Our Attitude Is the Forerunner of Our Circumstances

We all would like to be successful. Yet, many have thousands of reasons why they cannot succeed. In truth, all we need is one reason why we can or cannot. That one reason is attitude. Nothing is more important: not education, aptitude, health, wealth, or opportunity. Great men and women share this opinion. For example, Thomas Jefferson wrote “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

What is attitude? It is our disposition, perspective, viewpoint, or outlook. It is how we view the world. Frederick Langbridge expressed it well when he wrote, “Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.” What do you see?

It’s almost as if we were wearing sunglasses. The glasses we choose to wear determine what we see. Polarizing glasses, for instance, can remove reflections and give us a clearer view of reality. On the other hand, yellow or blue glasses distort the world, giving everything a yellowish or bluish appearance. We don’t experience reality directly, but filter it with our mind. That is, we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. We interpret our experiences, labeling them as good or bad. However, our interpretations do not affect reality; they just affect us.

Attitude is your acceptance or rejection of life.  You can walk around with a smile on your face or a chip on your shoulder.  Your choice.

Some people love the cold weather because it’s perfect for skiing. Others hate the cold. Obviously, our feelings have no influence on the temperature. However, our emotions have great impact on our lives, bringing us happiness or unhappiness. Some of us can discover opportunity in every difficulty; others find nothing but difficulty in every opportunity — same circumstances, but different sunglasses, different attitudes. So, it is our attitude, not fate that determines our degree of success. This is hardly a new idea. The Greek Philosopher Epictetus wrote, more than 2,000 years ago, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Again, 500 years earlier, Buddha taught, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

However, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that an enormous contribution to understanding attitude was made by the American psychologist, William James. He revealed that our attitude was optional. We have a choice. We can choose how we think. In his words, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Not only did he teach us that we have a choice, but he taught us how to change our attitude. It’s simple: just behave the way you want to become. Are you a pessimist that wishes to become an optimist? If so, pretend to be optimistic! For when you change your behavior, you change the world! You see, the world is a mirror. If you always act grumpy, you will find everyone you meet behaves in the same manner. But if you start pretending that you are cheerful and helpful, guess what? Everyone will respond in a like manner, and as they do so, your attitude will start changing. You will have a reason to be optimistic, for you will discover people are cheerful and kind if given the chance.

It Is Not the Position, but the Disposition

An acquaintance of mine, Mike, paid for college by taking a part-time job as a retail salesman. Unlike some coworkers, he didn’t whine about minimum wages. He never said, “Why should I work hard when I’m not being paid enough?” On the contrary, he realized there are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes. He was an optimist. He believed that whatever his salary, he should always do his best. After graduation, he stayed on, but started working full-time. Others, who had been working at the store longer than Mike, couldn’t understand how he got a full-time job when they didn’t. They didn’t realize the difference the right attitude can make.

Mike continued to do his best. Before long, he was promoted to store Manager. He did so well in his new job that Head Office took him out of the store and put on the road as a sales rep. Once again, he excelled. So much so that he was moved to Head Office as the new National Sales Manager of one of the product lines. There’s nothing that can stop a positive attitude, so Mike went on to become the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for his company, a chain of more than 120 stores. Oh, by the way, some of the people he started working with in retail are still there, still complaining. What a difference a positive attitude can make. So, if at first you don’t succeed, try a little ardor! If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.

The Nitty-Gritty

Doesn’t it seem strange that some people complain they don’t have enough time to be happy, yet find enough time to be sad? Not really. You see, their deplorable plight has nothing to do with having enough or not enough time. Rather, it has everything to do with complaining. After all, complaining is the negation of happiness. It’s impossible to complain and be happy at the same time.

So, beware of that insidious disease known as ‘negativitis’ (negative thinking). It is as pervasive as the common cold, but far more damaging. It mutilates, cripples, and corrodes the human spirit. Those infected by it are broken men and women aimlessly plodding along. The dark clouds brooding over them obscure their vision and cause them to become confrontational, apathetic, and cynical. Their lives are like flat champagne, without any sizzle. So, how do we inoculate ourselves against such a terrible disease? It was only after learning about the horrible effects of smoking that people began to give it up. It may be wise to do the same here. So, let’s review the effects of negativitis.

Complaining is worse than doing nothing, for it is digging the rut one is in deeper and deeper. Each time one complains, it becomes increasingly difficult to climb out of the ditch they’ve created. To loosen the grip of this vicious habit, we need to become aware of our complaining, stop it in its tracks, and immediately look for something positive to say. It’s just a matter of replacing a bad habit with a good one.

A negative attitude is self-defeating. We won’t find solutions to life’s problems by looking for someone or something to blame. Those who say, “Positive thinking doesn’t work for me,” have got it backwards. It’s not positive thinking that has to work; you have to work. For example, you have to work at appreciating what you have instead of moaning about what you lack.

Failure to do what you want to do (be happy) causes physical and mental stress. A rotten attitude, not only delays success, but also shortens life by damaging the immune system (to learn more on how your thoughts affect your immune system, investigate psychoneuroimmunology). So, besides the diseases directly caused by stress, such as heart disease and ulcers, we become susceptible to all manner of other diseases because of a weakened immune system.

Do you know anyone with a negative attitude? How many years have they been that way? Two years? Five years? Ten years? That’s how many years of happiness and success they have robbed themselves of. Blinded by their own negativity, they are prevented from seeing the good around them.

One characteristic of negative thinkers is their need to have the world behave according to their wishes. They have never grown up and still live with childish demands. Whenever people and the world fail to act according to their selfish wishes, they are unhappy. Such a poisonous attitude prevents them from growing and learning how to cope with life’s challenges.

Everything negative we say to ourselves (self-talk) or to others is a suggestion. We are unwittingly practicing self-hypnosis, programing ourselves for failure, and creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

The negative world of our imagination creates an actual one that we are forced to live in. Take Ralph, for example. He’s always complaining about life. “Nowadays people are rude and surly. No matter where you go or what you do, you have to deal with ill-bred people.” As he said this, we made our way into a coffee shop. Once inside, we were greeted by a cheerful chap who asked us what we would like. Sighing (as if it took a great effect to speak), Ralph, almost inaudibly, ordered a medium sized regular coffee. When it arrived, he started complaining. Pointing to the cup, he said, “This is medium?” Without waiting for a response, he added, “You should have told me your cups are so small; I would have ordered a large one.” Despite the long line that Ralph was holding up, the man behind the counter tried to be patient. Without complaint, he took away the small coffee and replaced it with a large one. As soon as it arrived, Ralph looked at it aghast and bellowed, “You call this regular? There’s not enough cream!” The man behind the counter, who only a moment ago was cheerful was now upset and sarcastically replied, “Yes, for most people, this is regular, but if you insist, I’ll put in more cream. Perhaps next time you may want to ask for double cream!” I was next, so I got my coffee and joined Ralph at the table. “See,” he told me, “what did I say to you? People are rude.” Yes, in Ralph’s world, people are rude, but what he does not realize is he makes them so.

A particularly pernicious effect of ‘negativitis’ is that it sets one up for the mentality of a victim. Those with a woe-is-me attitude sit around in misery, waiting to be rescued. But they wait in vain because no one can rescue them from their own attitude. They are the only ones who can change it. And until they do so, they are condemned to continue suffering.

Another adverse effect of negativity is that it sets one up for the magic-bullet-syndrome. That is, the victim of ‘negativitis’ spends their time looking for a quick, easy fix, when none exists. By denying a fundamental law of life that states anything worthwhile requires effort to achieve, they achieve nothing. They won’t make progress until they realize that nothing in life is free. They’ve got to be willing to do what it takes to get what they want.

Also, beware of the fact that negative people attract other complainers. Because those who live in a world of doom and gloom alienate others, they have no choice but to look for other negative people to associate with. They then feed off one another and get locked in a clique of ‘losers’.

The constant stress that flows from a negative attitude also saps one’s energy, focus, and motivation. It is hardly a formula for success.

Also of great concern is the fact that those who refuse to work on improving their negative attitude may slide into depression, self-pity, and hopelessness.

Additionally, negative people not only harm themselves; they harm the world. They cease to make a contribution to it. Instead of helping, they spread gloom and misery everywhere. If they insist on infecting others, why not infect them with laughter? If they must carry something contagious, why not carry a smile?

Imagine being in a small boat drifting in a river. And imagine being unaware that your boat has a motor. As long as you fail to use that motor you will be a captive of the river. You will be a prisoner without any control over your destination. Yet, the boat that we’re in does have a motor. We can use it to change course. That motor is our power of choice. All we have to do is choose to look for the good, for when we do so, that is all we will find!

Case Study

A reader writes, “I desperately want to move to California, but I have about a year left in school. Also, I have to stay with my current job until January next year to get my retirement benefits. The wait is becoming unbearable and it seems as though everything is happening to keep me from going to California. My question is how do I put up with being here until next August so I can leave with a Bachelor of Graphic Design, an Associates Degree in Photography, and $23,000 in cash? As I think of all the things I will get if I just wait, I guess it makes sense, but I have no passion about my current position and I don’t know how to become passionate about it. I feel like now that I’ve gotten a glimpse of what I want my future to be, I’m determined to do whatever it takes to make it happen.  Any inspiration you can give would help.”

Your first problem is you don’t know what your problem is. Your second problem is your attitude. And your third problem is you are living in the future, neglecting the present, and forgetting the past. Now, let’s consider all three problems.

You think your problem is that life is unbearable because you have to continue in your boring job until January and stay in school until August next year. Your problem is not a boring job or tedious study, but the wrong attitude. You seem to think that as soon as you arrive in California, your life will be filled with excitement. But I suggest that before you change your address, you address your attitude. You see, if you don’t work on changing it now, when you move to California you’ll be bringing more than luggage; you’ll also be bringing your attitudinal  baggage. In other words, if you think life is terrible where you are, it will be terrible wherever you are because life is what you make of it.

Your priorities are mixed up. You think your choice of job and place to live are important for your happiness, but those decisions are minor ones. The only important choice you have to make is your choice of attitude. Irving Berlin expressed this idea well when he wrote, “Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it.” This sentiment is also echoed by Preacher Charles Swindoll who wrote, “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.”

So, it is not your current position that counts, but your current disposition. Yes, if you wait a year, you’ll be able to leave for California with $23,000, but remember, a man with $23,000 and a poor attitude is a poor man, and one with $250 and a good attitude is a rich man. So, set your priorities straight.

You are studying Graphic Design and Photography so you can launch a new exciting career. But how can studying what you love be tedious? Can it be you want the glamour without the work? What will happen after you start your new career and discover it, too, entails work? Will you grow bored and change career again? Didn’t you once dream of becoming a Programmer Analyst? You succeeded in that goal, but now are bored and want to change direction. I’m not suggesting that you should abandon Graphic Design and Photography. I’m merely suggesting that before you change careers and make a big move, you need to change your attitude.

What exactly do I mean by a good attitude? I mean that you take pride in yourself and resolve that no matter what you do, you will always do your best, and do it with pride. If you’re a student, become the best student you possibly can. If you’re a Programmer Analyst, take pride in your work and do your best. If we are always doing our best, how can we be bored or uninterested? Enthusiasm is a natural byproduct of a commitment to excellence. When you adopt a winning attitude, regardless of the job you decide to take, you will always be a winner. Change that attitude so you can stop whining and start winning. It’s okay to change jobs, but change your attitude first.

Another characteristic of people with good attitudes is that they always look for (and find) the good. You are spending far too much time looking for what is ‘bad’ about your situation. It’s time to change your focus by looking for the good, counting your blessings, and appreciating what you already have. If you cannot appreciate what you now have, what makes you think you will appreciate what you will have later?

Yet another attribute of positive thinkers is their empowering language. For example, instead of saying, “I HAVE TO stay with my current job,” (which makes one feel like a victim), they would say, “I CHOOSE TO (or WANT TO) stay with my current job because I want to receive my retirement benefits.” (This type of statement makes one feel in control of life.) As you develop a positive attitude, it will sustain you under all circumstances, and you will finally realize what happiness is all about.

Another mistake of yours is to live in the future, fantasizing about a better life. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set goals. Not at all. I don’t want you to be like most people who spend more time on planning their vacation than on planning their lives. By all means, set goals and make plans. But once you have taken the necessary steps to reach your goals, return to the present. Don’t drift into a dream world, allowing the present moment to slip by.

Spend less time silently dreaming and more time silently listening to your intuition for guidance on which path to follow. And take advantage of the potential power of the present moment. For at this moment, now, you have the power to choose, decide, and act. You can decide, for example, to change. You can commit to doing your best, looking for the good, being grateful, and using empowering language. You can also decide to develop patience and self-discipline.

Additionally, don’t dwell in the past, but learn from it. For we can’t move ahead until we have learned from our mistakes.

Thank you for writing. We all wish you well. I am confident that you will make the right choices and look forward to learning of your future successes. I’ll end by quoting Earl Nightingale.  “A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before the change.”



ATTITUDE 101 by John C. Maxwell

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING: Change Your Attitude… Change Your Life! by Jeff Keller

Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill and W. Stone

ATTITUDE RECONSTRUCTION: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou


Attitude Makes All The Difference — Zig Ziglar

The Magic of Attitude — Earl Nightingale

Attitude is the Key to Success — Dr. Alan Zimmerman