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Does My Attitude Matter?

Our attitude consists of our thoughts and emotions regarding specific stimuli. In plain terms, our attitude is made up of our outlook on the world and the resulting consequences. For example, it is common for people to have a different attitude while at work on a Monday versus a Friday. They may then behave in a more motivated manner, feel happier, and engage with others more regularly. On a granular level, these days are very similar; however, our focus is different. On Mondays, we are more often giving substantial thought to the days ahead of us and the work they might entail. On Fridays, we are likely viewing the day as a singular unit and as a final hurdle to overcome before feeling the relief of a few days off. While both days will likely present their own unique stressors, our unique outlooks influence our experiences.

But why do we do this? In simplest terms, we tell ourselves stories. We fill in the blanks. Our interpretations in life are intended to help us understand the world around us, but it (the interpretation) is not always accurate and may not reflect reality. And these stories add up; without acknowledgment of contradictory information which disproves our beliefs, these stories can become perceived facts within our own lives. We say that "people cut us off in traffic because they're bad drivers;" but is that likely? Or is it more likely that others make mistakes, just as we do? Furthermore, we may begin acting upon these inaccurate beliefs and the lens through which we see the world can then significantly contribute to our attitude on a long-term basis.

Therapy can focus on our attitude; more specifically, it regularly focuses on gaining insight into our thinking patterns (in particular, cognitive biases) and how we can affect change so that our beliefs are more accurate and functional. A frequent byproduct of challenging our thinking patterns is thinking in a more positive manner. Now, special attention is warranted here as therapy regularly receives the inaccurate description of “learning to think positively.” Thinking in a more positive or optimistic manner may result from progress within treatment, but it is not the intended goal. Accurate and functional thought patterns are intended to replace inaccurate and dysfunctional thought patterns. These specific thought patterns reflect our self-talk, which is better described as our own personal narrative on life. For example, the belief "I try to be a good friend" is likely more accurate and functional than the belief "I'm a bad friend." However, we are not reinforcing a belief such as "I'm a perfect friend" as we would be unable to find evidence of such a belief. Accuracy and functionality will likely lead to increased positivity, but it is not the intended goal.

While more accurate and functional self-talk is an intended goal within therapy, it can also improve your physiological health! Research has revealed that for those with a family history of heart disease, a positive outlook (i.e., more accurate and functional self-talk) led to a 33% lower likelihood of having a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within 5-25 years (as compared to those with a more negative outlook/more unhelpful self-talk). This finding was also maintained for those with a family history of risk factors for coronary artery disease. This isn’t to say we simply need to “cheer up” or listen to statements representing toxic positivity. But we do need to identify that our self-talk, when accurate and functional, serves as an effective method of stress management.

Our mental health impacts our attitude, our physical health, and our day-to-day experience. But, it's never too late to work toward growth. Be proactive in building skills that you can apply for years to come. Roswell Psychology is here to help you build the skills necessary to thrive. Reach out today if you are interested in a complimentary consultation.

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