Audio: Consciously Choose Your Attitude [Time – 17:10, File Size – 16.1 MB]
Your attitude is that collection of feelings that you bring to a situation or to a relationship. If the prevailing attitude of your project team is negative, cynical, or hopeless, then there’s a good chance your project results and work processes will reflect that bad energy. According to successful CEO Gary Crittenden, “Your own negative attitude as well at the negative attitude of the team you’re working with can be detrimental to the success of your work.” On the other hand, if you and your team feel positive and enthusiastic, then you’re likely to have a better work experience and produce higher quality work products. So a project team’s attitude can make or break the project. But what can you do about something as intangible as your attitude?
In this post I hope to show you how you can consciously choose your attitude instead of simply allowing it to overtake you as a collection of random feelings. And when you bring consciousness to your attitude, you can change the very texture of your life. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you live in darkness or light, in a field of crackling tension or a glow of enthusiastic energy.
Some Quotations to Illustrate
Here are some powerful quotes to illustrate. The first is from Victor Frankl, a man who was stripped of everything as he witnessed his family abused, tortured, and killed by their Nazi captors. Enduring incredible miseries, he was ultimately led to this realization:
“…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.”
– Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning
Then there’s this from Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Finally, Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus writes in The Enchiridion:
“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
The message of these and many other great philosophers and teachers is this: We have the power to choose our attitudes. But how can we apply this message in our everyday lives?
Some Examples: The Lineman, The Farmer, The Trucker, & The Storm Chaser
Consider these examples. I’m standing outside on a typical summer day. Off on the distant horizon, I see a wall of huge, dark clouds forming. There is a thick breeze and a slight smell of wetness and ozone in the air. The sun disappears. I hear a far-off rumble. Now, if ever there was an external event that speaks to my ancient lizard brain, it’s this approaching storm. A sense of anticipation wells up within me… even excitement. What will this storm bring?
For purposes of this discussion, a better question might be: What attitude do I bring to this storm? As the son of an electric company lineman, I feel myself anticipating the destructive forces of the lightning and thunder and winds that so often took my father out with his crews when power lines were knocked down, leaving hospitals and supermarkets and ordinary homeowners without the electricity they depended upon. So I might recall and begin to feel the fear of a kid who is hoping his father is going to return home safely after he battles the elements.
On the other hand, I might have the more hopeful attitude of some of my Pennsylvania farmer neighbors who, let’s say, have been enduring a long drought and have been watching their crops wither without life-giving rains. For these folks, the attitude that manifests is more likely to be eager anticipation or even enthusiasm. They are hoping the rain will renew their crops and save them from financial loss.
Then there’s the long-haul trucker, speeding down a highway that disappears into this storm on a mission to deliver his load on schedule. He’s seen lots of big rigs overturned by similar storms, so his attitude is one of cautious calculation (maybe even a little frustration), as he tries to figure out how much risk the storm poses and whether he should keep moving, change his route, or simply park some place and let the storm pass.
Finally, there is the storm chaser whose goal is to photograph the amazing natural forces unleashed by such storms. Seeing the thunderheads gather, her attitude is one of eager anticipation as she scans the horizon for that next opportunity to capture a breath-taking photo.
Here’s the point: The storm is a neutral event. A meteorologist could simply define it in terms of the natural forces that are converging to create it. The individuals experiencing this storm, however, bring to it their own values, dreams, hopes, and trepidations. Whether they experience it as an object of fear, a welcome event, or a nuisance to be dealt with depends entirely on their choice of attitude. And we all have the power to choose any attitude. We have the power to give the external event any meaning.
Bring Your Own Meaning…
As Brian Johnson says in his PhilosphersNotes on The Diamond Cutter, by Geshe Michael Roach :
“NOTHING has meaning outside of that which we give it. Nothing has any *absolute* meaning because, if it did, then EVERYONE would experience it EXACTLY the same, ALL THE TIME. Everything, as the Buddhists say, is ‘empty’ of meaning.”
So… it’s what you bring to the world that determines your experience of it. This means that if you think your life or your relationship or your world is a mess, then you are most likely choosing to put the pieces of your puzzle together in such a way as to support your thesis that life is a mess. Remember, even Victor Frankl, after suffering incredible torture and abuse, found tremendous power in his discovery that he had the ability to choose his attitude. He didn’t need to feel defeated. He could instead feel his freedom to choose.
And, ultimately, this freedom to choose our attitude and choose our response can have a huge impact on our overall happiness. Consider this from Marci Shimoff’s book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out
“Our ability to respond to what happens to us–our response-ability–dramatically affects our happiness. [Happy people] respond to the events in their lives in a way that supports their inner peace and well-being.”
So the choice is yours: You can choose to describe your world and external events from an attitude that is negative and grim. Or you can choose an attitude that supports positive engagement, positive outcomes, and a generally positive state of mind.
A PM Example: A Day at the Races…
Here’s an example from my own project management experience that illustrates how an entire team can choose a positive attitude in questionable circumstances. A while back, I was managing a team that was producing a large sales training session. Part of this session — a fairly expensive part — was to be a somewhat whimsical video that involved some sophisticated post-production efforts to create visual effects. As the video evolved from media treatment to finished script, we all began to see it in our minds’ eyes and imagine it completed. We were really looking forward to experiencing the finished product.
Unfortunately, our team’s enthusiastic creativity had added a few visual effects to this video that threatened to put us way over our budget. It looked like we would either have to abandon our visual effects or ask the client for more money to pay for them. Fortunately, before we had to make this tough choice, our ever-resourceful video producer came up with a creative solution: Instead of doing the post-production in the Los Angeles area, where our project was underway, we would go to Seattle, WA, where exactly the same visual effects could be produced without paying the LA studios’ high prices. Even when our travel expenses were included, we would still be able to get everything we needed and not go over budget. It sounded like a perfect solution.
There was only one catch: We would be working in the Seattle studio during the lower-cost “graveyard” shift – from 11 at night to 7 in the morning. Some of the team, myself included, thought this was an awful idea. Who could think straight and make good editing decisions in the middle of the night? And what were we supposed to do in our “off” hours during the day? Again, our resourceful producer had the answer: We’d go to a horse-racing track he enjoyed. Well, from my perspective, this sounded like another awful idea (I don’t gamble and I don’t know anything about horse-racing). But I really wanted to get our video done and keep all of our hoped-for special effects, so I grudgingly agreed to the plan and kept my brooding and complaining to myself.
As it turned out, the entire trip was a great success. The night shift at the post-production house allowed us full access to sophisticated equipment and processes that would never have been available to us in the normal business hours. And our trips to the racetrack were a truly pleasant surprise. It was a beautiful place, set among the deep green pines with migrating geese in the infield. And it turned out to be fun people watching and learning about horse racing!
My initial attitude of begrudgingly accepting this whole experience as a necessary inconvenience and a burden cast a bit of a dark shadow over our work. However, after I discovered the positive reality of our situation and I made a dramatic shift in my attitude from grumpy-negative to enthusiastic-positive, things went really well. My dreaded, burdensome, night-shift video production became interesting, professionally-fulfilling, and even fun! With my new attitude, the whole experience was more positive and meaningful. I only regret that I hadn’t chosen this attitude from the very beginning! Had I done so, I’d have been able to see the whole trip through this positive lens and the whole team could have shared in this good energy much earlier.
And here’s a footnote: The result of all this was a video that not only delighted our client, but worked well as part of the sales training and ultimately won many awards from various professional film producer groups for its unique production techniques. As an added bonus, our project team had become closer by sharing some interesting travel adventures.
Overall, the most important lesson I learned from this experience was this: I have the power — and as project manager, maybe even the obligation — to find and choose an attitude that will make things better for myself, my client and my team. So these days I work hard to look for, and find, the best in situations. Rather than simply allowing circumstances to choose my attitude for me, I try to wake up and become conscious of my attitude and its effect on the people around me. Then, if necessary, I change it.
You Gotta Wake Up!
In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle discusses the concept of “awakened doing.” Tolle says:
“There are three modalities of awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm… You need… to make sure that one of them operates when you are engaged in anything at all… From the most simple task to the most complex, if you are not in a state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”
Think about that:
“ … if you are not in a state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm… you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”
If you’re working with a project team, you definitely don’t want to create suffering if you can help it!
From Tolle’s perspective, the very least you can do to make a bad situation better is to simply accept it, without fighting it or complaining about it or giving it drama and negative energy. Then, through this calm acceptance, you can use the energy that would otherwise be consumed fighting against your circumstances to more effectively find a way to improve the situation. What’s more, you might discover some enjoyment in the situation, as I did in my Seattle trip. And finally, from this place of enjoyment, you might even develop a genuine enthusiasm for what’s happening. So in the case of my Seattle editing experience, I initially went from acceptance to enjoyment. And today I look forward with enthusiasm to the time when we might make another video-editing/horse racing trip!
So… Consciously Choose Your Attitude
The key to all this is conscious choice. When you find yourself faced with a difficult situation, you must be conscious of your power to pick and choose an attitude that defuses negativity and encourages positive, creative engagement. In this way, you and your project team will be much better able to accept the situation and maybe even turn it into a victory of some sort.
So how does your team respond to challenges, disappointments and set-backs? Do they spend a lot of time and energy on anger or resentment? Do they (do you?) understand that while you can’t always control what happens to you, you can always control how you respond? In other words, do you all realize that your attitude is a choice… it’s not your destiny!
Reflect on these questions:
• What’s the overall mood of our project team? Are team members (or am I) feeling resentful, angry, victimized, or some other negative attitude?
• Can we, as a team, choose another attitude?
Ask your team:
• What negative attitudes are we manifesting?
• Do these negative attitudes make it easier or harder to complete our work?
• How, specifically, might we change our negative attitudes? What are some positive results, positive circumstances, or positive events that we can focus on that make these negative attitudes seem petty and or even silly?
Project Manager Challenges
• Observe your project team members and listen with your heart for ways that negative attitudes might be coloring their perceptions or distorting their interactions.
• Get creative: Figure out how you can “turn around” negative attitudes by re-characterizing them in terms of a “count-your-blessings” strategy. (For example, let’s say you get a flat tire on the way to an important meeting and were forced to miss it. You can stew and be angry or you can count your blessings that you are important enough to be needed in that meeting and that you have a car that will transport you places most of the time!)
• Let team members vent their anger and frustration… then help them find the good in the project. Help them find ways that the “glass is half full!”
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- The Enchiridion by Epictetus
- The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach
- Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff
- A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
- Find some of these works on Amazon: