Your attitude is your soul

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate… some men you just can’t reach.”  The Captain from Cool Hand Luke

From the Captain’s point of view, Luke (Paul Newman) had a bad attitude and needed to be taught a lesson. Of course, we all know the real person with the bad attitude was the Captain at the prison camp. We talk about attitude a lot. One of the interesting things about attitude is that it is not often defined and assumed to be pretty much understood. If I had a dime for every time, I heard a manager tell me, “So and so is just not cutting it, she has a bad attitude”, I would be a wealthy widower.

So just what is this thing we call ‘attitude’? I think we all define it a little differently. For some, it means they act like me, for others, it means they get their work done and don’t cause any problems. And for others, attitude means their overall personality. We tend to characterize attitude into two main kinds; good and bad. Some definitions:

Good attitude – views the world as one of abundance, bright, cheerful, focused, pitches in, humble, helpful, and generally loved by all.

Bad attitude – sees the world from a viewpoint of scarcity, complains a lot, negative, creates problems, envious, selfish, and generally no-good.

This is what happens when you have a bad attitude.

As a psychologist I’m interested in what makes up our attitude and in figuring out how to change it when necessary. How is it that everyone seems to have a little different attitude from everyone else? I think of attitude as a world view, it’s how we see things and interpret what we experience. Attitude is our ‘model of the world’. It’s the way we perceive and interpret things. The way we create stories. That’s why attitude is so important. I believe there are three primary factors in shaping attitude.

Genetic predisposition – first and foremost is your genes. Some people are just born ornery, others pleasant. The nature-nurture question has not been answered yet, but in my experience, I am putting more and more emphasis on nature. Your genes are your destiny.

Early maladaptive schemas – then there is what kind of family of origin you grew up with. Did you feel abandoned as a child? Abused? Mistreated? Didn’t get the love and attention you felt you needed? Early beliefs about life and how to function in it are formed as ‘schemas’ in childhood. If one of your parents was an alcoholic and the other chronically depressed, chances are you are struggling. If you were raised in a loving home with two parents and encouraged and supported, chances are you are doing okay. These beliefs formed in childhood become schemas and they affect how we view the world and behave.

Your environment – your socioeconomic background shapes your attitude. Did you grow up entitled to everything with wealthy parents who doted on you? Or did you grow up in poverty and get beaten and kicked as a youngster? Were things given to you or did you have to struggle for everything you have. Or somewhere in between? If you grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t safe, a part of that stays with you.

So, think about your attitude. Would you say you have a good one or a bad one? Consider your genes, your childhood schemas, and the environment you grew up in. How have they shaped your attitude? Then consider how you are doing. Are you living a life on purpose and pursuing goals, having fun, and enjoying life? Or, are you always the victim, blaming others for your problems? If you feel stuck in a rut, it might be time to consider changing your attitude.

Why is it important to reflect on your attitude? Think about your life. Are you the luckiest person in the world? Or are you generally feeling miserable and down-and-out? Your attitude is your soul. What we see, your behavior, springs from your attitude. Change your attitude, transform your life.