Positive Attitude Training
Positive Attitude Training is grounded in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and also uses many of the techniques of rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT). This is a well-researched, well-tested, and extremely user-friendly approach that you can easily learn. If you make the commitment to use these principles in your daily life, you’ll turn your negative thinking and negative emotions around rapidly.
For over forty years I’ve used, as well as trained thousands of mental health professionals to use, the methods I’m going to talk about in this book, which are all clinically proven to help people choose the positive attitude by which they lead their lives. The key word here is choose, and I will constantly be reminding you that your choices are what empower you to make your life exactly what you want it to be.
You may find it helpful to keep a diary to keep track of the insights that come up along the way, or you may find that some of the material raises more questions than answers. If that’s the case, the answers will come along, but in the meantime you may want to keep track of the questions so that when the time is right, you can plug them into the appropriate exercise.
Attitudes have three components: a cognitive component, your beliefs; anemotional component, your feelings; and a behavioral component, your actions, or what you do about the attitudes you have.
Our attitudes are often developed when we’re very young. In many cases, they are quite ingrained in us. They’re often taught to us in such a way that we grow up believing that we have no choice. Sometimes our blind acceptance of attitudes causes us to have fear, anger, depression, prejudice, and self-doubts. This can make us quite vulnerable to the negative effects of daily stress.
Positive Attitude Trainingю Before I get into the particulars of how this is done, let me briefly explain cognitive-behavioral theory. It operates on a simple premise: that our belief about a given event—that is, what is internal to us—is the real cause of our emotional consequences or how we feel about the event, rather than the event itself being the cause of what we feel. In other words, our emotions, for the most part, are caused internally, not externally.
For example, suppose you began to experience depression shortly after losing your job. Normally, you would attribute that depression to the job loss, which of course is an external event. Cognitive-behavioral theory, however, would show you that it was not the job loss that caused your depression, but your belief about that job loss. Thus you could be telling yourself, “I’m incompetent. My family and I will starve. Now I will have to carry the stigma of being unemployed,” or “There’s nothing to look forward to.”
Positive Attitude Training. We call this the elegant solution, where the problem is resolved on an internal or emotional level. The practical or empirical solution, of course, would be for you to find another job, and the behavioral part of this approach will help you to do that as well. But with the elegant solution, lessening the depression does not depend on those outside forces, such as when and whether you get a job, which may be beyond your control.
Positive Attitude Training. Throughout this book, you will learn just how to do this with all the issues presented, and with practice, this approach will quickly effect permanent attitude change. Once you’ve learned this, the ability to have a positive attitude is yours forever. Think about the choices you want to make in your life and what it is that holds you back. Act as though there are no acceptable excuses, because in life, that’s truly your reality.
Ultimately you are responsible for what you do. That’s not just a cliché. It’s a fact. You can blame others or yourself all you want, but the only thing that will really make a difference is to make a choice and to stand behind your choices.
If you’ve been treating your life as though it’s been only a dress rehearsal, now is the time to realize that the show’s begun. The main attraction is happening right now, and it can be a very good one, with rave reviews, or it can be a flop. What makes the difference is what you have chosen.
Positive Attitude Training. Some choices may have come to you easily, while others may have been very difficult. Some have even been made unconsciously. This is all part of the human condition. The problem comes when, instead of accepting reality as it is, you tell yourself that it should be another way.
Think for a moment about how nice life could be if there were no shoulds—if we didn’t tell ourselves that life should have no issues, that other people should be the way we want them to be rather than the way they are, that we should do better than our best, or that our life in the world should be easy. When you adopt attitudes that eliminate those shoulds, far fewer things in life will disturb you.
Behind practically every negative attitude there’s a should statement that we make, either consciously or unconsciously, that leads to a disturbing emotion. For example, the last time you were angry, weren’t you telling yourself that someone should have treated you better or that your expectations should have been better met? The last time you were down on yourself, perhaps because things didn’t go the way you wanted them to, weren’t you telling yourself that you should have done better, even though chances are that you did the best you could at that time?
See if you can identify with some of these nine traps or thinking errors, which we all make from time to time and account for most of our negative feelings.
- The first one is demanding certainty. That is putting off important decisions or actions because you believe thatit is imprudent to act unless you are certain of a positive outcome. Certainty is a myth—perhaps one of the most widely perpetuated ones, but a myth nonetheless.
- Second is defining something as too hard or impossible when, in fact, it is merely difficult. By doing that, you’re likely to procrastinate, and worse yet, to put yourself down for it afterwards.
- Third is telling yourself that life is awful, terrible, and catastrophic when things don’t go the way you want them to. In fact, 99 percent of your life could be exactly as you want it to be, but that 1 percent that isn’t going well can, if you let it, serve to negate all the good stuff.
- Fourth, do you label yourself in a globally negative way merely because you made a mistake or failed in a task? Rather than recognizing that it’s the behavior that’s negative, do you put yourself down or define yourself as incompetent? If that’s the case, then it’s quite possible that you spend a great deal of your time struggling with self-acceptance.
- Fifth, maybe you tend to rate others in totally negative terms simply because they did not come through for you the way you wanted or expected them to. If so, it’s quite possible you could be spending a lot of your time being consumed with anger.
- Sixth, do you hold yourself to impossible standards? If so, it’s possible that you spend a lot of your time being anxious and down on yourself.
- Seventh, if you require that other people give you love and approval as a prerequisite for accepting yourself, then you could be spending an excessive amount of time pleasing others to the exclusion of what really works for you.
- Eighth, do you think in black-and-white terms, that is, all or nothing? When something is short of perfect, do you see it as a total failure? If so, you may be spending a lot of your time being stressed, and others may experience you as being somewhere between difficult and impossible to please.
- Ninth and finally, you could be believing that because you had a certain type of childhood or certain life experiences, happiness or other types of achievement in life are now impossible. If so, you could be turning that into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
All of these beliefs cause self-defeating attitudes. To the extent that you have them, you have chosen them, perhaps unconsciously, but now is the time to turn that all around. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In what he famously called The Serenity Prayer, he was talking about knowing the difference between the practical or empirical and the emotional or elegant solution to a problem.
Those things that disturb you, but which you cannot change, need to be accepted; otherwise the result is likely to be emotional pain and upset. The things that can be changed are what warrant your greatest efforts and focus. This is about doing what it takes to enable you to take charge of your life, which is your deepest duty to yourself. Before we talk about change, let me give you an illustration of how individualized our beliefs about one external event can be. When I was a freshman in college, I worked at a gas station. The date was November 22, 1963.
It was early that Friday afternoon when a woman came into the station and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. Several of us were standing around, and we looked at this woman in disbelief. A minute or so later, someone else came in and told us the same thing. What stayed with me the most about that afternoon was how so many different emotional reactions came out of one singular event. Depending on what you believed about Kennedy, death, and the assassination of a president, you all seemed to develop your own custom-made emotional reactions.
This is the way emotions are formed—through beliefs. Changing an attitude involves choosing a new belief. This is sometimes called an affirmation. An affirmation is a new belief that you can choose to replace a self-defeating belief that was behind a negative attitude—one that you may have acquired automatically. When you have attitudes about life or about yourself that are harmful and get in the way of your happiness, then what you need is a new affirmation.
Positive Attitude Training. Let’s go back to the example of losing your job through no fault of your own, causing you economic hardship. That situation in and of itself can be difficult enough, but when you complicate it by blaming yourself—even though you know the situation was out of your control and was not your choice—your attitude can make the impact many times worse. As you can see, blaming yourself certainly won’t help solve the problem.
“I know it intellectually, but”—how often have I heard that! It means that you know it sometimes, or as it applies to other people. For example, you know that someone who is laid off as a result of an economic situation should not be blamed or put down, but do you believe it? You know that to err is human, but do you give yourself permission to make mistakes? If not, this is called perfectionism, and it can cause a lot of self-criticism, self-doubting, and stress.Positive Attitude Training.
Positive Attitude Training. I’m going to teach you how to tell your gut what your head already knows. Sometimes that involves knowing the difference between insight and hindsight. Many confuse these two seemingly similar concepts. Insight is a healthy and positive process that takes place when you have an experience from which you are able to learn. Hindsight, on the other hand, is where you look back on a situation that has already occurred and tell yourself, “If I had known then what I know now, I would have done it differently.”
Wouldn’t we all? We all know that hindsight is 20/20, but you may not realize how unhealthy it really is, especially if you put yourself down for not having acted on information that couldn’t possibly have been at your disposal. For example, in hindsight, would Kennedy have gone to Dallas that day? Hindsight is akin to reading the daily paper with yesterday’s winning lottery number and condemning yourself for not having chosen it. Insight, on the other hand, increases self-acceptance, and that can make practically any problem ultimately a no-lose situation. For instance, the insight gained from Kennedy’s assassination was to provide future presidents with far better security.
Positive Attitude Training. So we’ll concentrate on creating new ways for you to access your insight, and remember: insight is using a learning experience to look at something in a new and different way. Insight will change practically any problem into a no-lose situation, simply by showing you that you not only can stand the problem but can learn from it as well. But insight is worthless unless you use it. Just having an insight in your head isn’t enough, while putting it to work for you will change your life.
We’ll also look at simple versus easy. Many people confuse the two concepts. A lot of the approaches that I talk about in changing an attitude sound very simple. Indeed they are simple, but they’re not necessarily easy to enact. Positive Attitude Training. If you asked me how to drive from one coast to another, I could say, “Get on such-and-such a highway and stay on it for 3,000 miles, and it’ll get you there. Simple, isn’t it?” But making the drive, as anyone who’s ever done it will tell you, is far from easy.
Often we think of our inability to change situations in those terms. Repetition, as well as attacking your resistance to change, will make the crucial difference. Here are a few other principles that I would like you to keep in mind as we work on designing new positive attitude together.Positive Attitude Training. Positive Attitude Training. You have the power to be or do practically anything you want.
You can have practically anything you want in life, but you probably can’t have everything you want. A limitation is an inability to make certain specific changes, either in your life or the world, that are important for you to make. Accepting your limitations is an important part of self-acceptance, but it is one of the most difficult things for most of us to do. We know how intellectually, but have a lot of trouble learning it on a gut level.
Strategies to Get started on Positive Attitude Change
Here are a few exercises you may try to get started on your road toward positive attitude change.
- Ask yourself, if you could have whatever you wanted in life, what would it be? What would you like your life to be? Answer this question as creatively as you can. Make a list as long as necessary of all those things you would like.
- Keep a log of thoughts that come to you when you become upset. Write down what you’re thinking each time you experience a negative emotion, such as when you feel sad, angry, or nervous. No one else has to see your log, but you’ll find that this information will come in handy for identifying some of your main negative thoughts, attitudes, and triggers.
- Make a list of those things that you know in your head that you wish your gut knew, things that you would like your head to tell your gut. It may help to put them on 3″ × 5″ cards or in your smartphone and remind yourself to look at them several times a day. Attitudes and beliefs are learned, and this is an important step in deliberately using your inner wisdom to help you to do just that.
Think of building positive attitude the same way you would think of building up your body. You can get yourself into terrific shape, but if you let your body go, it’ll go right back to the way it was. The same is true about adopting positive attitudes. Life circumstances will challenge you and will often undermine your progress, but it’s up to you to make a vigorous and ongoing commitment to staying in optimal mental shape.
Positive Attitude Training. Never forget how complex we are. After all, if the brain were so simple that we had the capacity to fully understand it, then we’d probably be too simpleminded to do much with the knowledge. Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you can remember that, then you’ve laid perhaps the most important cornerstone of positive attitude change.
Positive Attitude Training
How to Be an Unshakable Optimist
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.
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