The other day, one of my kiddos (who will remain nameless) needed an attitude adjustment. Maybe some of you with moody ‘tweens can relate to this phenomenon. While his behavior may have been age-appropriate, it didn’t sit well with me. He was picking on his siblings and then complaining about not being liked. He hadn’t done his chores but felt compelled to point out how messy the house was growing. He didn’t have anything nice to say and, quite frankly, I was getting fed up.
Life is too busy and too short to waste time grumbling. So with diminished patience, I called him in for a talk. I said, “Look. You are being a grump and I don’t like it.” And then I issued a challenge. This particular child has expressed a desire for something more than PB&J in his sack lunch, so I crafted a fitting incentive. I said, “If you can be cheerful and happy from right now until tomorrow morning, I will have a special treat for your lunch.”
For the rest of the day this child was cheery and helpful. As a result, he went to bed happy and he woke up happy. And do you know what? He got a delicious Little Debbie snack in his lunch–and a delightful sermon.
“Do you know what you just showed me?” I asked him. He shook his head back and forth in response, moving toward the door to escape. “You taught me that I can buy your good nature with swiss roll two-packs. But more importantly, you taught me that your Attitude Is A Choice! Whenever you have a bad attitude, you can choose to think and feel and act differently. It is always up to you!”
Sometimes we think our attitudes are attached with super glue. But the truth is that they are more loosely attached, like with the sticky stuff on sticky notes. That stuff definitely sticks, but doesn’t take much to remove.
Consider this scenario (which is, of course, hypothetical). An otherwise excellent mother is hollering at her less than cooperative children using her mean-mommy voice. She is interrupted by a ringing telephone. What will she do? She will change her demeanor instantly and answer the phone with a sweet voice (a voice my children might call the “phone voice” if, in fact, this scenario ever played out in my home … which I neither confirm nor deny). Aren’t we moms smart to give this example of deliberate attitude substitution to our children. 😉 We illustrate, just like my swiss roll-loving son, that attitude is a choice!
Stephen R. Covey taught, “We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them.” If we are not these things, what are we? Well, we are agents with power to act. As such, we experience feelings, moods and thoughts and it becomes a lifelong quest to learn to control them. A consistent positive attitude requires a high level of self-mastery. I’m not even close to there yet, but I am working on it every day.
Wherever there is a stimulus, there is a natural response. The natural response tends to be equal and opposite (thanks Newton). For instance, when your teenage boy accidentally breaks the window with a baseball after recently breaking the television with a baseball, the natural response is anger probably originating from frustration (with the child) and worry (about finances and your child’s possible future in the state penitentiary). This natural response comes from the “natural man.” But what have we been taught to do with the natural man? To put him off–or, we could say, to make him wait. In between the stimulus and the response, there is a space. If we put off the natural man in that space, we can make a choice to react in a manner that is consistent with our values.
In the space between stimulus and response, we can analyze our initial feelings, possible responses and resulting outcomes. Then we can literally choose our thoughts and emotions. In the case with my son (I mean the hypothetical broken window scenario), I could use these sticky notes to inform the process.
“I could feel frustrated about this, but I choose to feel calm, composed and peaceful.”
“I could feel worried about this, but I choose to feel full of faith, reassured and secure.”
Whether or not I handled the situation in this manner … well, it’s still a good idea. And now that I’ve thought it through, I’m certain I’ll handle the next broken window better. If we visualize our emotions on sticky notes, it becomes easier to detach some or change the wording on others.
We can do this if only we try. And try. And try again!
Sometimes I think we feel compelled to ride out bad emotions. We wouldn’t want to short-change legitimate feelings nor would we want to suppress their expression. And sometimes we want people to know that they were just plain wrong, even if it hurts us. It is a part of life to feel bad at times, but it makes no sense to choose misery when happiness is readily available. It is literally an attitude adjustment away.
We can choose to be cheery to get a Little Debbie Swiss Roll or because it enhances our life like nothing else can. Kinda a no-brainer, don’t ya think. Now pardon me while I go clean up chocolate frosting that is smeared all over the kitchen floor. Cheerfully. Patiently. Lovingly. With gritted teeth…