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Got Attitude?In the Couples Communication class I teach, I focus on specific skills and techniques that can be used to improve your relationship. I also talk about attitude or approaches. In the beginning of the course, I talk about coming from a place of caring and respect. This is considered a starting place – the foundation of all of your communication. It is also one example of an attitude or approach.

What is attitude and what can be done about it? After all, isn’t it just like a mood or something you naturally have all of the time? If you try to change it are you being phony? These are good questions.

The answer to those questions lie in a a thorough understanding of what defines attitude. When you hear the word “attitude”, do you think of a teenager who doesn’t want to do what they are told? This would be annoying to their parent or teacher, and might be considered an “antagonistic” attitude. How about the child who pays attention and is helpful? This might be considered a “good” or “cooperative” attitude.

We begin to develop our general attitude toward life at an early age. But young and old alike we all have attitudes. Attitude is simply our inner approach to life and the external world. It is an outlook where we are “inside” looking “out” at the world. How we are approaching our situation, moving toward it or away, fearing or welcoming it, anticipating it to be good or bad, all define our attitude. It is how we choose to interact with the world.

Notice I used the word “choose” in that last sentence. This is an important point because attitude is flexible; it is chosen and can be changed. Your basic stance to the world develops over time and through habit, but it can change in an instant: the instant you decide to do things differently. Even though you may think your attitude is just part of who you are, it is really more an ingrained habit, and less authentic than making a conscious decision of what kind of attitude you’d like to take.

How can you tell if you could benefit from a little “attitude adjustment”? Go ahead and rate yourself on the questions below:

  1. How would you rate your attitude right now?  (Poor – Fair – Average – Good – Exceptional)
  2. How would you rate your attitude in general?  (Poor – Fair – Average – Good – Exceptional)
  3. How much would you say your attitude affects your daily experience? (Little impact – medium impact – huge impact).
  4. How much do you think it will affect your future? (Little impact – medium impact – huge impact).

Now, if you rated your attitude as exceptional and realize it’s impact in your life, you are doing great! But, if your attitude could use a boost, here is how you can begin to improve it:

  1. Be aware of your attitude. Become more conscious of how you are approaching your day, your tasks, and the people around you. Notice how you approach your situation and what is happening around you in each moment.
  2. Own your own attitude. Accept responsibility for it knowing that once you do, you also have control. Know that you are in charge of yourself.
  3. Decide how you want your attitude to be. Aim for an exceptional attitude! What would someone with an exceptional attitude think about your situation right now?
  4. Build your attitude. Flex those muscles and work it! Practice positive self-talk on a regular basis. Tell yourself how great it is, how good, positive, useful and fun your life is and is going to be! You’ll feel better right away, but practice makes perfect.
  5. Protect your attitude. Watch out for negative people and nay-sayers. Don’t let them ruin your attitude. Don’t adopt someone else’s poor attitude. Let them keep it! Think of it like a cold virus you don’t want to catch that will make you sick. If you can’t stay away from these folks, use inner self-talk to combat their negativity. Remind yourself: “I feel great! I’m choosing to have a good day. No one can take that from me. I can’t wait for what is next!”*

* Excerpt from The Gift, by Shad Helmstetter, PhD. (2005).