Have you been experiencing frustration as a result of life circumstances that you cannot change? If so, you’re not alone. Many people experience this at some point in life. Regardless of where you find yourself in life (and where you’d like to be), you may be experiencing life circumstances that are simply out of your control. It might be a relationship, a job, or even a dreaded responsibility that makes you feel stressed or anxious. While we cannot always control our life circumstances, research suggests that what is often within the scope of what we can control is our attitude.
The following five ways to change your attitude pull from scientific research on attitude and may help you effect behavioral changes that lead to goal attainment and greater overall well-being.
What Is Attitude?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), an attitude is “a relatively enduring and general evaluation of an object, person, group, issue, or concept on a dimension ranging from negative to positive.”
Attitude Change And Toxic Positivity
As a child and into adulthood, you may have received reminders to work on a positive attitude or “turn your frown upside down.” While such statements may be expressed with good intentions, they don’t always fully acknowledge the true meaning of attitude, nor the pitfalls of toxic positivity.
From time to time, it is acceptable and human to experience negative emotions and to feel like you can’t maintain a positive attitude without sacrificing your honesty or vulnerability. However, when you can’t change a negative attitude, it may be beneficial to try new strategies and tap into your social support system, which can include friends, family, and a trusted therapist.
The Relationship Between Attitude And Behavior
Some psychologists devote their careers to the study of attitude and how behaviors and attitudes are related and change together. There are even principles that recognize the link between behavior and attitude, such as the principle of attitude consistency. This principle states that our affect, behavior, and cognition about something tend to be aligned. Therefore, our attitude can influence our behavior.
Social marketing offers examples of this phenomenon. For example, a campaign promoting abstinence from smoking may effectively “sell” an attitude and ideally can change the associated behavior.
However, the relationship can go the other way as well, with research showing that our behaviors can also influence our attitude.
Ways To Change Your Attitude
The science of attitude change underpins the following strategies. They’re intended for people who can’t change their current circumstances but have the resources to shift their attitudes.
Notice And Accept Your Feelings
In the course of a day, you likely experience a range of feelings—some pleasant, some less so. However you’re feeling, you might take a moment to simply notice and even jot down your emotions in a journal or on a sticky note. Consider what you’re feeling and whether certain emotions feel more intense at a particular time of day.
If you’re familiar with meditation, you may have found that these questions can come up naturally during meditation. A meditative practice can be simple: just five minutes of sitting in a quiet space and noticing your breath can increase your emotional awareness.
When you take inventory of your feelings, you can start developing strategies to alleviate the unpleasant ones and maximize the good ones. For instance, if you notice that you often feel irritable after lunch, you might consider adding an afternoon walk to your routine or sitting down to your afternoon workload with a favorite beverage. These small changes might break up any monotony that you experience and help you change specific emotions that arise throughout the day.
Stress is inevitable, but there are many effective ways to manage it. To prevent the accumulation of stress, mental health care professionals recommend engaging in regular exercise, eating nourishing food, and participating in enjoyable activities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider starting small.
You might try heading to bed 20 minutes earlier, taking ten minutes in the morning to read a book, or calling a friend or family after a stressful day. These small investments in your health and relationships can reap significant rewards over time.
When you feel less stressed and more connected to other people, you may be more likely to think positively. Ultimately, this may change your attitude about life, encourage you to take risks, and help you bounce back from setbacks.
Reevaluate Your Expectations
If you wake up every morning and expect to check off everything from your to-do list and then some, it might be time to reevaluate your expectations.
In some cases, what we want to achieve isn’t possible in the present moment. You might consider rearranging your expectations as a “portfolio” of life areas, balancing work, family, friendships, and other foundational aspects of life.
This does not mean you have to lower all expectations and give up on the possibility of improvement, but adjusting your expectations may help prevent disappointment. With healthy, realistic expectations, you may find that you make more progress and accomplish more of your goals, which may help you build momentum to achieve even more.
Similar to reevaluating your expectations, redefining what “success” means to you can take time and reflection. By slowing down and checking in with yourself, you may find that you can make changes based on your values and priorities.
Some experts posit that success is in your attitude, which means that if you expect to fail, you might unintendedly set yourself up for that outcome. However, if you decide that you’ll achieve your goals, getting there may become a matter of how and when, not if, you’ll achieve your goals.
For example, you might track the number of times you complete a daily walk or whether you successfully complete a five-minute meditation in the morning. These actions may seem small, but they can add up over time. By monitoring them, you might see and feel the change in your attitude.
Seek Out Support
Although you can implement any of these strategies on your own, you may find that you make more progress with the help of a supportive, licensed therapist to guide you through these and other changes. Therapists are often knowledgeable about the challenges and rewards of attitude change, which can result in transformative behavioral changes.
To make therapy more convenient and affordable, a growing number of counselors offer their services online using digital platforms. For example, with online therapy at BetterHelp, you can engage in therapy from home through phone or videoconferencing. You can also check in with your therapist at any time via in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can.
Research indicates that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person counseling. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) specifically focuses on changing thoughts and attitudes to promote positive behavior change, and research published in JMIR Mental Health shows that CBT can be effectively conducted online (iCBT).
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