15 Practical Ways to Adjust Your Attitude
In “The Most Powerful Change You Can Make In Your Life-Today” I wrote about how the simple act of changing your attitude–having an attitude adjustment–can transform your life. It really is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal, but so many of us have been conditioned into thinking that we are ruled by emotions that it is sometimes difficult to figure out just how to effectuate this change.
So, I decided to write this follow up article to address the nitty-gritty practical side of attitude adjustments. The truth is, you can adjust your attitude anytime, anywhere, without any tools, but for a lot of us that takes time and practice. Using the tips and tools on this page will help you learn to see that you do have control over your emotions and attitude. The longer you practice controlling them, the easier it will be, until you will find yourself able to make these attitude adjustments with a deep breath and a single thought.
The first thing, and the most important, is that you must believe that you can change your attitude. Without this belief, the tools are all on shaky ground. They may work, but they will be far less efficient.
Secondly, before you begin any specific attitude adjustment you must identify what the attitude you feel stuck in is. This doesn’t have to be fancy, but try to put a name on it: grumpy, frustrated, angry, depressed, discouraged. They are all some variation of “bad,” sure, but each one has its own flavor, and different approaches may help change different attitudes.
Thirdly, try and get a sense of what attitude you’d like to have instead. As with identifying where you are now, this doesn’t have to be fancy, simple descriptors will do: upbeat, encouraged, motivated, inspired, happy, excited. They’re all some variation of “good,” but as with the “bad” moods, each has its own taste, its own feel, and you want to try and capture what you’re going for.
Those three factors in mind, let’s look at 15 practical ways you can bring about an attitude adjustment:
1. Monitor your thoughts and substitute new ones
I’ve thrown the most difficult one out first, but it is also the most effective. It takes some practice, but once you master it, you’ll find this skill to be a godsend. Because our feelings are connected to our thoughts, if we can change our thoughts, we can change our feelings. Before you can do that, though, you have to be aware of what you’re thinking.
So practice that first. Listen to the voice in your head, the inner one that is probably often pretty critical and cranky. Notice what it’s saying when you’re feeling your bad mood. Then ask yourself–what thought would be a more positive one? Consciously work to insert that one instead, and make yourself think it.
For instance, when you’re stuck in traffic and you’re ready to flip the bird to the guy who just cut you off, and you’re thinking all sorts of horrible things about what he must do to small animals, take a breath. Notice those thoughts. Are they serving you? Are they helping you? Are they doing anything to make traffic go faster? What can you think instead?
Remind yourself that one car isn’t going to make or break the flow of traffic. Ten cars wouldn’t, even. You’ll still get there when you get there. Be grateful you were able to stop and not hit him. Whatever you do–stop dwelling on the thing that’s making you so upset. Dwelling never did anyone any good, and that bad attitude–how is it serving you? How is it making things better?
2. Question yourself and your attitude
One way to get to a point with the first suggestion is to play the game of questioning your attitudes, especially ones you hold on to. Ask where they have come from. Ask what they are serving. Ask what you are getting by not letting them go.
I find that journaling is really helpful for this step. It isn’t as quick as just monitoring my thoughts, but sometimes it is far easier (when just substituting happier thoughts isn’t happening at the moment). Writing isn’t everyone’s thing, so maybe you’d rather do it in your head, or talk it out with a trusted friend, or a coach, but it’s important sometimes to spend some time with yourself on these attitudes and questions.
We hold on to things generally because they serve some purpose. Or we hold on to thoughts because we can’t see a way around them. Write them out. Write the thoughts, write the attitude, and then question it–don’t just vent. This isn’t your whining session. This is something constructive–find out what’s going on underneath the surface, and then, like with #1, do something to turn it around.
Ask what you can do to make it better. Find some constructive solutions to the problem. Do some creative brainstorming. Often spending that time in asking and answering will lead to surprising solutions and lift a mood all on its own.
3. Write a letter to the person or thing that is irking you.
This is a variation on #2, and what I described doing with my boss in “The Most Powerful Change.” It’s a journaling exercise and can be highly effective as far as attitude adjustments go. This can be a letter to a person, a situation, a thing, an idea. You can write to your body, your health, your mom, your broken car, your lack of a job. Whatever you want–personalize and write to it.
Unlike #2 with the questions, in this one, it is a-okay to vent. Vent your heart out. Pour out all your angst. Let it spill across the page. You’re never going to send this. No one is ever going to see it but you.
If you can, try to come to some resolution in the end of the letter. Whether it’s a “you have no power over me” declaration, or some sort of problem solving effort, try and free yourself from that angst once it’s out. The point is to have it not in you anymore. Ideally, you want to get rid of the letter, even, once you’re done.
Burn it, shred it, put it in the bottom of the bird’s cage–whatever you do with it, make it very clear to yourself that you are tossing this problem symbolically out of your life once and for all, and see how much freer you feel afterward.
4. Write out affirmations/Write out how you’d like to think
When you’re training yourself to move toward new thought patterns to replace the old ones, it helps if you know in advance what the new thoughts are and should be. Affirmations can get a lot of sort of woo-woo feelings around them, and sometimes people feel really silly thinking about them, or working with them. (After the SNL skit, I certainly can’t quite say them to myself in the mirror without cracking myself up)
But affirmations are just new ways of thinking, and training yourself to replace old thought patterns with new. They can be whatever you want them to be, and however works for you.
Think about the thought patterns that are giving you the most grief and most affecting your attitude. Write those out as statements. Then consciously turn those around into something more positive–into what you’d like to think, into what your ideal self would think. This is different from #2 in that it’s not so much stream of consciousness as a deliberate activity.
Negative thought/Attitude supporting thought → Something more positive/supporting of the attitude you want to have
Then, when you find yourself thinking those thoughts that are somewhat frequent in your head (i.e. in monitoring yourself in #1), you will have something on hand to replace them with.
5. Write a Gratitude List
Yes, I’m very up on writing. I am a writer after all. But it’s incredibly therapeutic, and writing forces you to order your thoughts in a way that you sometimes cannot on your own early on in this sort of work.
A gratitude list is simply a list of things for which you are grateful. You can start it with “I’m grateful for” or “I’m thankful for” and then just go. Anything and everything from small to large. Friends. Family. The cute guy at the coffee shop who held the door open with a smile this morning. That you woke up this morning. Ice cream cones. Raindrops on roses. Whiskers on kittens. Whatever you are grateful for–write it down.
Being grateful forces us to acknowledge the good in our lives. And when we are acknowledging the good, it crowds out the bad. It’s hard to be sullen and grateful at the same time, and when you see how much good there is in your life, it’s easier to smile. And smiling is an automatic mood lifter, which brings us to…
Our body reacts to physical cues. If you are frowning, you automatically tense up and your emotions will follow those cues. When you smile, even if you don’t feel like it, your body starts to relax and follow those cues instead.
Happiness really is something you can sometimes fake until you feel, but I’m not really suggesting that. While making yourself smile should start to make you feel better, it’s even better if you have something to smile about.
Watch something funny, ready a funny book, hang out with friends who make you laugh, pet a furry animal, watch children laugh–whatever it is that gets you smiling, do it. This will help reduce the stress in your body and help lift your attitude. The more you do it, the more often you are happy, the more your overall attitude in life starts to lift.
7. Work out
Unlike in “How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days,” I’m going to suggest a harder work out here. We’ve already talked about there how to lift your mood on a particularly bad day, and a gentle walk or being outside can also help with an attitude adjustment, certainly. Just getting outside and some fresh air and breathing deeply will help (see #8).
But for this section, I’m talking about seriously working out. Endorphins are your friends. Runner’s highs are very good things.
Not only can a good workout give you an immediate lift, but people who work out are healthier in general, and less stressed, which helps greatly with maintaining a good attitude. When you have a regular outlet for your stress and bad moods, it’s easier to maintain an even keel.
Besides, if you do hit the pavement for a solid 5 mile run when you feel like snapping someone’s head off–you get multiple benefits: better relationships for getting out the door without snapping, awesome endorphin rush to make you feel instantly better and a better, healthier body.
8. Meditate, or at least, spend some time breathing deeply.
I’ll admit that I’m not a great meditator. I’m not going to be your go-to girl for that for a while, though you’re welcome to come along for the ride as I try to learn to be. I do find, however, that if I can just sit still for five minutes and breathe and focus on the here and now (i.e. meditate, but without the scary term attached), then I feel a lift in my body and mood.
Being aware of your body helps you stay present. Being aware of your thoughts helps you monitor them and change them. Being aware of your breath helps you lower your stress levels. Taking some time to breathe can keep you from saying or doing things that you’ll regret later.
Whenever you feel the need for an attitude adjustment, it’s always a good idea to step away and breathe. Even if it’s just 5-10 deep breaths, even if it’s just a moment of centering, it will help take you out of your head (your raging, possibly lying thoughts that are controlling your emotions) and bring you back into your body, and calm you so that you can reevaluate what you’re thinking.
That time for reevaluation will almost always help you adjust your attitude to at least something calmer. And from calm you can work your way toward happy.
9. Change your actions – Do something different than what you’ve been doing.
There’s a common saying in the personal development arena of “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” It’s very true when it comes to attitude, as well. One way to effect an attitude adjustment is to shake things up.
Drive to work a different route. Get something different for lunch. Go to a different gym. Try a different tactic with a supervisor. Start a new conversation with a friend or loved one. Do your work in the opposite order you usually do.
If what you’ve been doing has resulted in you living in a negative attitude–you need to change it. While changing your attitude can often effect the outside change, and that is probably ideal, sometimes we really do need to change our outside circumstances.
I don’t mean that you need to change your life or have your ideal life before you can be happy or have a better attitude. Note that all of the suggestions are fairly small.
Sometimes just shaking things up a little bit is enough to jar your brain into a new thought pattern and force it out of its usual pathways. It helps you see things from a different perspective and can shed new light where you only saw darkness before.
10. Change your space
It’s hard to have a positive attitude when you’re living in filth or overwhelming clutter or dark, depressing rooms. So change things up. Clean. Organize. Get some color in the room.
You don’t have to spend a whole lot of money redecorating (though if you feel the urge and have the cash, by all means have fun–I redid my living room a couple of years ago and had a blast with it. It’s SO much nicer when I come home, now–an oasis instead of an energy suck). Simple things like a blanket you got at a thrift store, or a vase of bright flowers can do wonders for a room.
Definitely clean and organize. Get rid of things that are tying you down and holding you back. Do you really need all that stuff that reminds you of the ex who broke your heart? Do you really want all that junk that you have to dust every week that you keep out of guilt, but not because you love it?
Take a look around your space–what do you love? What do you use? What do you need? Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit those three questions. Organize what’s left. Clean it all thoroughly. Open the windows and let fresh air in.
You’ll feel a lot better every time you step into your home, and just the act of setting your life in order can do wonders for your attitude.
11. Volunteer for a cause you believe in
Giving back to others is one way to reinforce the good in your life. The act of giving generates a feeling of goodwill in most people. It helps to connect you to other people who believe in the same things you do, and it lets you feel like you’re doing something with a purpose in the world.
The key is finding something you care about. Don’t go and be a Big Sister if you really can’t stand kids. Don’t volunteer at the animal shelter if you’re afraid of dogs. There are tons of causes out there that need people’s help, and I believe that there is something that you are passionate about or you wouldn’t be here.
So, find a group that needs your help in an area you care about and donate your time. It doesn’t have to be a huge chunk if you’re working 60 hours a week–just give them 5 hours a month. By helping those less fortunate, or giving back to the community in some ways, we foster a sense of connection to a world outside ourselves and this helps us step out of the isolation that bad attitudes can bring.
12. Have goals you are working toward and a physical reminder of them around you.
A life without purpose or meaning is one that is directionless and one that can leave someone feeling lost and adrift. It’s hard to find motivation to do anything or to change your attitude if you do not have anything that you are working toward.
Everyone should have goals they want to achieve, whether big or small. These can be wild dreams of our hearts desire (which we should all have, but that’s another article) or simple things that we feel that will make our lives a little better.
Whether big or small, you need to have something you are working toward and you need to have a visual reminder of it somewhere around you. This can be a vision board or post-it notes on your mirror or pictures on your refrigerator or little sayings and reminders that pop up on your iPhone–whatever works best for you to keep your goal at the forefront of your mind.
When you are focused on achieving something, it is far more difficult to let yourself slide toward depression and hopelessness. Frustration, yes, but there are ways to work around that attitude with other tactics. You must have something meaningful in your life, though, some rudder to guide you.
Then, when you feel your attitude start to take a nosedive, it helps to refocus on your goals and do something toward them, however small, and the productivity and glow that comes from that is guaranteed to help you shift your attitude.
13. Find something to do every day that you enjoy and that makes you feel good about yourself.
When we are doing things we enjoy and feeling good about ourselves, it is difficult to slump into a bad attitude. Furthermore, when things do not go our way and bad attitudes come upon us, the positive feelings generated by our fun activity will give us something to conjure up and strive for.
Memory is a positive force, and if you make sure to inject something fun into each day, then the memory of pleasure is always at your fingertips. You do not have to stretch back far for it, or try to remember when the last time you smiled was. Scheduling daily time for you also gives you something to look forward to, and the sense of anticipation for an enjoyed activity can be the lift that you need to get you through a moment when things are less than pleasant with a more positive attitude.
Like your goals, these things do not necessarily have to be big. They can be something different every day. Maybe a dance class one day, or a particular workout. Perhaps you schedule time for yourself for a bath and a book three times a week. Maybe girls night out once a week. A pedicure twice a month. Possibly it’s something as simple as walking the dog, or making your favorite meal for dinner.
It can be something routine, or something new. Most likely it will be a mixture of both. Either way, make that time for you. Hold it sacred. Give yourself something to look back on and forward to with a smile and enjoy your life that bit much more.
14. Learn something new
Some of the happiest people in the world are those who learn something new everyday. That’s because they approach life with an air of curiosity. It’s hard to let the bad attitudes creep in if you maintain that curiosity toward everything.
If you keep yourself open to new experiences, you will see new opportunities everywhere. Even in potential adversity, you have the chance to learn, if you look at it as a learning experience. Ask yourself after something doesn’t go your way, “What can I learn from this? How can I do it differently next time? How can I handle my reaction better next time?”
Take classes. Expand your horizons. Keep learning and opening your mind toward new things around you.
It’s the same attitude of openness and curiosity whether you’re examining a moment in your day for a lesson or whether you’re seeking one out. And while curiosity may have killed the cat, it can only enrich your life and decrease your bad attitude days.
15. Practice Acceptance
Nearly as important as monitoring your thoughts is cultivating an attitude of acceptance. Like gratitude, this one has to be practiced and learned, but it is well worth the effort. In addition, it will make monitoring your thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones much easier.
We live in a highly judgmental society. We judge our neighbors, our coworkers, our politicians, our celebrities, the random people on the street. More than any of that, though, we probably judge ourselves.
I’ve written a great deal about accepting others in “Being the Change: What Does It Take,” and so I just want to hit on it here as it relates to attitude. Judgment of ourselves or others, that critical vicious voice, is never going to lead to a positive, happy attitude. It is only going to foster negativity.
We must come to see ourselves and others as we are, and beyond that, to accept each other as we are, flaws and all. We must look beyond the surface irritants to the people below. Recognize in the annoying coworker the single mom who’s trying to get by and is afraid of being laid off. See in the strident cashier the girl who feels like her dreams passed her by and is just trying to make ends meet. Look in the mirror and see not just your flaws, but also your beauty.
Be forgiving. Accept people as they come. Accept yourself as you are. This doesn’t mean we don’t strive to improve, or be our best, but if you can accept that you are flawed, that people are flawed, and still love yourself and them, you’ll find a much greater peace in your day and your life.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has their own set of troubles. When we try to see the world through eyes of acceptance, a lot of anger we’ve been carrying evaporates into a feeling of compassion and that is one of the ultimate attitude adjustments you can have.
[Photo Credit: Pedrosimoes7 ]