Part 1: How to Have a Winning Attitude
As the greatest predictor of success is attitude, it is fitting that we discuss strategies for having a winning attitude first in this series of posts that look at factors that lead to unequal outcomes.
Because we have much ground to cover, we will go straight to the question of how to have a positive attitude rather than spend time on what attitude is and how beneficial it is to develop a great one. (My guess is that you already know that a positive disposition is more practically useful than a negative one, and that people love to be around those with a sunny outlook.)
3 ways to cultivate a great attitude
1. Ask: What would I tell my best friend in this situation?
When confronted with a challenging situation, it can be difficult to see all the elements in proper relation and in full focus. To get the clarity that comes with distance, ask yourself what you would advise your best friend, were they in your shoes. Then take that advice.
A few years ago, I was in a bind, and all the options available to me were fraught with risks. I turned to Matt, a friend, for counsel. Matt told me exactly what I needed to do. It was a choice I had thought of before but rejected because it straddled the line between boldness and stupidity; it was one of those moves that could qualify you as a genius if it worked and as a fool if it didn’t. But he showed me the wisdom in taking that path, although it seemed risky. He downplayed the downsides, talked up the upsides, and encouraged me to act quickly. It was a lot to take in, but what else can you do when your own internal voice is all noise and not a good guide?
Fast-forward a few months to when I met with Matt again. I thanked him for his advice and explained how following it had made my life so much better. “You did what I told you to do?” he asked, half-frightened, half-excited. “Yes,” I answered. “You are crazy!” he said, and then continued, “I would never have done it, even though I knew it was the best thing to do. The real possibility of failure and its consequences would have stopped me.”
"To get the clarity that comes with distance, ask yourself what you would advise your best friend, were they in your shoes. Then take that advice."
2. Ask: How will I feel about this in five years?
The first tip deals with spatial distance; this one is about temporal distance. Another way to ensure your reaction in any situation is a good one—in other words, another way to cultivate a good attitude—is to always project yourself into the future and look back on what is happening today. Studies show that most adults can easily think 4-5 years into the future, so this shouldn’t be difficult. [Fun/sobering fact: Studies also show that addicts can only think 9 days into the future.] Another way to think about this is to ask yourself, if today were your last day on earth, how differently would you react? Again, this works by the distance principle: the farther you are from an object (or situation), the more you see its place in relation to other things, which in turn helps you make winning decisions. High-performing individuals develop this simple ability. It is commonly said that hindsight is 20/20. Thinking about how you would view your actions long-term gets you as close to 20/20 in the present as possible.
3. Live as though you’ve got nothing to lose.
In my experience, the reason fear prospers is because we are too conscious of what we stand to lose and not aware enough of what is to be gained by not fearing. By living as though you don’t have much to lose, you unshackle the locks that fear put in place. You also dream more.
The inspiration for this tip comes from a research into workers that are close to retiring or otherwise leaving their company for personal reasons. They appear more cheerful, confident, and positive. They are also more candid, telling others what they frankly think about management decisions. They air their best thoughts and ideas and even push for certain initiatives. Sometimes I wonder how much farther they would have gone in their careers if they had displayed all these qualities much earlier (in other words, had a positive attitude all along). Why didn’t they behave this way before? “Because I was afraid for my job,” one of the respondents said. He continued, “When you got mouths to feed and school fees to pay, you just want to come to work, fly low, and not get fired.” In short, he spent years being afraid of losing his job, but now that he is close to retiring, that fear is gone, and the real person under that mask is out, and everyone loves who they see! People who live as though they’ve got nothing to lose get much farther ahead. Their authenticity is endearing; their genuineness opens doors for them.
Another example of this tip in action is seen when a team is running out of time during a game. The coach pulls out all the stops and goes full gung-ho. She makes gut-level decisions and sometimes even rolls the dice. What’s there to lose, she asks? It’s surprising how many times victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat this way, which makes us, as fans, ask exasperatingly, “Why can’t we play like this all through the game? Or all through the season?”
I need to restate the warning I gave in my post on how to overcome the fear of death. I don’t endorse recklessness. There is a big difference between being fearless and being careless. To be fearless means you recognize that fear kills dreams, and does more harm than good, so you choose to take reasonable cautions but proceed nonetheless. To be careless means, well, that you just don’t care and haven’t put much thought into anything. When I say that you should live as though you have nothing to lose, I mean you should dream more and fear less; I don’t mean you should live like an addict who doesn’t see past the next 9 days.
To have a great attitude, a certain distance in both space and time is needed. This involves being less self-conscious. It means we should treat ourselves as someone we are responsible for. The third tip is the most powerful because, when we don’t think of what we stand to lose, we drain fear of its power, and we escape its vice grip.
To have a great attitude, a certain distance in both space and time is needed. This involves being less self-conscious. It means we should treat ourselves as someone we are responsible for.