The Truth About Changing Attitudes

The Problem: We ask people to “change their attitude” as if they can turn it on and off. Although “fake it to you make it” sometimes works, it is not possible to just think your way to a new attitude. Instead, you have to feel your way there.What we now know about how the brain operates (the research in the neurosciences in the past five years) proves that self talk doesn’t work.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to stop the negative mental chatter that leads to needless arguing, tension, frustration, and eventually a numbing process that restricts access to joy and passion. Then we wonder why life is not much fun anymore, and our attitude sucks.

The Solution: In order to truly shift an attitude, you need to first understand how your brains work (see my book, Outsmart Your Brain! How to Make Success Feel Easy). With this knowledge, you can learn to shift your emotional states through visualization, accessing long-term memories, aligning the moment with personal values, and eventually reprogramming new mental habits into the brain so reactions to stimuli is positive instead of negative.

Brain Tips: First, you have to work on being present to the moment. Frequently stop and ask yourself how you are feeling. Then ask yourself if you would like to feel better. You must be willing to change or nothing else will work.

Then if you find yourself feeling out of sorts, frustrated, overwhelmed, fearful, or just plain stuck, take one of the following actions:

1. Clear the air. Do something to shift your energy. Take a shower, change your clothes, or tidy up your office. If you’re at home, vacuum the living room, open a window, or even change the sheets on your bed. As you take these simple actions, imagine yourself clearing energy blocks that might be fueling your bad mood.

2. Get into motion. One of the quickest ways to change your mood is to get up and move your body. For example, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, resist the temptation to work even harder to get organized. Instead, take a brisk walk, go on a bike ride, or go for a quick run or jog. The part of the brain that controls movement sits next to the emotional center, so there is a direct affect from exercise on your mood.

3. Shift your feeling to shift your thinking. If it’s true that our thoughts create our circumstances, then you’ll want to shift your negative thoughts to positive ones as quickly as you can. However, you can’t do this without changing your feelings as well. Use your memory to help. Recall your favorite smell. Revive the memory and why the smell makes you feel good. Recall a favorite childhood song and start singing it out loud (Trust me, singing “Row, row, row your boat” or “John, Jacob, Jingle Himer Smith” will make you laugh). Think of your favorite motivational quote and talk about why it makes you feel strong. Or, you could pick up an inspirational book, open to any page and start reading. For some people, taking a nap or going to a movie can do the trick. Sometimes it helps to shut your mind down for a while by resting or passively watching the world through someone else’s eyes.

4. Put on some music. There’s nothing that can shift a mood quicker than music. Choose a CD that makes your feet move, one that makes your heart swell, or one you can sing along with.

Finally, while there are many things you can do to shift your mood, sometimes the most important action of all is to allow yourself to be where you are. For example, if you’ve experienced some kind of loss, you may need to have a good, long cry. Or, if you feel frustrated or angry, you might need to rant and rave. The point is to let yourself feel. A bad attitude is usually the result of suppressed feelings. Just like a wound that needs time to heal, sometimes our moods are an indication that we need space, a rest or someone to listen to us as we give voice to our heart.

It’s better to express than suppress, just choose when and how wisely.

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