Attitude Adjustment

Remember that country song about giving people an attitude adjustment on the top of the head? The attitude adjustment technique in this book has nothing to do with violence. It's about subtly changing one's attitude.

Negativity is a huge drain on your energy and exacerbates any stress in your life, magnifying it until it seems huge and uncontrollable. Many people are in the negativity habit. Are you?

What's your attitude? Are you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty type? Do you see the upside or the downside first?

Being negative is a habit. It may be a habit brought on by lots of past suffering, and that's perfectly understandable. But it can stop right now. Even in suffering, you don't have to be negative. Some people remain positive through tragedy; others despair. What's the difference? Attitude.

How do you change your negative attitude? First, become aware of when you tend to be negative. Keep a negativity journal. Whenever you feel like being negative, don't express it out loud. Write it down in your journal. Once you get it out of your system on the page, you can look it over more objectively later. Eventually (as with any kind of journaling), you'll start to see patterns.

Has stress sapped your sense of humor? Try to keep your sense of humor when life gets stressful. A lighthearted approach is much less stressful, and sometimes a funny face or a well-timed joke can put an immediate and happy end to an escalating situation.

Once you know what kinds of things trigger your negativity (it may be triggered by many things), you can begin to catch yourself in the act. When something unexpected happens, do the first words out of your mouth tend to be a frantic “Oh NO!”? If so, stop yourself after that first “Oh …” Notice what you are doing. Tell yourself, “I don't have to respond this way. I should wait and see if a full-blown, all-out ‘Oh NO’ is really warranted.” This stopping of your thought process and your negative reaction can help you be more objective and, eventually, more positive about any situation. Even if, after stopping, you realize that an “Oh NO” really is warranted, you won't be calling wolf at every little mishap. You'll save your “Oh NOs” for when you really need them.

Just like any habit, the more you get used to halting your negative reactions and replacing them with neutral or positive reactions, the less you'll find yourself reacting negatively. Instead of “Oh NO,” react with silence, taking a wait-and-see attitude. Or, react with an affirmation: “Oh … I can learn something positive from this!”

You might encounter obstacles along the way, and that's to be expected. Maybe in your negativity journal you'll discover that you are comforted by or even enjoy being negative. Maybe it makes you feel safe: If you always expect the worst, you'll never be disappointed. But obstacles are meant to be overcome. Even if a negative attitude is comforting in some ways, is it worth the drain on your energy and happiness? Keep working through it and being honest with yourself. You may discover that your negative reactions are all about protection and that you can find much better ways to protect yourself than that. How about quality friends, a really fulfilling hobby, a regular meditation practice?

If you are serious about kicking your negativity habit, you can adjust your attitude. It just takes some attention. (For a related technique, see “Optimism Therapy,” later in this chapter.)

You can oppose your own tendencies to think irrationally by evaluating your feelings. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the situation or just my perception causing me stress?

  • Am I expecting things to be other than they are?

  • Am I stressed because of someone else's mistake?

  • Conflict requires two people. Am I contributing?

  • Am I wasting time looking for a cause of this situation instead of changing my behavior now?

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