Chapter 6 - Choosing the right attitude

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

Decisions, decisions

The last chapter of this book is "On to Little Big Horn and Glory!" I have presented the material in this book under that title many times. I will explain this phrase now because it applies to the last three chapters of this book.

History tells us that General Custer led his 7th Cavalry on an "Indian management" mission to a place called Little Big Horn back in the 1800's. There he met the combined forces of the Sioux nation led by Sitting Bull, in the battle known as "Custer's Last Stand." The Indian warriors vastly outnumbered Custer and his men. Custer's odds of winning this battle were very slim, but he did not know this until it was too late. Many lives on both sides were lost that day, but when it was over, Custer and all of his men lay dead. There was not much "glory" in this massacre for Custer.

The Western Warriors faced similar odds for our last game of the season. The stakes were obviously far less intense, but the chances of success were similar; only we knew it before the battle started. The deck had been stacked against us. Have you ever felt that way? Tough circumstances? Ridiculous odds? The opposition having an unfair advantage? It happens to us all sooner or later, doesn't it?

"On to Little Big Horn and Glory" is an expression of an attitude that is so critically important in tough times. It is an attitude that affirms, "Yes, the odds are against me. Yes, something important is at stake. No, I will not turn from the challenge. I will charge as if I am going to be victorious! I will give it my best shot! I won't slow down! I won't give up! I will expect success in the face of apparent defeat! I will Charge on to Little Big Horn and Glory!"

This statement reflects the attitude of the Western Warriors. This situation was not viewed as a problem, but as an opportunity to accomplish something really outstanding our last game of the season. It spelled opportunity for several people to play more than ever before. This attitude got stronger and stronger all week. I believe the entire school could feel it. You could feel it in the halls, the classes, and the practice field. By game day, it was at a crescendo. It affected us all in a powerful way. (No one would have guessed this attitude would spawn a book 25 years later!)

Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary says attitude is "a mental position with regard to a fact or state". My "mental position" is something I can exercise control over, if I choose to. I can evaluate and weigh the facts and draw my conclusions about my "mental position". We need to realize that we can choose our attitude instead of letting things and people outside our control have the reins on our mental position.

There are many things about our world that we have no control over at all. We can, however, take proactive control of how we will react to that environment. It is so important that we do because it can be a pretty negative world out there. Read the daily newspaper. Watch the news. Say "How are you doing today" to most people at work on a Monday morning. Just look at the crime statistics, the divorce rate, the broken homes, and the downsized companies. The list goes on and on. We run into this stuff all the time. It is the world we live in. If we let the environment have control of our attitude we will be caught in a downward spiral and locked in a state of mind that is not very pleasant. But we don't have to let this happen!

We all have two lists. We each could compile a list of "reasons to be happy" and another list of "reasons to be unhappy". I have both lists. So do you! These lists might look something like this:

Reasons to be unhappy

Reasons to be happy

I am going bald. I have not lost all the hair on the top of my head.
I am hypoglycemic and have eliminated most forms of sugar from my diet. I don't eat donuts, cake and candy with the rest of the group at work and at church. I just love sweets and I miss them so! I have taken control of my sugar intake. I have a built in motivator to "just say no" to sweets. I am healthier and happier since I have exercised this control.
It is Monday. I have got to get up and fight the traffic and go to "the grind". I am so miserable at my job. There is a whole week ahead of me! Oh boy! It's Monday. I have the blessing of a job to get up and go to. Many unemployed folks would gladly trade places with me. I work for a stable company, they pay me a good salary and I choose to be there. This is America. If I were really that miserable, I could go find another job. Besides it is spelled w-o-r-k, not f-u-n. That is why they have to pay people to do it!
My back is hurting me. Oh woe is me! My back is hurting me and I am so grateful for modern medicine. I am going to the doctor this afternoon and I am sure he can fix me up. My back hurts, but everything else feels great!
Oh man, I am getting old! Oh woe is me! Praise the Lord, I am getting old! There is only one alternative to getting old and I'd rather live!
I am depressed by all the money I pay in taxes! Those bozos in government just throw it all away on one hairbrained project after another. I am truly blessed to make the money that I do. I am obligated to pay a lot of taxes, but I am blest to be able to! People that have no income don't pay any taxes at all. I'd rather pay taxes. Besides, even though I don't agree with all the ways the government spends my tax dollars, I am very glad to live in this country with this form of government, over any other country in the world!

This list could go on, but the point I wish to make is this. When someone comes up and says, "How are you?", you get to make a choice about which list you are going to tell them about! You can tell them about your good list or your bad list. You can choose!

There once was a man with two sons. One boy was an optimist and the other was a pessimist. You couldn't knock the optimist's attitude down. He rolled with the punches, smiled, found the good in any situation. But, it was difficult to ever bring sunshine into the life of the pessimist. He always found something to be unhappy about! One day the father did an experiment with the two boys. He took the pessimist into a room filled with video games, toys, bicycles, candy, and a big screen TV. The father told the pessimist that he could play with everything in the room. The father took the optimist to another room filled with horse manure and told him he could play with everything in the room. Later he checked on both boys. The pessimist was finding something critical to say about everything available to him. The toys were not the right ones, the video games would probably be too easy, his friend at school had a bigger TV and the candy was sure to spoil before he could get it eaten. The father went to the other room and found his other son gleefully digging into the pile of manure. He looked up and excitedly exclaimed, "With all this manure, there's gotta be a pony in here somewhere!"

The important thing to note is this: "which boy was happier? and why?" It matters less what our circumstances are in life or what we have! What matters far more is how we choose to evaluate and react to our circumstances in life. We could be happy in nearly any circumstances if we got our attitude right!

I don't think you can just think positive about something and it will change. No, positive thinking does not change things. It does change YOU and the way you see things!

Does that mean you should accept any hand you have been dealt and not try to change it? Absolutely not! I believe in the truth of the serenity prayer: "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Many of us need the most help with the "wisdom to know the difference." I have often tried to change things that couldn't be changed, while accepting other things that could be changed, if I'd just try!

Maintaining a positive attitude requires a conscious effort and discipline. The Bible has very pertinent advice in this area.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
(NIV) Ephesians 4:22-24

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
(NIV) Phillipians 2:5

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
(NIV) Phillipians 4:4-9

The Bible is a wonderful guide to living, isn't it? Choosing where we let our minds dwell is not only within our power, but God instructs us, through Paul, to actively look at circumstances through the lens of a positive attitude! He says to think about the pure, the true, the noble, the lovely, the excellent and praiseworthy! Paul also tells us to "put it into practice". I usually think of practicing something that I am not naturally good at, but I can get better. Attitude control is the same way. We are going to mess up sometimes, but we can practice and get better and better at it!

Attitude doesn't just affect the way we feel. It also affects our reality! Have you ever worked around a "nay-sayer", a person who reacts to most projects with a critical nature and a "it can't be done" attitude? We have all probably run into that type before. Do you think you will see a "nay-sayer" invent a light bulb, or find a cure for cancer, or design a machine that will fly or discover a new country or a new source of energy? I don't think so. Do you think the Wright brothers, or Thomas Edison, or Columbus were "it can't be done" kind of people? I don't think so. The "nay-sayer" with the "it can't be done" attitude is absolutely right, IF success depends on them. They will never do the things to make the "impossible" happen. They will actually work to justify why "it can't be done" and subconsciously sabotage success.

In an earlier chapter I gave you my dad's definition for impossible as:

"A task is impossible if its doer believes it can not be done. The same task is possible if its doer believes it can be done. Therefore, impossible is merely a state of mind that keeps great things from happening!"

Impossible is an attitude ("a mental position with regard to a fact or state"). That's all it is. If we let this attitude set up house in our minds, it will form an immense barrier between us and the possibility of some great or better thing happening in our lives. Oh, I've seen this so many times. I have seen it in young people. I have seen it in old people. I have seen it in my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have seen it in inmates at the county jail. And, oh yes, I have seen it in me!

You may ask, "Well, what if something really is impossible?"

Like what? A human staying underwater for hours and living? Or a man walking on the moon? Or a person getting from one side of the United States to the other in a couple of hours? At some point in time all of these things were considered, really impossible, except to those who figured out how to do them. What about bringing someone back from the grave? God has that one covered! Now I know you can think of something, confine it to be done a certain way at a certain time, and manufacture something that is "impossible". For instance, I know it is impossible for me to go out in my back yard, right now, and jump up and touch the sun, not burn up and return to earth in 15 minutes. The sun is 93 million miles away. What I just described is really impossible for me to do! This is also completely outside my interest and ability. Man cannot do this right now. But, I believe God could, if He wanted to. I believe the Bible and God's ongoing demonstrations of power. Some morning go outside and watch the sun come up and consider what is happening in our solar system that causes this phenomenon. And consider who "spoke it into existence".

For nothing is impossible with God. (NIV) Luke 1:37

What is impossible with men is possible with God. (NIV) Luke 18:27

The abuse of positive thinking

Before I go any further, I must address the abuse of positive thinking. I have experienced people in my life who used positive thinking as an excuse to avoid facing real problems and talking about needed solutions. They act as if they ignore problems, the problems will go away. They abuse the concept of positive thinking by using it as justification to turn their back on reality. (That Italian word comes back to mind, "Baloney!".) If there are red lights flashing on the dashboard of my car and I just "think positive" and ignore them, soon I'll be on the side of the road with a damaged car. I need to face problems and deal with them in a realistic and positive way. Where I work, we use a five step problem elimination process.

  1. Define the problem
  2. Fix the immediate effects of the problem
  3. Identify the "root cause"
  4. Take corrective action to prevent the problem from recurring
  5. Evaluate and follow up to make sure it worked

No part of this process is negative. It is effective, if you have the courage and discipline to use it. It calls on you to look for the "real" root cause. To respond to a problem by running from it or denying it exists, is merely putting off until tomorrow what you should have dealt with today. If it is a real problem, it will come back. And when it returns, it will have grown. There is no escaping this reality. It will happen.

Poor attitudes have restricted many good people. I have seen older professional people that have done some really great things in their careers. Some of these folks want to rest on the successes of yesterday. "I paid my dues", they may say, "I should be able to sit back and reap rewards now and take it easy. Let the young pups do the work. This company owes me for all I have done. I know more about how this company works and what the customers need than all the other employees put together!"

But what really happens to people with that attitude? They sit back and let the newer employees work circles around them and "out produce" them. Then, who gets the promotions and the big raises? The young pups who produced! Not the old dog that talked about how he used to produce! Yes, the old dog "paid his dues". But "dues" are something you must pay on an ongoing and regular basis if you want to stay in the club.

Now if you take only one thing out of this book to make a part of your life and pass along to others, here it is. Underline it, highlight it, copy it and paste it on your mirror and your heart. Here is a very important "Little Big Horn" principle:

Success is not based on potential, skill, size or ability..
Success IS based on performance and results!

Always has been. Always will be. The team with the most points on the board at the end of the game is the winner. The company that consistently provides a product that its customers are willing to pay enough for to yield a profit, will succeed. A relationship that meets the needs of both parties will succeed. It's that simple! It's true in sports, business, and relationships. It is not what you are capable of doing that makes the difference. It's what you do with what you have that makes the difference. It's the results you produce!

Imagine you have twice my ability, but you only use 25% of what you have. Imagine we compete, but I use 100% of my ability? I win! Our attitude has a direct impact on our performance. Our performance has a direct impact on our results!

Remember our attitude is our "mental position with regard to a fact or state". It is our beliefs about the things around us. Our mind is the control center of our physical bodies. Let's consider how our attitudes or our belief system affects some key areas of our lives.

Attitude and stress

Stress works in our bodies according to the way our creator designed it to work! Consider this example. Man walks through the jungle and a saber tooth tiger drops from a tree in front of him, and smiles. Man makes an evaluation of this change of scenery. Man has a perception of threat. He is in danger. He is on the lunch menu. It is his "perception of threat" that causes some interesting reactions in the man. Adrenaline is secreted into his system and he has a burst of power and energy that enables him to run faster than ever before. As he runs, the extra chemicals get used up, and after he thinks he is safe, he settles back down. This system was designed to preserve our lives in the jungle. This is good. Please note, it was not the tiger that caused the reaction. It was the "mental position with regard to a fact or state". If the tiger were in a zoo behind bars, this reaction would not occur. Why? Because there is no perception of threat.

In today's world, tigers don't usually jump out in front of us, but deadlines do. Traffic does. Irate customers do. We assume a "mental position with regard to a fact or state", we experience the stress reaction, but we subdue it We hold it in. We act in a "professional manner" while we are about to blow up! To the extent we take control of our "mental position with regard to a fact or state", we can take control of the stress reaction.

My family and I lived in Summerville, South Carolina for 6 years. I drove down Interstate 26 to Charleston to work each day. Frequently there would be a wreck that would slow down traffic to a crawl. People had to get to work, make appointments, and teach classes. But, there on the interstate, we were all stuck. There was no way out of it. No way around it. You could be stuck in 0 to 10 mile per hour traffic for up to an hour! The faces of most folks were filled with tension. Some people would honk their horns, switch lanes, and clench their fists. At that time of the morning, while facing southeast, we had the magnificence of a brilliant sunrise in our view. The scattered clouds were bright red and orange. The sky seemed so huge since there were no mountains sticking up out of the Atlantic ocean to block the view. We all had a choice to make about our "mental position with regard to a fact or state". There was nothing I could do about the traffic. Yes, I would be late. Yes, it would be inconvenient. But why slap a bad mood on top of all that? Why not soak in the brilliant handiwork of my heavenly Father? Why not experience the awe in His fantastic sunrise? Why not sing? So I did! As the world around me crawled along at the same speed as me, full of tension and stress, I sang "How Great Thou Art!" at the top of my lungs. We all got to work about the same time, but who do you think had a great day anyway? Me, of course! The guy who chose the right attitude about the situation!

Attitude and business

Our attitude affects our view of others, which affects our actions and reactions toward them. It was once said, "we treat people the way we see them". So I must ask you, how do you see your customers, your employees, your boss, your co-workers? The lens of attitude affects all these relationships. It can have a major impact on the success of a company and the happiness and productivity of the employees.

If you see your customers as rude, demanding, troublesome people who make your life miserable, then you will tend to treat them that way and they will respond to that treatment. But, if you see your customers as the most important people to your company and their problems are what bring them to you, and without them, your company will fail, then you will tend to treat them that way and they will respond to that treatment, too.

Your beliefs about the nature of your employees governs the way in which you manage them. If you see them as untrustworthy, incompetent and lazy, you will invariably treat them that way. Then people tend to respond to the way they are treated, and your beliefs will be confirmed! But, if you consciously change your beliefs about people, you will naturally start treating them differently and they will respond differently! You will reap what you sow. The key is your attitude about the people around you. And you can choose your attitude!

Attitude and personal relationships

Life is really about relationships, isn't it? Your relationship with God, your family, your friends, your customers, your boss, your co-workers, and yourself. You can improve every relationship you have by improving your own attitude about other people and yourself. If I view my spouse or my children in a cynical or untrusting way, I will not be able to treat them differently than that. My negative view of them will push them more in the direction I am seeing them. It works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same thing is true with my friends and myself. Yep, I can have a negative attitude about myself. It's called low self esteem. It is one of the most devastating and debilitating things a person can do to themselves. They can, however, learn to choose otherwise. Please allow me to suggest a view of yourself and others, for your consideration:

"We are all made in the image of God, by God, for God's purpose, in God's timeframe. Each of us is unique, as God designed us. We should feel good that we are not like others. Our contributions are different, our maturing processes are different, our needs are different, and that is as God intended. You were not put in this world to measure up to my expectations and I was not put here to measure up to yours. God, my Father, is my creator and He doesn't make any junk! God knows me. The hairs of my head are numbered. I have great value to God. He gave his Son to die for my sins. I was bought with a great and awesome price. I do not have the arrogance or stupidity it would take to tell God that He messed up when He made me. He knows what He is doing! He loves me. So, I think I will love me too."

Choose to view people through the lens of these beliefs and see what difference it makes to everyone!

Before I leave this chapter I must point out something that is deeply stirring to all of us parents. "Our children are like mirrors. They reflect our attitudes in life." All parents want the best for their children. Model for them the attitudes you want them to take into their adult life. Start while they are young. They are watching. They will catch your attitudes. Make it a blessing to them, not a curse.

I close this chapter with exhortations and reminders to us all. Let's choose to be grateful for who we are and what we have. Choose to believe in God, in others and in ourselves. Let's be good finders. Catch people doing things right and praise them. Be realistic and face life's tough problems with a positive attitude towards solving them, even when things don't look good. Finally, let's remember that attitudes are contagious. Let's start an outbreak of positive, healthy thinking in our home, our churches and our businesses today! What do you say?

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

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