Attitudes are formed by thinking. All the attitudes we now have, we thought into being. We created them. All the attitudes we will have, we will think into being. We will create them. Each thought usually has an emotion attached to it such as joy (I am succeeding!), anger (life is unfair, I’ve been cheated), despair (I am failing). The emotion—weak or intense—comes from the idea. Consider this extract from “Thinking,” an inspirational poem by Walter D. Whittle:
If you think you’re beaten, you are,
If you think that you dare not, you don’t,
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins in a fellow’s will,
It is all in the state of mind.
In the complete poem, “think” is used 10 times. And as Whittle says, when it comes to attitudes, “It is all in the state of mind.” It’s the state of mind that we create. An attitude is a way or facing life and a way of living.
Truth and Attitudes
The truth is that we, ourselves, other people, and the world are knowable. Certainty is achievable. We can study, get to know, and understand. And we can act with more knowledge and more certainty.
The truth is that life does not have to be, and is not, a perpetual depressing hangover—“a vale of tears.” Happiness, joy, and satisfaction are possible for us. When we develop values and goals and achieve them one small step at a time—step-by-step—increasing happiness can be the result and reward.
The truth is we are masters of our fate. We are neither a puppet nor a robot. We program our own “computer”—our mind. We drive ourselves by thinking. We direct the course of our life by our choices. We’ll end up, barring accidents, where we decide.
The truth is there are some evil people in the world. They are despicable, but they are few. Evil really is the exception. (How many times have you been mugged?) Most people are good, a value—a positive good. Most people, approached respectfully, are friendly and exhibit goodwill.
The truth is the world is not full of disasters, doom, and destruction despite newspapers and the 6 o’clock news. Accidents, catastrophes, and suffering do happen, but very rarely. So what? We manage, we help, and we get on with living. Suffering and disasters are the occasional, the exceptions. Success and happiness can be expected and achieved, if we set and pursue our purposes and our goals. The world can be a happy place for us if we will make it so.
We have created our attitudes. Can we change them? We have taken a lifetime to develop our attitudes, but we have a lifetime to develop new ones—the attitudes we want. Changing attitudes is a life-long, ongoing exciting activity.
Sometimes it can be easy to change thinking, and therefore an attitude. One person I know hated the idea of getting up early. He was a “night person.” He would go to bed between 3 and 5 a.m. and get up at 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. But, because his job required it, he now he gets up at 5am and loves it. (Secret: I’m talking about me.)
Another person I know loved to eat at home—simple home cooking—and disliked eating out. For his romantic partner, who loved to eat out, he decided to change his mind and now loves to go out to eat.
There are at least 8 key areas in which we can develop or refresh and reinforce positive attitudes for our happiness:
- Attitude of Choice: We have the power of choice. To think (or not to think) is our power. By our thinking, we determine our fate. We choose our fate. Observe ourselves and others making choices, and reinforce our own power, our own attitude, of choice.
- Attitude of Thought: Rational thinking is the source of all knowledge. Continually gain knowledge! It is the source of all beneficial action. Thinking is our greatest power and can lead to success and happiness if we practice it consciously, deliberately, and frequently.
- Attitude of Purpose and Work: Purpose and ambition motivate and drive our life. Productive work translates purpose into achievement. Working toward a purpose can be joyful and satisfying. Work can be fun. We can make it so.
- Attitude of Self-Esteem: We feel worthwhile and value ourselves if we are honorable and honest. If we increase our knowledge and skills and develop our personal best, we become self-confident. We earn self-esteem.
- Attitude of Independence: Know that our life is ours, and it’s our mind. We will think for ourselves; make up our own mind. Live our life our way.
- Attitude of Integrity: Act according to our values and beliefs and do what we say we will. Keep agreements. Keep promises. Fight for our beliefs, values, and for our life. Don’t compromise on ethical issues.
- Attitude of Honesty: Reality is real—facts are facts. Know the facts. Accept them for ourselves and relay only facts to others. Don’t fudge or fake it—don’t deceive ourselves or others. Every day in every way practice scrupulous honesty. There’s power in truth.
- Attitude of Justice: Honor the good. Damn the bad. Judge ourselves and others thoughtfully and fairly based on facts/evidence. Good people are an enormous value; rotten people…. Trade our highest and best for the highest and best of others.
I would like to develop these ideas further, and I will write about our mental operating systems shortly.
I hope you find this helpful. I’d appreciate your feedback.
Carl B. Barney
October 4, 2022
6 thoughts on “Attitudes and Motivation: Our Mindset Part I”
Discussions about happiness are bedevilled by semantics. Jordan Peterson says you shouldn’t live for your happiness, and an Objectivist might jump to the conclusion that he thinks that living for your happiness is too selfish – but that’s not his point. He’s not an altruist in the Comtean sense. He says that happiness is something to be grateful for if you are lucky enough to have it drop in your lap, but that “life is suffering” so if you live for happiness it won’t sustain you through your life – you should live instead for “meaning”. But what does he mean by “meaning” and “happiness”? He says that “happiness is for people who aren’t very bright at a funfair”. But that’s not happiness, that’s for hedonists having fun.
Ayn Rand defines happiness as “the state of consciousness that proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” But somewhere she talks about it being “non-contradictory joy”, not the joy of being drunk knowing you’ll suffer with a hangover, or of passing an exam knowing you cheated, or the joy of cheating on your wife, but a joy that isn’t undercut by its negative effects.
What I think of as the most telling symptom of happiness is that you can say without self-deception: “this is worth living for”. And that can be divided into two related experiences. 1 “This is worth living for as an end in itself.” 2 “This is worth living for, as a means to an end.” I’m not sure whether both these states should be called “happiness”, or only the former, while the latter is called something lesser, such as “satisfying”, or “meaningful”. Jordan Peterson uses “meaning” in a somewhat mysterious manner, proclaiming that it is what we should live for. Maybe he means what Objectivists call “purpose”. But the reality is that a progression of means-to-an-end without an end-in-itself is not comprehensible or sustainable. You get up so you can dress so you can go to work so you can get paid so you can buy dinner so you can… a means to an end which is a means to an end, which is a means to an end, which …into infinity. At some point, you have to be able to say: “This is worth living for – not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. That’s 1st class happiness, and that makes everything else meaningful.
This is a thought provoking post.
A hero of mine is Viktor Frankl an Auschwitz survivor who experienced unimaginable torture and made it through and became a renowned psychiatrist.
In his best seller is “Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said ” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s ATTITUDE in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
These are inspiring words, and I commend you for voicing them. But I am concerned that some may find them confusing, and believe they should be qualified.
The thoughts you’ve articulated are true, but they are only true within certain contexts. Outside these contexts they can seem merely dogmatic—a recitation of rose-colored bromides without regard for the actual circumstances of people’s lives. This can lead people to believe your statements are false, which would be unfortunate.
Your statements are true within the context of life in a society that is mostly free and mostly rational. There, people can reliably achieve success and find happiness by acting in accordance with the values you have so admirably delineated. But as societies become less free and less rational legitimate success and true happiness become harder and harder to realize. This can cause otherwise reasonable people to lose faith in rational values—and lose faith in themselves as their efforts are frustrated.
Most of human history has been mired in cultural circumstances wherein evil and unreason are the norm, not, as you say, “the exception.” Miss Rand described such a society in her “We The Living,” wherein the heroine, “Kira,” is murdered by Soviet border guards as she attempts to escape the institutionalized evil of Soviet society. Her point was not that the pursuit of values is futile, but that evil cultures can thwart humanity’s bravest efforts to achieve success and happiness. We must remember that such efforts bear fruit only in the nourishing soil of culturally benevolent societies. When this is overlooked the truths you convey can seem naive—and to some, simply false. So we must remind ourselves—and philosophers must remind their students—of the context in which these values are valid.
We do not yet live in a totalitarian society. But for many decades—well over a century—the cultural circumstances in which the ethical attitudes described in your essay are reliably practical have been eroded. Today, many young strivers may feel that the ground is being pulled out from under their feet as quickly as they take steps to improve their lives. Mountains of regulations and increasing taxes (often in the form of inflation) can render their noble struggles fruitless. While some may “get past the guards,” too many whose efforts might otherwise lead to success are stymied. This can make your essay seem doctrinaire—and even, unfortunately, sophomoric.
So, in the future, when you give voice to what really are very noble attitudes, be certain to remind your readers of the context in which they are true. Otherwise, you may inadvertently breed cynicism and contempt for values that should be revered.
One of my favorite poems (and I have very few such) is Invictus by William E. Henley, 1875:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
It would seem to say that attitude is really important.
Thanks for this wonderful post, Carl! It is very inspiring.
I’m taking the liberty of quoting my friend, Julie, who expressed the following sentiments: “Very positive and motivational, especially during times of stress, anxiety, and/or sadness. To know that one can control by thinking how they act/feel is so inspiring and creates hope!”
I completely agree with her. This is very motivational advice, you share, as is the thoughtful comment by Sean below. I have also read Carol Dweck’s book and have been applying the “growth mindset” thinking to the parenting of my daughter. She’s a top equestrian athlete who strives to be a World Champion. That requires a lot of mental practice in addition to the physical part.
I’m looking forward to sharing your thoughts on the 8 key areas with her. (She’ll recognize most of them from our many discussions on values and their corresponding virtues.) I look forward to Part II (and more..)
I recently read Carol Dweck’s book MINDSET, and I think your “attitudes” discussion fits well into her paradigm (choice/thought/purpose are very much a “growth” mindset). Her basic thesis is that there are two basic mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. She explores these two mindsets thoroughly in the areas of parenting, education, business, and sports – and her research is fascinating.
I’m especially interested from the perspective of instilling a growth mindset in my children. It’s also been an enlightening journey exploring and introspecting in what areas of my own life I’ve unknowingly adopted a fixed mindset and thinking about how to change that.
In any case, I thought I’d mention this book in case you or others haven’t heard of it (Dweck has several talks worth exploring on YouTube on this topic as well).