The other day as I was driving to an appointment I heard Kim Hill, long-running National Radio New Zealand personality, interview 88 year old Sheila Natusch – artist, historian, natural science researcher and writer of over 30 books including ‘Animals of New Zealand’. http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2597151
I was glad my trip was long enough to hear the whole interview. There were many fascinating elements to Sheila’s long life but the thing that stuck out for me was her attitude to life.
Kim asked about her health.
‘I’ve got cancer of the liver but I ignore it. When you get to 88 your number’s going to be up sooner or later. It’s nothing.’
Kim: ‘Is that really what you think?’
‘Yes [emphatically]. It’s nothing. I’ve always been a very lucky person’.
She then went on to entertain with stories about a recent turn she’d had which resulting in her falling over ‘and the road came up to meet me’; how she coped with her husband’s onset of Alzheimer’s; and the time her private access cable car broke down half-way up the very steep hill to her Wellington home and the hours it took to eventually scramble up on hands and knees to reach her house, phone and help.
Over the course of the interview she referred multiple times to how lucky she was. And she was clearly very sincere.
Message to self: Look for the bright side – it’s always there for the looking.
I then began to think of how attitude affects everything we touch.
A business example:
Roger and Bruce were both very busy divisional managers of a large building company. They had similar sized teams, similar industry knowledge and experience and even similar results. But the impact of their different work styles, on their staff as well as their personal lives, was very different.
Roger was a stress bunny. Everything he did appeared to be urgent. A constant underlying sense of anxiety followed him like an invisible slipstream. This of course impacted the people he came into contact with. The sense of stress spilled over into his family life as well.
Bruce, on the other hand, almost always gave people the impression that he had all the time in the world for them. He was a pleasure to work with and got excellent results, seemingly with no fuss and bother. And he enjoyed his personal life and recreational pursuits.
A major cause of Roger’s problem was his mind-set. He expected everything to be difficult and it showed in his language, the way he sat, the way he held himself, how he greeted people.
Can we change, if we tend to the negative or more pessimistic frame of mind? I personally believe so.
When researching to write my first book ‘Getting A Grip On Time’ I read the autobiography of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). At various times he was a printer, philosopher, diplomat, writer, inventor and American politician. He was also sometimes called ‘the wisest American’.
He described his young self as a self-centered, opinionated and sarcastic young man with a very few friends, all of similar ilk. Not liking what he saw in the mirror of self-reflection he decided to change.
He bought a note-book and wrote down 12 areas of his life in which he wanted to improve. He wisely figured that he wouldn’t try and improve all areas at the same time, that one trait per week was about as much as he could handle.
He drew up a chart and developed a recording system which he updated daily, in order to keep a check on himself. At the end of each week he stopped focusing on that week’s trait and moved on to the next one. His thinking was that, even if he wasn’t actively focusing on something, over a period of time he would improve on all fronts. History proved him right. He kept the system going for many years and you can see those notebooks still today in the Library of Congress.
A couple of other methods to try:
Actively decide to look for the positive in each situation. It becomes easier with practice. You might give permission to a friend or colleague to highlight the times you fall back into old habits.
- Change your language. Instead of sighing and thinking: ‘Another problem’ what about ‘another opportunity’.
Instead of: ‘I’m always behind with my work’ try ‘I’m getting better at keeping up with demands’.
Rather than: ‘I wish the staff could sort out their own problems’, what about ‘How can I help this person learn to manage this situation without my help?’
What do you think? What has been your experience? Do you believe people can shift their attitude, with a subsequent better quality of life, contentment and improved results in areas of importance to themselves?