Saturday, July 21, 2012


People say attitude is everything. You’ve heard that right? Sure. But what are they really saying? And what exactly is attitude?

An attitude is a favorable or unfavorable evaluation, disposition or judgment that represents our degree of like or dislike, or positive or negative view for someone or something or some event or some idea, notion or belief. That someone, something, idea, notion or belief can be referred to as the attitude object. We can also say that attitude is one of the ways we communicate our mood to others, for example, through smiling or frowning or shrugging our shoulders. When we are optimistic and anticipate successful encounters, we transmit a positive attitude and people usually respond favorably. When we are pessimistic and expect the worst, our attitude is often negative, and people tend to avoid us. It is the way we look at things mentally. We can add a bit more to our definition by saying that attitude is an inward feeling expressed by outward behavior. To some extent or other, we always project on the outside what we feel on the inside… about other people about ourselves, about all sorts of things. And, yes those projections of ours drive our behavior. So attitude determines behavior… that’s why attitude matters so much.

Complicating matters a bit, we can be conflicted or ambivalent toward an object, meaning that we simultaneously possess both positive and negative attitudes toward the item in question. Isn’t that nice, this is just one more part of the confusion of normal life.

Now then, no one wants to be a victim of anything ever. And undeniably we have the capability to live the life we want. We may not get everything we want but we can get a lot. If we believe we can and if we behave appropriately. And belief and most of our behavior is a matter of choice, our choice, choice we get to make every moment of our existence.

Here’s the thing. We can design a whole lot of our own life experience. I hope you believe that because it’s true. As a start, we can actively improve our life experience by managing and directing our attitudes… and yes indeed we can do that. We can set our daily mood through attitude. Of course I recommend setting a positive mood and a can-do attitude because going the other way would be silly. This daily mental SET UP activity helps us get into FLOW and live in the ZONE, helps us live proactively rather than reactively.

What are FLOW and the ZONE? We’ll let’s get to that next.

Born in 1934, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is a Hungarian psychology professor who immigrated to the United States at the age of 22. He’s he is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College and now teaches at Claremont Graduate University east of Los Angles.  

Csíkszentmihályi is noted for both his work in the study of happiness and creativity and also for his notoriously difficult to pronounce name. He is best known as the architect of the notion of FLOW and for his years of research and writing on the topic. He is the author of many books and over 120 articles or book chapters. He is the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology. He once said “Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason.” Proactively adopting a desirable set of attitudes about ourselves helps make this happen.

So FLOW, what is that? FLOW is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. And the ZONE is a place where mind and body work in perfect synch and decisions and actions seem to happen without conscious effort. For a very happy life, you want to get into FLOW and the ZONE and stay there.

Once in FLOW and the ZONE, should you have a disappointment of some sort, you need to immediately ask yourself why did I not perform well today? Was it poor planning and preparation? Was my focus and concentration off? Was it a mistake in execution? Figure that out, and then get yourself to a place of peace with that situation. Don’t get down on yourself. Achieving that place of peace is the key to avoiding a full-fledged slump. A slump—that downward spiral that only gets worse the harder you try—is familiar to, well to everybody.

Professor Csikszentmihalyi identified nine elements of FLOW that he saw repeatedly in his research:

1. There are clear goals every step of the way. In many everyday situations, there are contradictory demands and it’s sometimes quite unclear what should occupy our attention. But in a flow experience, we have a clear purpose and a good grasp of what to do next.

2. There is immediate feedback to one’s actions. When we’re in FLOW, we know how well we’re doing.

3. There is a balance between challenges and skills. If a challenge is too demanding compared to our skill level, we get frustrated. If it’s too easy, we get bored. In a flow experience, there is a pretty good match between our abilities and the demands of the situation. We feel engaged by the challenge, but not overwhelmed.

4. Action and awareness are merged. We are often thinking about something that happened – or might happen – in another time or place. But in flow, we’re concentrated on what we’re doing.

5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness. Because we’re absorbed in the activity, we’re only aware of what’s relevant to the task at hand, and we don’t think about unrelated things. By being focused on the activity, unease that can cause anxiety and depression is set aside.

6. There is no worry of failure. In a state of FLOW, we’re too involved to be concerned about failing. We just don’t think about failure. We know what has to be done and we just do it.

7. Self-consciousness disappears. We often spend a lot of mental energy monitoring how we appear to others. In a FLOW state, we’re too involved in the activity to care about protecting our ego. We might even feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Paradoxically, the experience of letting go of “the self” can strengthen it.

8. Our sense of time becomes distorted. Time flies when we’re really engaged. On the other hand, time may seem to slow down at the moment of executing some action for which we’ve trained and developed a high degree of skill.

9. The activity becomes “autotelic” (an end in itself, done for it’s own sake). Some activities are done for their own sake, for the enjoyment an experience provides, like most art, music, or sports. Other activities, which are done for some future purpose or goal – like things we have to do as part of our job – may only be a means to an end. But some of these goal-oriented activities can also become ends in themselves, and enjoyed for their own sake.

Csikszentmihalyi concludes his list by saying that “in many ways, the secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many of the things we have to do as possible.”

Big True Fact: the biggest predictor of behavior or of our performance is MENTAL STATE. If we feel good then this positive mental state will be reflected in the quality of our performance. So, it’s a wonderfully good idea to spend a few minutes before every performance getting ourselves into a resourceful mental state to dramatically increase our chances of performing well. EMOTIONAL REHEARSAL is one way to do this.

So where do attitudes fit into FLOW and the ZONE? Well, it turns out that programing our attitudes is a powerful form of EMOTIONAL REHEARSAL. See where I’m going with this?

Why does this matter so much, because ATTITUDE DRIVES BEHAVIOR. That outward manifestation of action that’s driven by the inward feeling (or attitude) is expressed in what we do or do not do, and that’s behavior. Behavior has to come from somewhere and attitude is a BIG determinate of it. Even our body language is a result of our mental attitude. And this is great to understand because it gives us some choice. We can choose our attitude. We get to do that every moment of every day. And by deliberately choosing our attitude we get ourselves into a mood and then we automatically send out a message that everyone understands, consciously or unconsciously. Then, our action (behavior) and the actions of others (their behavior) can be made to flow or follow from that act of deliberately choosing an attitude and an associated mood. Isn’t that something? Indeed, we have more control over our environment (meaning the people around us) than we might think… neat huh.

A positive attitude also enhances our creativity. Being Positive helps our minds think freely. Sounds like FLOW huh? Yup! When we do the daily SET UP the emotionally forecast our activities for the foreseeable future, fresh ideas and solutions rise to the surface. Obviously if we SET UP a negative attitude that would have a stifling effect and our creativity would be suffocated. That would be stupid.

Now we understand about positive attitude, EMOTIONAL REHEARSAL, FLOW and the ZONE it follows that we ought to understand how to control our minds and thus achieve these desirable states that help us live happily. So let’s do that next.

And our friend Jeffrey Gitomer, the sales guru, has something to say about this. Gitomer discusses the importance and a YES Attitude and a NO Attitude.

He says have a having a YES! Attitude is Fundamental…
·        To sales
·        To service
·        To employee loyalty
·        To customer loyalty
·        To success
·        To family
·        To life itself!

And he says that having a NO! Attitude is Fundamental…
·        To time sinks
·        To energy sinks
·        To complexity
·        To insanity
·        To stopping
·        To stupid people
·        To bad habits!

To survive and thrive we need both a YES Attitude and a NO Attitude. And NO needs to come first.

I think Gitomer is stating the obvious. It’s a good idea to be proactive about our attitudes, to focus on two simple categories, YES and NO, and to make a list of people, things, events, habits and such to avoid attaching mental energy too, and another list of people, things, events, habits and such to embraced with positivity, optimism and confidence.

Let’s pull all this together. Every day, when we get out of bed we get to decide a few things. Will this be a good day or a terrible day? It’s a matter of choice folks. We get to decide.

What attitude will I project and carry with me today? Optimism, pessimism or what? Yup we get to set that up.

What’s on my plate for today at work and how will I experience those activities emotionally? Will I be triumphant or down in the dumps and sad or depressed? Will I roll with the punches and have as happy a day as I can? More decisions, more of how our day will develop that we can manage at part of our SET UP.

Doing this SET UP requires discipline and practice, lots of practice. But the rewards are substantial. FLOW and the ZONE await us.

“Today is your day; your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” ~Dr. Seuss

“The future belongs to the common man with uncommon determination.” ~Anonymous

“Thoughts (our daily SET UP time) which are mixed with any of the feelings of emotion constitute a ‘magnetic’ force which attracts other similar or related thoughts.” ~Napoleon Hill

So there we are. We get to determine how we live and what we feel, neat huh. And attitude plays a huge role in this. I welcome your opinions, comments and feedback. 

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