The Science of Attitude

How many times have I heard or said: “you need to have a positive attitude”? Most of us agree, of course we want to have a positive attitude. The question is: How?

Research has shown that the lens through which we choose to view situations shapes our mindset. This is known as “cognitive appraisal”, and was first researched by Dr. Aaron Beck from the University of Pennsylvania. Cognitive appraisal is the manner in which we explain events to ourselves. Dr. Martin Seligman (also of UPenn) called it “explanatory style” or the “inner voice”. Our inner voice is the basis of whether or not we take an optimistic or a pessimistic view in any given situation.

People with an optimistic lens and an encouraging inner voice see setbacks as temporary situations. They search for specific actions to overcome the problem, believing they will be successful. Their behavior is highlighted with determined focus.

A person with a pessimistic lens and a negative inner voice views setbacks in three different ways:

1.  This always happens. This never works. This attitude hinders the speed and effectiveness of a comeback and, in a time-sensitive setting, that’s crippling. A delayed bounce back means limited time and activity. You start giving up because you do not believe you can change the outcome.

2. Bad morning means bad day – Bad week means bad quarter. Strike out your first time at bat and you think the whole game is shot. In truth, it was just one bad at-bat. You’ll have more chances to get a hit. This mindset can also lead to personal problems. For example, if you can’t let go of problems at work and a bad day in the office becomes a bad evening at home.

3. “I didn’t just make a mistake, I am stupid.” Another phrase for this is “character assignation”. You exaggerate a situation, beating yourself up unnecessarily, rather than looking at the situation objectively. This was a mistake. It’s doesn’t define you as a professional.

Identifying your explanatory style is a valuable tool for understanding success and failure. The way we interpret events and situations has an enormous affect on our productivity and success.

Thriving with Pressure

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