John Maxwell: Making Attitude Your Greatest Asset

UPDATED: June 8, 2010
PUBLISHED: June 8, 2010

One of the things that allow an individual to become successful is his or her attitude. I believe that successful people don’t have any fewer problems than unsuccessful people; they just have a different mindset in dealing with them. Last month we talked about what your attitude can and cannot do for you. This month we move to how you can make your attitude your greatest asset. Making your attitude your greatest asset begins when you choose to have the right attitude. Once that decision is made, the following steps will help you achieve an attitude that will be a positive difference-maker in your life. Evaluate Your Present Attitude I think most people, myself included, are prone to go for the quick fix instead of taking a moment to step back and evaluate the best option before we act. A good illustration of this point is the logging industry. When logs get jammed in the river, an amateur logger will only work on one log at a time in an attempt to free the logs. Whereas a seasoned logger will look along the river for a high point where he can get a bird’s-eye view of where the logjam is, so he can go right to the area that is causing the problem, saving valuable time as a result. Sometimes when we evaluate ourselves and we look at things we do not like, there is a tendency for us to overengage in a lot of activity. What I have discovered is that time spent on the front end thinking about these issues will allow me to get right to the heart of the problem. Think long, act on the short is my philosophy. And just like the amateur logger who only works on what he sees in front of him, if we don’t take the time to evaluate, we will create extra work and grief for ourselves. There are three stages of evaluation that I have found to be very helpful. Identify Problem Feelings—What attitudes make you feel the most negative about yourself? Usually feelings can be sensed before the problem is clarified. Write them down. Identify Problem Behavior—What attitudes cause you the most problems when dealing with others? Write them down. Identify Problem Thinking—We are the sum of our thoughts. “As a man thinks within himself, so he is.” What thoughts control your mind? Although this is the first step in correcting attitude problems, these are not as easy to identify as the first two. Have a Desire to Change No choice will determine the success of your attitude change more than desiring to change. When all else fails, desire alone can keep you heading in the right direction. Many people have climbed over insurmountable obstacles to make themselves better people when they realized that change is possible if they really want it badly enough. My good friend and mentor Fred Smith said it best: “You are the way you are because that’s the way you want to be. If you really wanted to be any different, you would be in the process of changing right now.” Change Your Attitude by Changing Your Thoughts That which holds our attention determines our actions. We are where we are because of the dominating thoughts that occupy our minds. William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” Major premise: We can control our thoughts. Minor premise: Our feelings come from our thoughts. Conclusion? We can control our feelings by learning to change one thing: the way we think. It is that simple. Our feelings come from our thoughts. Therefore, we can change them by changing our thought patterns. Stan Musial, “Stan the Man,” was one of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball. One day he came into the St. Louis Cardinals locker room where he met oneof the average-talent players on his team. The player turned to Stan and said, “I feel great today, Stan. My family is doing well; I’m feeling good healthwise. In fact, Stan, I feel like I can get two hits today. Do you ever feel that way?” Stan looked at him very positively and replied, “Well, yeah. I feel that way every day. That’s how I think.” Stan was surprised that everyone didn’t feel like they could get three to four hits every day. What he realized was there is a relationship between how we think and how we feel. Attitudes are nothing more than habits of thought. This cycle can be positive or negative. The process for developing a habit, good or bad, is the same. It is as easy to form a habit of succeeding as it is to succumb to the habit of failure. Observe the following two cycles and see the difference. Manage Your Attitude Daily Maintaining the right attitude is easier than regaining the right attitude. Elbert Hubbard said, “Be pleasant until 10 o’clock in the morning, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.” Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” Take Responsibility for Your Attitude This reminds me of my early years as a pastor in Lancaster, Ohio, where I served for eight years. If it snowed on Saturday night, the roads were going to be icy and church attendance suffered. I remember one evening it started snowing. The weathermen said it would continue for the next four to five hours. I kept pacing back and forth in front of the window, and my wife, Margaret, said, “John, relax, there’s nothing you can do about the snow.” All throughout the evening she encouraged me to relax, until finally she asked what was so important about the sermon I had to preach the next morning. I said, “I’m speaking on rejoicing in the Lord always.” I’ll never forget her answer. She looked at me and said, “John, you need to change your attitude or change your sermon, one of the two. That attitude and sermon are not compatible.” Well, obviously, I would rather change my attitude, but sometimes I had to change my sermon. The first rule in winning is don’t beat yourself. Your attitude is totally in your control. You can’t control the length of your life—but you can control its width and depth. You can’t control the contour of your face—but you can control its expression. You can’t control the weather—but you can control the atmosphere of your mind.