5 Ways To Change Your Attitude When You Can't Change Your Situation

Updated January 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Wherever you find yourself in this moment, take a minute to reflect on where you are – physically and emotionally.  

Do you feel connected to friends and family? Where do you live – and is it aligned with where you want to be? Are you just starting your career, or are you already working a job that gives you meaning and fulfillment?

Ready To Change Your Attitude And Improve Your Life?

These are big questions: the kinds of questions you might encounter in a therapy session or a conversation with an old friend. It takes time to uncover their answers: in some cases, an entire lifetime. 

Regardless of where you find yourself in life (and where you’d like to be), most people deal with life circumstances that they simply can’t change. It might be a relationship, a boss, or even a dreaded chore that makes you feel stressed, anxious, or lonely. 

We can’t always change our situations – but in many cases, we can change our attitudes, so that we’re more prepared and confident in these difficult moments. The following five ways to change your attitude pull from the science of psychology and can lead to behavioral changes that make life easier and more rewarding.

What Is Attitude?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), an attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular “entity” with some degree of favor or disfavor. An entity can be an abstract concept, like a political ideology, or a physical person, place, or thing. 

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 these statements are often expressed with good intentions, they don’t fully acknowledge the true meaning of attitude, nor the pitfalls of toxic positivity.

From time to time, it is acceptable and deeply human to experience negative emotions, and to feel like you can’t maintain a positive attitude without sacrificing your honesty or vulnerability. When you can’t kick a negative attitude, however, it might be time to try new strategies and tap into your social support system, which can include a trusted therapist.

The Relationship Between Attitude And Behavior 

Some therapists and psychologists devote their careers to the study of attitude, and how behaviors and attitudes relate and change together. There are even principles that recognize the link between behavior and attitude: for example, the Principle of Attitude Consistency. This principle states that if we engage in unexpected or unusual behavior, our thoughts and feelings toward that behavior are more likely to change. 

In this way, behaviors can influence attitude, but research suggests that the reverse can also be true. Social marketing offers an everyday example of this phenomenon: a campaign promoting abstinence from smoking, for instance, is effectively “selling” an attitude and ideally changing the associated behavior.

How To Change Your Attitude

The science of attitude change underpins the following strategies, which are endorsed by psychologists and everyday people. They’re intended for people who can’t change their current scenarios but have the resources to shift their attitudes.

1. Notice And Accept Your Feelings

In the course of a day, you’re bound to feel a range of feelings: some pleasant, some less so. However you’re feeling, take a moment to simply notice and even jot down your emotions in a journal or on a sticky note. What are you feeling, and do certain emotions feel more intense at a particular time of day? 

If you’re familiar with meditation, you know that these questions may come up naturally while meditating. 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’re working from home all day and start to feel cranky after lunch, consider adding an afternoon walk to your routine, and sitting down to your afternoon workload with a favorite beverage. These small changes can break up monotony and target specific emotions that arise throughout the day. 

2. Manage Stress

Stress is inevitable – but thankfully, there are hundreds of ways to manage it.

The fundamentals of stress management are fairly predictable. To prevent the accumulation of stress, mental health care professionals recommend regular exercise, nourishing food, and participating in enjoyable activities. 

Stress management shouldn’t become another source of stress; so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small.

You might try heading to bed twenty minutes earlier, taking ten minutes in the morning to read a beloved book, or calling a friend or families after a tough day (or a particularly successful one!). 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’re more likely to think positively. Ultimately, this can change your perception on life, encourage you to take risks, and bounce forward from setbacks.

3. Reevaluate Your Expectations

If you wake up every morning and expect to check off everything on your to-do list and then some, it might be time to reevaluate  and even lower your expectations

To begin this process, simply ask yourself: “What am I looking for, and is it something that the world can give to me?” In some cases, what we want isn’t possible in the present moment. You can rearrange your expectations as a “portfolio” of life areas: balancing work, family, friendship, faith, and other foundational aspects.

This is not a call to lower all expectations and give up on the possibility of improvement! Instead, it’s an invitation to recognize that at a given time, you might feel more fulfilled in one area than another, and that this is part of the ebb and flow of a human life. 

4. Redefine Success.

Similar to reevaluating your expectations, redefining what “success” means to you takes time and reflection. By slowing down and checking in with yourself, you can make changes based on your current state of mind. 

Some experts argue that success is in your attitude, meaning that if you expect that if you expect to fail, you tend to set yourself up for that outcome. But if you decide that you’ll achieve your goals, getting there becomes a matter of how and when, not if. 

Based on research on success and goal-setting, frequently monitoring your progress increases the likelihood that you’ll reach your goals, according to the APA. If you’re actively working on changing your attitude, break down your progress into monitorable goals. 

For example: you may track the number of times you commit to your daily walk, or whether you successfully complete a five-minute meditation in the morning. These actions may seem small, but they add up over time – and by monitoring them, you’ll be able to see and feel the change in your attitude.

5. Seek Out Support.

Although you can implement any of these strategies on your own, it often helps to have a supportive, licensed therapist guide you through these changes. Therapists are well-versed in the challenges and rewards of attitude change, which can result in transformative behavioral changes. 

Ready To Change Your Attitude And Improve Your Life?

To make therapy more convenient, accessible, and affordable, a growing number of counselors offer their services online using digital platforms like BetterHelp. With online therapy, you can check in with your therapist at any time. They can adapt to your schedule, offer personalized coping strategies, and hold you accountable as you work toward your goals.

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 studies show that internet-based CBT (iCBT) can effectively treat a range of mental health conditions. 

One of these studies assessed an online, mindfulness-based CBT program for youth (ages 18 to 30 years old) diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The results showed significant improvements in depressive and anxiety symptoms, suggesting that online CBT can effectively treat youth depression. While more research is needed to assess the use of online CBT for other conditions, current studies indicate that it’s a useful, accessible, and promising treatment.

Takeaway

Attitude changes don’t happen overnight – but with time, patience, and honest self-reflection, you can develop a sustainable self-care plan that keeps you healthy and fulfilled. You can begin many of these strategies on your own; but throughout the process, check in with friends, families, and your therapist for personalized support. 

Ultimately, change doesn’t usually happen within a day – and it’s also uncommon for change to occur alone. So lean on your loved ones, consult with your therapist, and above all, trust yourself: the science suggests that you have the ability to create meaningful, noticeable change in your life.

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