Perspectives have a kind of solidity that thoughts and emotions alone do not have. Thoughts can be fleeting. They come and go until we latch onto one as an idea or possibility, and we bring one to life and make something out of it. We can also chase them down rabbit holes and, like Alice in Wonderland, end up in bizarre, even dangerous places.
Emotions are like weather, changeable and changing. Here in Michigan we say, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change. Emotions arise from specific perspectives about specific situations we are in and facing.
Moods are more like climate – they are more stable over time. Here in Michigan, you can generally expect winter to be cold, cloudy and snowy. Yet, because of weather, any single day or hour can be variable: snowy now, then cloudy, then sunny, perhaps a thaw, or freezing rain.
Intention… here is where an attitude really forms and condenses. Thoughts and emotions pass like water from a vapor or liquid, take form and become a solid. We then carry them with us into our morning, into our day, to breakfast, into the car, into work, into a meeting.
Here is where attitude becomes so important and so powerful. Intentions often become choices and actions. Actions have consequences: good/beneficial, bad/harmful, or neutral. Intention becoming action is the rock thrown into the pond. Consequences are the ripples sent in every direction.
The importance of attitude
Our attitudes influence other people and their attitudes. They can be infectious and contagious: in good ways, bad ways, or neutral ways. Attitudes impact other people’s perspectives, emotions/moods and intentions. Our attitudes may be subtle and rub off on people. They may rub them the wrong way, or even set a blaze that becomes a wild fire.
Attitudes may be unconscious, conscious, or somewhere in between, something like that half dream/half waking state we “walk” as we rise out of sleep in the morning. They are constantly forming just half in/half out of awareness, like clouds at mountain peaks, then condensing and moving out across the plains where, at point and place, they drop their load of rain.
Becoming aware of our attitude
The good news is that, just like thoughts, emotions/moods and intentions by themselves as individual “entities,” we can bring attitudes out of unconsciousness into the full light of awareness. We can hold them in the space of awareness mindfully. We can be curious about them. Examine them non-judgmentally; see them as and for what they are.
We can use hindsight to recall previous attitudes like “this one,” and our experiences with them: good, bad or indifferent. We can then look ahead into whatever situation we are heading: preparing breakfast, driving to work, getting a child ready for school, taking the dog for a walk, going into a meeting, or sitting down to talk about a difficult matter with our spouse, friend or partner, and forecast outcomes our present attitude might bring if we let it or them, sail or fly.
When we bring present or current attitudes into awareness and make them conscious, we can bring those three wonderful amigos to our examination: empathy, understanding and compassion. We can forecast what sort of seeds this attitude or these attitudes water within us, right at this moment, and what seeds they will water or are watering in others. We can see what outcomes our intentions are creating even as we sit, speak and act.
Unlike the weather or climate outside, we can change our inner weather.
We can begin by examining the first element of our attitude: perspective. Say I am in what we might call an “angry attitude.” I can identify the ruling perspective driving the boat or car. Say, it is “everyone is against me,” “people are always thwarting me or getting in my way,” “they should just get out of my way.”
I may then challenge that or those perspectives: “Oh really? Is the true? In what way or ways specifically. Give me examples. What is the evidence for this? Is this fact or feeling? Is this perspective accurate and realistic?” Is it proportionate: too much, too little or just right?
We can also choose our attitude
Next, I can then examine the second element, noticing how I am feeling as I marinate or stew in this perspective. How does it feel, in the body and in the mind? Is this how I want to feel? How are these feelings shaping further thoughts? Intentions? Actions? How is my irritation, annoyance or grumpiness affecting everyone around me at the breakfast table? Attitudes are like second hand smoke, you can’t help but breathe them in, unless you disengage and leave.
We can be intentional about our actions that stem from our attitude
Finally, we can examine the trojan intentions and their subsequent actions emerging from the belly of the construction of perspective and emotion/mood into action. Again, if I am considering an angry attitude, what village am I setting afire and laying waste? If my anger is random, who is getting caught in the cross-hairs? If I am driving, who besides myself am I putting at risk? Do they really deserve this, even if I think they do? Do I really deserve this?
Attitudes play a big role in the worlds of karma and science. Cause and effect. Think this, do that. Do this, get that outcome. It is as simple as that.
If we should desire to change, or even enhance an attitude, we need look no further than bringing our wiser and better self into the discussion.
Say we carry an anxious attitude and upon examination, we recognize our perspective is running in the direction of the worst-case scenario. We can do something about that. We don’t need to go there. It is not a preordained conclusion except that it might be our habit or custom to go there, usually bringing on the worst in the sense of feeling, intention, poor choices, consequently getting equally poor outcomes. As Dr. Claire Weekes points out, we need to realize anxiety is not an outside force… “it is us” as Pogo would say.
Bringing our wiser presence to the table, we can not only expose things as they really are, but we can also ask, “What can I bring from my better self to create the best possible attitude within the specific circumstances to get the best possible and plausible outcome?”
Perhaps, I can intentionally bring empathy, understanding, compassion, loving-kindness, patient endurance, good judgment… whatever the situation may require. Whatever the physician needs to bring to the sick bed, or the right parts and tools to get the car running. Perhaps a clear seeing, compassionate feeling, sensing, diagnostic mind.
If we are driving, perhaps we could bring safety, for myself and for all others whom I may encounter on the road. Seen in this light, safety is a practice.
The most important thing to bear in mind
If we are moving and living among loved ones and friends, perhaps the most crucial thing we need to bear in mind, even as we carry our attitudes with us, and this can be situation and life changing: “These are the people that mean the most to me. The people I love the most in this life and this world.”
Our attitude as a way of being, operating and doing in the world when the road traveled makes all the difference, in large and small ways. Go Well.
He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit, an MDiv at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and an MSW from Grand Valley State University.
As a therapist, David is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, narrative therapy, motivational interviewing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.