Changing Your Life One Thought at a Time
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
To take it a step further, we are what we repeatedly think about, we adopt characteristics of the people we spend the most time with, and we become the product of the choices we make every day.
How does our attitude play a role in all of this? What is an attitude? We usually hear, “You’ve got a good one, a bad one, or you just plain have one!” I believe that an attitude is nothing more than a habit of thought. John Maxwell defines attitude as “an inward feeling expressed by outward behavior”. He goes on to state that “people always project on the outside what they feel on the inside”.
We are conditioned by our parents, teachers, managers, peers, and anyone else with whom we’ve spent a great deal of time. Our conditioning causes us to think about things certain ways. The way we think dictates the way we act. In fact, it is impossible to think one way and act another way consistently. I’ll explain further in a moment. The way we act dictates the results we achieve, and our results determine our level of success.
Let’s take a fairly generic example, and we may then apply it to other situations. Think about a diet. When on a diet, we’re told to eat different foods, drink more water, exercise, etc. While those are actions and behaviors, they rarely lead to a consistent change of behavior because in many cases we feel like we’re having to starve ourselves or eat like a rabbit. It is impossible to believe one way and act differently on a consistent basis. Sure, we tell ourselves things like “Fake it until I make it”, but the truth is, no one is that talented of an actor or actress. That is why a nutritionist will tell you that it can’t be a diet, but a way of _____. Chances are, you knew that “Life” was the word to fill in that blank. How did you know that? Precisely. You have been conditioned to know that based on the number of times you have heard the message. Last week we identified that the first step to changing an attitude or thought process is overcoming ignorance. If you don’t know you are doing something wrong, you certainly don’t know you need to change it.
Have you ever met someone who was completely negative and yet seemed to have no idea how they were perceived? (Chances are, if your answer is no, that person may be you!) The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know. The first step in changing our habits is to be aware of the habits we have. If I spend my time complaining, feeling chronically negative, and always looking for the worst in situations, I certainly cannot change those thoughts unless I realize that I have them. If you want to change something you do habitually yet can’t find anything you do that is less than desirable, ask those closest to you. I guarantee someone will be able to provide you with one or two things you do that might not be getting you the results you want.
Once you’ve overcome the first stage, ignorance, it is time to move on to stage 2 – Retrospective Awareness. Most of us know of something we do that is contributing to us getting a result we do not want or like. The challenge is that for many of us, we realize we’ve done it after the fact. For example, you may be aware that you have a tendency to interrupt others while they are speaking and may desire to be a more effective listener. The first step is to acknowledge the fact that you have a habit of interrupting. Once aware of a certain behavior, most of us catch ourselves doing it after the fact. You may have just had a conversation with someone and after walking away, you realize you interrupted several times.
While this seems like an easy second step, it requires focus and attention. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” holds true. Here’s the kicker, the easiest way to figure out you’re doing “it”, whatever “it” might be, is to have it pointed out to you. Now, I wouldn’t recommend asking all of your co-workers and family members to scream at you every time they catch you in the act, but find one or two people that you trust and use them as an accountability system. Most people will respect the fact that you are trying to make positive changes and will be supportive. If they aren’t, they are not the people you want helping you stay accountable.
Last week the step was to figure out a thought process or habit you want to change. This week, make a conscious effort to be aware of the habit or thought you would like to change. Go a step further and ask someone close to you to help you catch yourself. Next week, we’ll move on to the third and fourth step. Make it a great week!