude changes
If you’re having a hard time finding a reason to shake off your bad attitude, think how a change in attitude will better your life. That’s your motivation right there! If it’s short-temperedness you want to change, think how positively people will treat you when they find you more amicable.
• Start using more positive speech
Monitor your self-talk. Stop saying things like ‘I cannot change,’ or ‘I am too lazy, worthless, or incompetent.’ Start telling yourself that you are capable of bringing the desired shift in your attitude. Use statements like ‘I am hopeful’ or ‘We will find a resolution,’ throughout the day. Words construct our reality; so choose to make them positive.
• Practise gratitude
Practising gratitude has a miraculous way of shifting your attitude as well as your reality. It makes you look for the good in everything. It makes you optimistic, energetic, and happy. When you feel grateful instead of being critical, you access the wellspring of joy, creativity, freedom, and success.
Attitude is everything
Over the years, our attitude towards various social topics such as menstruation, sex education, homosexuality, unconventional career choices, conventional beauty standards, and many others have seen a gradual positive shift, and this is because of the increase in knowledge about such topics among people. Our learning and unlearning of attitude are only reflective of our personal growth. If we stick to our redundant beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes, we restrict our development and the spiritual evolution of our soul.
Life is indeed a stage where we have to play our part, but it is through our attitude that we mould our character and choose how to shape and develop it. Attitude is everything, and a positive one ensures that we overcome our problems and realise our true potential. No one person has absolutely everything. Life has bumps and hurdles for all of us, maybe more so for some than others, but that should not bring our spirits down so that we fail to notice the good things.
Our attitude forms a major component of our personality and is our default, biased way of viewing reality. There are seven types of lenses of attitude through which we see life, for better or for worse:
• Stoicism: Stoicism is a way to shape life based on what you experience internally. A stoic does not allow any experience to disturb their inner peace. They control themselves and maintain spiritual balance.
• Scepticism: A sceptic sees life as if it could always be overthrown any time. They question everything and refuse to accept dubious-sounding ideas. They only allow their subjective observations.
• Cynicism: It means seeing life as the opposite of what it seems to be. The cynic sees events as ‘not right’ until it is proven otherwise. They do not hesitate to express their disapproval. The advantage is that they always look for an alternative to things.
• Pragmatism: This attitude allows one to see life practically through logic. A pragmatist sees the world in a way that is relatively free of distortions and deals with matters purposefully and functionally. They have no prejudices for any particular point of view.
• Idealism: It means seeing life as if it could always be improved. Idealists imagine a reality in terms of ideas that express a sense of perfection or inherent capabilities. They look for the meaning of life and see it everywhere. Idealists project their picture to the outside world, which is good if their image is an accurate reflection of reality, but problematic when the image is a result of their fantasy.
• Spiritualism: Spiritualists make sense of life through whatever brings greater comfort and joy. Usually, this means belief in something esoteric, which gives life a greater sense. They perceive the world as evolving, developing to a better state. They see a larger picture of the whole and possibilities that look far into the future. Spiritualists have high expectations for the world. They are visionaries.
• Realism: It means seeing life as it is. They transform their experience into practical knowledge. They do not consciously add their judgments and expectations and look at all the facts to assess the most likely explanations and reasonable predictions.
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