“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” ―
Attitude is a choice.
My dad would always say this, his knee bent before me, grasping my shoulders as he forced my eyes up to meet his. There was never anger in his eyes, sometimes admonishment, but mostly I found truth residing within their green depths.
He knew something that I had yet to learn in life, the hard lesson that we cannot always change our circumstances, but we can always change our dispositions.
I would usually cry, wishing instead that my dad would just fix the problem for me, commiserate with me, or tell me that I was justified in my anger at the world and the people within it. But just as he never slapped a band-aid over a sliver, he refused to cover my pain, instead encouraging me to face it, to confront it, and finally, to dig it out from myself.
He did not tell me to ignore my pain. No one heals by burying it away, leaving it to fester until it consumes you from the inside out. Changing your attitude is not about slapping on a happy face, hoping that the depression, the anxiety, the despair will magically disappear if you pretend it never existed.
No. Attitude is not an act, but a choice.
To change your attitude, you have to shift your thinking, to intentionally decide to believe differently. The mind is a powerful thing. It shapes your life, determines your actions, all based on how your mind chooses to view your circumstances, your thoughts directing your path.
However strong our minds are however, our emotions are often stronger. We allow how we feel about something to decide what we should believe about that something. For example, when I have a bad day of writing, where the words are lacking, my motivation is crumbling, and I did not accomplish my goals for the day, I often believe that I am a poor writer. I don’t just believe that what I wrote that day was poor, but that I am an inadequate author to my core.
We often let our emotions define our thoughts, our beliefs, and our very selves. This is dangerous ground, and one that society falls into constantly.
We must master our minds, choosing how we will view something, despite what we feel.
It is waking up daily, choosing to master each thought. It is intentional, it is continuous, and it is perseverance. Sometimes we can’t do it alone, we may need a counselor, possibly even medication to help us in this. Do not be ashamed, instead, be proud that you are doing what you need to do to grow and heal.
As Paul wrote to the people of Philipi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8
We need to focus our minds on things that are good, instead of the black hole of discouragement, whose pull is so strong, that we find ourselves unable to escape its swirling depths.
One of my main characters, Kyla Bealash, Ky to all of her friends (my absolute favorite character, sorry Tal), is in one of these black holes. Her circumstances are dark, unfair, and poisonous. She was born into a world that was so much more painful than others, so much more unloved and unwanted. She believes that she has no value, no worth, and no purpose, because that is what her life has taught her to believe.
Through the entire book, she faces challenges; hunger, kidnapping, imprisionment, magical enemies, and death, yet none of them are more central to her character, more imperative in her development, than her internal struggle with how she views herself.
External conflicts in a story are relatively easy to overcome, you are either physically strong enough or you are not, you are cunning enough to escape or you are not, you either die or you don’t, and that’s that. But internal struggles, the attitude that a character chooses to embody, is more convoluted, more of a mystery, and so much more satisfying when they finally overcome it!
What will make your characters finally decide to believe in themselves? Take my favorite character of all time, Kaladian Stormblessed from the Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It is not until the climax of the story, when he finally decides to throw off the chains of his mind, all of the false truths he has believed in himself for so long, that he fights and is victorious, saving the lives of hundreds.
Your attitude doesn’t just effect you.
Just like Kaladian, if he had allowed his circumstances (which were absolutely horrible by the way, if you haven’t read the book) to determine his disposition, he would have been useless, a character left to molder into his own anguish, never taking the leap to save all of the people that he did.
When we are caught up in the black hole, swirling around and around, drowning in the emotions of our unfair circumstances, we often look inward, growing selfish in our obsession with our own despair. So take a lesson from Kaladian and throw off your circumstances, choose to change how to view yourself, so that you can start to help others!