Attitude Is Everything, So Why Don’t We Work Harder At Changing Ours?
Last year, a little girl was born at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester with her heart outside her body. This is a rare condition known as ectopia cordis. Few babies with this condition survive, and those who do must endure numerous operations and are likely to have complex needs. When her mother was interviewed three weeks after her daughter’s birth and asked if she was prepared for what might be a daunting task caring for her, she answered without hesitation that, as far as she was concerned, this would be a “privilege.” Rarely has there been a better example of the power of attitude, one of our most powerful psychological tools. Our attitudes allow us to turn mistakes into opportunities, loss into the chance for new beginnings.
An attitude is a settled way of thinking, feeling and behaving towards particular objects, persons, events or ideologies. We use our attitudes to filter, interpret and react to the world around us. You weren’t born with particular attitudes. They’re all learned, and this happens in some ways. The most powerful influences occur during early childhood and include both what happened to you directly and what those around you did and said in your presence. As you acquire an increasingly nuanced identity, your attitudes are further refined by the deportment of those with whom you identify – your family, those of your gender and culture, and the people you admire, even though you may not know them personally. Friendships and other important relationships become increasingly important, particularly during adolescence. About that same time and throughout adulthood, the information you receive, especially when ideas are repeated in association with goals and achievements you find attractive, also refine your attitudes – something advertisers and politicians know well.
Many people assume that our attitudes are internally consistent, that is, the way you think and feel about someone or something predicts your behaviour towards them. However, Harris Chaiklin at the University of Maryland has looked at some studies and found that feelings and thoughts don’t necessarily predict behaviour. In general, your attitudes will be internally consistent only when the behaviour is easy, and when those around you hold similar beliefs. That’s why, for example, many people say they believe in the benefits of recycling or taking exercise, but don’t behave in line with their expressed views. It takes awareness, effort and courage to go beyond merely stating you believe something is a good idea, and also acting in line with your beliefs. In fact, one of the most effective ways to change an attitude is to start by behaving as if you already feel and think in the ways you’d prefer to feel and think. Take some time this week to reflect on your attitudes, to think about what you believe and why. Is there anything you might do well to consider a privilege rather than a burden? If so, start behaving – right now – as if that is the case.
Credit: Linda Blair for The Telegraph, 1 February 2018.