It is one of the greatest of the many false concepts taught to us through our lives – not by malice, at least that is what I assume, but by ignorance – one that has held so many back from personal success in any and all fields of life. We have been taught through stories, movies, media, and society that life “happens to you” and that anything you do is based on the circumstances around you: “He got lucky”, “I fell in love”, “She makes me so angry”, and so on. You get the idea.
It is also one of the largest factors in success – or failure – in just about anything, not because it has a direct influence on the outcome (at least, not always), but because as with a trim tab on the rudder of a ship, it is something fairly small by itself that brings about a large change around it, possibly changing the direction of your whole life!
I’m referring here to attitude.
You may have noticed how the vast majority of people who have achieved success – what they call success, not what you consider success – have very positive attitudes, a generally positive outlook on life, and an ever-increasing drive for more success (something I will talk more about another day). “But Nicolas,” you may say, “of course they have a positive attitude; they’ve achieved success!” That is frequently the outlook taken by people looking at these successful individuals, and was the one I previously took as well.
The truth, however, is that attitude must precede proper success. Remember that “success” here is defined differently by each individual, so it must be remembered that for one, success may be building a business to the billion dollar revenue mark, while to another it may simply be getting their credit card debt to $0, setting up a charity for a cause near and dear to their heart, or being genuinely happily married. All of these and more are definitions of success to someone.
While I won’t go into the steps to success in this article (that will wait until I’ve reached my own definition rather than still being on the path), the starting point is attitude, one of the biggest inside jobs you can ever accomplish.
Attitude is not something that is changed by your circumstances – not directly, at least. The vast majority of people, including myself when I’m not paying attention to it, allow themselves to react to their circumstances and thus affect their attitudes, but the fact of the matter is when this happens, we let the circumstances affect us. This truth might sound painful, but in another sense it is quite liberating, because it means that if we have the power to let circumstances affect our attitudes, we also have the power to prevent circumstances from affecting our attitudes.
Before anything else, I will say that admittedly, for those who have never tried to control their attitudes, it is not an easy shift to make. When you pay attention to it, you may notice that we are currently programmed by various media to be negative, and that we have no control over much of anything: we say that anyone who succeeds is “lucky”, we call optimists “blind”, we call pessimists “realists”, we do things only when we are “in the mood”, and so on.
But looking in history, not that far back, we can find great figures who showed that their attitude was not dependent on their circumstances, such as Gandhi, Frankl, Mandela, and so many more. Viktor Frankl even said “[e]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” If he proved that it is possible to choose your attitude when circumstances are a Nazi concentration camp, it should be fair to say that attitude can be chosen anywhere.
So where to start then? You can tell me that a negative attitude is all you’ve known and that it’s too late to change, but that’s exactly where I was some four or five years ago. While everyone’s journey is their own, mine started when I was introduced to Life Leadership, where I first learned this concept, thinking that it was impossible for someone to change their attitude completely. Once I stopped resisting what I was learning, I made an effort to think more positive thoughts – and make no mistake, it took quite an effort at first! But the more time went on, the more habitual it became, until finally, a few months ago one of my coworkers told me “you are the most optimistic person I’ve ever met!”
If I was able to become that positive, so can you. Maybe one day I’ll go into just how negative I was, but this is not that day. Just know that there is, statistically, little chance that you are more negative than I was at that time.
Once you take control of your attitude, you will have taken the first important step toward not only achieving your vision of success – even if you haven’t found that vision yet – but you will feel so much better about your life and yourself, no matter the circumstances, that you will never want to go back! For more reading on the subject, I point you to Attitude is Everything, by Jeff Keller. It is a short, easy read, but is a powerful book nonetheless, and was the one that finally got me going in the right direction.