by Dr. Jerry Pipes
CHOOSING A WINNING ATTITUDE
A cheerful heart is good medicine;
A downcast spirit dries up the bones.1
The first and most important step in taking responsibility for your communication is starting every day by choosing a winning attitude. This critical choice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy both for us, and those we touch. First, a cheerful heart is good medicine for us. It will brighten our day and become the lens through which we see whatever comes our way. Likewise a downcast spirit will darken our day and cast a shadow across the circumstances we face. Second, the attitude we choose for the day will either draw people to us (add light) or push them away (add darkness).
I had a great friend who was checking in for a flight at the Atlanta airport. Just in case you were wandering, when we die and go to Heaven, we will have to go through the Atlanta airport…just kidding! The gentleman two people in front of my friend had obviously not chosen a winning attitude. He was cussing out the baggage handlers, calling them every horrible name in the book (I won’t repeat the profanity…at this point he had not even met them), referring to them as lazy, incompetent and responsible for everyone in the line missing their flights. When it was his turn, he continued the abuse in person. The skycap responded graciously, apologetically and gave him what could only be described as “AAA” service. The angry customer steamed off without making eye contact or tipping the skycap.
When it was his turn, my friend looked into the eyes of the baggage handler and asked, “What’s your secret? That man berated you and treated you like a dog, and yet you were so incredibly nice in return.” The skycap responded, “It was easy, that man is getting on a plane headed for Miami, his two bags are going to Cleveland.” The man chose a “losing attitude” that resulted in angry abusive behavior, which spilled out on everyone he touched, and became a self-fulfilling prophecy…the result, his “bad day” got even worse.
I love this quote from Dr. Charles R. Swindoll!
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church....a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes.2
The words of Solomon and this amazing quote are so true! The attitude we chose to play, positive or negative drives the communication in all our relationships, family members, friends, co-workers, clients and acquaintances. Zig Ziglar said it this way, “When you choose to be pleasant and positive in the way you treat others, you have also chosen, in most cases, how you are going to be treated by others.”3 Do you remember, Eeyore? He saw the world through a negative lens. His cup was always half empty, the days were always dying in the west and no one wanted to be around him. It has been well said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”4 As for me, I am going to choose daily to play a positive attitude, with a cup that’s half full, a future that’s bright and an outlook that no matter what comes—my God is bigger still!
I like (love is probably a better word) coffee! Great coffee requires four things: a quality brewer, filtered water, bold fresh ground coffee beans and a perfectly textured filter. Most miss the importance of the filter; the thickness and texture has to be just right. It has to be thick enough to keep out all the grounds, but thin enough to allow the rich flavor of the fresh ground coffee to flow through. A positive-winning attitude serves in the same way in facilitating healthy communication.
In the first chapter on Taking Responsibility we discussed the fact that as human beings we possess the ability to separate stimulus and response. As people, we have the power to filter what happens to us through our faith, values and what we are learning in life. The daily decision of choosing and developing a winning attitude is the first step in strengthening the filter that makes it possible to be a responder rather than a reactor.
The Mitchell Family
Dinner was awkward after Steven lost his temper over their mess. Steven felt like he had ruined the evening and tried to compensate with forced conversation. Megan’s anger was palpable tonight, despite her efforts to mask it in silence. Jacob was more talkative but responded to his father with sarcasm, a habit that bothered Renee. She never addressed it with Jacob because she knew he was merely copying her own behavior. Renee never yelled, something she prided herself on, but her words cut to the bone and, if looks could kill, her family would be in danger most nights. As the kids walked upstairs Steven put his arm around Renee and guided her to the study for what he knew would be a serious discussion. This was not how they wanted their family to work. Steven spoke first.
“Renee, I’m sorry I lost my temper with the kids. Today was a stressful day at work with this new position. When I walked inside and saw the mess it pushed me over the edge. ”
“Steven, we have been snapping at each other far too often. Our kids are shutting us out and the atmosphere in our home is toxic. I know that I’m not blameless in this. I work with my faculty, my students and their families all day and I am tired. After fixing other people’s problems I have no desire to deal with anything else. We have to figure out a way to make things better at home. If family is our first priority like we claim, then why can’t we give each other the same effort that we give our jobs? ”
The question lingered in the air for a moment as Steven tried to come up with an answer. He had to admit that he controlled his temper far better at work than he did at home. Renee also had to acknowledge that she treated her faculty and students with more kindness than she treated her own family on tough days. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the pamphlet from Steven’s company retreat they attended sitting on his desk. The memory of those planning seminars gave her an idea. She handed the pamphlet to Steven and said, “We strategize for our careers and encourage our employees to set goals and be positive. Why would our family be any different? Let’s make a plan on how we can improve our family life. Constant arguments are not what I want our kids to remember.”
Steven turned the pamphlet over in his hands with a smile. Strategy was something he could wrap his head around. For just a moment, he felt hope that things could be better.
Solomon on How to Choose a Winning Attitude
Keep my message in plain view at all times. Concentrate! Learn it by heart! Those who discover these words live, really live; body and soul, they’re bursting with health. Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.5
The message of Solomon is clear and really very simple—Get Wisdom! We change our attitude, the way we think, feel and respond, by changing what goes into our minds and hearts. Please re-read Solomon’s words above and notice the intentionality and diligence required to implement them. The only way we can change a negative attitude into a positive one is by getting wisdom. Doing so will not only change what we think, but the way we think. Getting wisdom will change the lens through which we see what’s really important in life. A winning attitude will result in the increased ability to relate to the people we care about based on our life purpose and core values.
In the first chapter, we discussed that healthy relationships are made up of healthy growing people. Solomon has given us a path on how to get healthy—Get Wisdom. Remember, the daily decision of choosing and developing a winning attitude is the first and essential step in strengthening the filter that makes it possible to be a healthy responder rather than an unhealthy reactor.
Here are a few practical pointers for a lifetime of getting wisdom:
- Read the book of Proverbs monthly. It is the greatest book in the world on communication. There are 31 days in most months and 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. In five short minutes a day, you will be getting Solomon’s awesome wisdom on communication.
- Read great books. If you choose not to read you are no better off than one who can’t read. It’s like choosing a self-imposed illiteracy. If you have not been reading, begin with a goal of one book a month. An occasional novel is fine, but primarily read biographies of those who have accomplished much in life along with quality self-help books.
- Listen to great talks, audiobooks, and pod casts while in the car and during your workouts.
- Attend great conferences.
- Surround yourself with positive, healthy growing people—show me your friends and I will show you your future.
- Make the most of educational opportunities.
- Engage in problem solving and life planning.
- Laugh every day. Look for the humor in life.
Whether you choose these items or a set of your own—getting wisdom is critical to developing and maintaining a positive attitude. The results of doing so will be an increased ability to take responsibility in your relationships and the power to become a better and more sensitive responder to those you care about.
The Decision to Get Wisdom
Let’s admit it, implementing the above list or a similar one is not going to be easy. It will probably require changes in your schedule, habits and time management. The reality is, most people stop learning and growing after their formal education ends. There are two primary reasons for this; First, an unwillingness to pay the price. Deeply desiring healthy communication and relationships is not enough…it takes hard work! The second reason is television. In most homes, the television is on forty to forty-forty five hours each week. I’m not suggesting you not have a television, but that you ask yourself this question: How do I use this powerful medium to serve my values, accomplish my purpose and help me grow to my maximum potential? Time management and implementing a personal growth plan is one of the most important decisions you will ever make!
Here is a recap—the first step to genuine communication is Taking Responsibility. The second step is the daily decision of choosing and developing a Winning Attitude. A positive attitude is the direct result of changing the way we think by getting wisdom through establishing and implementing a personal growth plan.
The process will require hard work and discipline, but the rewards of developing healthy growing relationships with those you love and care about are worth the effort.
1 Proverbs 17:22, Revised Standard Version
2 Charles R. Swindoll, Essay on Attitude, (Frisco: Insight for Living)
3 Zig Ziglar, Little Book of Big Quotes, (Dallas: Ziglar Inc.), page 5
4 Winston Churchill, The actual source of this quote is unclear, most attribute it to Winston Churchill
5 Proverbs 4:20-23, The Message