~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD ~
Do you ever talk about attitude with someone? Do you ever long to have a conversation about someone’s attitude in order to help them develop a more positive or constructive attitude? If so, that’s another one of those “difficult conversations” that we often need to have, but don’t. Why not?
Typically a lot of people quickly get very defensive if you talk about their attitude. It seems personal. It seems intimate. And it seems foreboding.
To understand all of this, we have to understand what an attitude is, how we create our attitudes, and how we can update them or change them.
Attitude is Part of The Whole
The dictionary indicates that what we mean by an attitude is that it is a disposition and position of mind, emotion, and body. Ah, so we’re dealing with something that is systemic. At the mental and emotional level it is a disposition- an orientation of thinking and feeling. And at the same time it involves a physiological position. In other words, it shows up in the body. An attitude is a whole piece. It is an experience that we are simultaneously developing and creating by what we are thinking, feeling, and somatizing in our body. That tells us a bit about how we create an attitude.
For sake of understanding, let’s pull these facets apart and talk about them. Then we can put them back together again as a systemic experience.
It begins with what you are thinking. And in saying “thinking,” this includes what you are representing, understanding, giving meaning to, semantically loading, valuing, etc. In the next Neurons, I’ll describe the conversation itself.
If your attitude is determined, stubborn, or persistence- you are probably thinking that something (X) is important, right, the way it should be, what you should do, etc. Think in that way, and then you probably feel focused, excited, committed and that comes together as a determined or stubborn attitude. And with those thoughts and feelings, you probably tense your body, focus your eyes, make firm your voice and take on the physiology of determination.
Hostility and Aggression
If your attiutde is one of hostility and aggression- you are probably thinking that something is wrong, violates your values, not the way things should go, hurtful, etc. Think in that way and you probably are strongly feeling frustrated, angry, upset, hurt, fear, etc. and with those thoughts and feelings, you are probably somatizing them in your body with a quickened heart-beat, stress that shows up as muscular tension, tension in your movements and throat, etc. Now you look and sound “hostile” or aggressive.
Attitude of Gratitude
If your attitude is one of gratitude, joy, and appreciation- you are probably thinking that something is good, wonderful, delightful, the fulfillment of your values, pleasurable, etc. Think in those ways and you are probably feeling contented, happy, joyful, delighted, loving, thankful, etc. Send those thoughts and feelings to your body to feel and your physiology is probably relaxed with some muscle tension that you call excited, you are smiling, eyes glistening, face relaxed and alert, body open to others, perhaps humming a song, and rhythmically moving to it.
How Are Attitudes Created?
An attitude grows out of your thinking and emoting about something which your body then actualizes and makes real in multiple expressions in your physiology. If this is your first time to think this, the emotion is new and fresh and you are just finding your way to express it. If you have been doing this for a long, long time, the emotion is by this time your basic mood. Your body knows it and is beginning to default to that emotional state. Now it is your mood. People know this about you, recognize it in you. And if you have done this for years- your body knows it so well, that it has become an attitude. Now it has dropped out of your awareness and you no longer are consciously thinking and emoting, it is now automatic in your body.
Thinking-Emoting -> Emotional State -> Attitude
An attitude then is a long-term habituated state that has been well-conditioned into the body as its automatic and systematic response to some regularity in life. It has also become unconscious in that how you create it and maintain it is now mostly outside-of-conscious awareness.
Today you are no longer mindful of what you are doing or how. It is your neuro-linguistic program for responding to something. That’s what it is.
We could say that every attitude that you have, you have trained yourself thoroughly and systematically to develop it at a moment’s notice. That makes it a pretty high level skill. Now you are well-trained and thoroughly skilled in accessing a stubborn attitude by just the word “authority figure.” You are highly skilled to access an attitude of joyfulness when you think about going dancing. From this perspective we could say that your attitudes are highly developed skills! Your depression, procrastination, obstinance, prejudice, hostility, etc. are highly developed skills.
The next question is whether your attitude does you good or diminishes you?
Does it sabotage your best efforts to be successful? Does it get in your way of taking risks, learning, being more loving, etc.? This is the ecology question. The attitudes that we bring to a situation are often the wrong ones for that situation. Now we ought to change it if we want to enjoy life more or succeed in reaching an important objective.
This is where the attitude conversation comes in. Now you have to make conscious what has become unconscious, catch the process of how you create the program in your neurology and physiology, back up to the thinking that’s created it, and do some reframing of the meanings that’s driving the attitude.
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