Everyone has the ability to choose their attitude, about everything!

This is one of the most profound things I’ve ever been told. I didn’t believe it at first, partly because I didn’t recognize the difference between attitudes and emotions. Emotions are raw and immediate; they are developed in a very deep part of the brain that has a very strong connection to the entire body, most recognizably through the flight or fight response. Everyone knows the feeling of pumping adrenaline making your heart race, and the feeling of cortisol making your vision as keen as a hawk’s. Rushing blood to your muscles is a good thing if you’re running away from a fire or something is trying to eat you, but it’s not so great when your biggest worry is getting cut off in traffic.

The part of the brain that allows for conscious control is not nearly as direct or strong as that driving emotions, so making decisions when you’re emotional isn’t easy. The neural pathways take longer to get to the motor center, and that control has to be developed. Understanding this is a good start to choosing your attitudes. I’m not saying that getting mad or acting on that anger is wrong, but making the conscious choice to act is very different than flying off the handle.

Most everyone would say that they want to live a happier life, but if you ask them how, they probably don’t have many ideas about making that a reality. If you want to spend more time happy, start by spending less time angry. It almost seems too simple, doesn’t it? Choosing your attitude is then the first step to spending less time angry. Simply put, the less time you spend angry the more time you’ll have to be happy.

Just earlier today (when I wrote this), a pickup ran a stop sign and came inches from side-swiping me and my friend on my motorcycle. I’ve never been in a motorcycle accident and it was my friend’s first time riding, so I was understandably infuriated. Before I could process what was happening, I grabbed the clutch, squeezed the front brake, and slammed on the rear brake. The engine raced, the back tire came to a screeching halt, and my friend’s helmet hit the back of mine. The truck luckily came to a stop as well, and the driver and I exchanged looks. I wanted to take off my helmet, scream a barrage of obscenities, and smash my helmet through his window. As immediately gratifying as that might have been, I knew it would only cause me more grief in the long run, so I instead chose to let my disapproving look linger, and went on my way.

Learning to choose your attitude isn’t automatic; it takes time, it takes practice during smaller events, and it’s not always easy or fun. I’ve been practicing for the better part of a decade, and I admittedly don’t always get it right. The next time you spill a drink or drop food on the floor, take a breath, pick it up, and laugh at your silly self. In fact, while you’re down there pick up a little bit of someone else’s mess too. The next time you and a friend get in a fight, realize that you might have set the tone when you came into the room vocal chords blazing; apologize and ask to start again.

Remember that thoughts become things, so choosing positive ones makes a world of difference. In turn, you’ll get to decide what kind of life you lead.

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