“Your attitude, not your aptitude will determine your altitude”
– Zig Ziglar

The first time I heard this quote was in secondary school. I think it was a Friday morning assembly, cause that’s when they had longer ceremonies and sometimes a teacher would give a speech. This was one of those times – his name is Mr. Lee Bun Chuan, the Assistant Principal of our school.

I was mighty impressed, mainly because of how eloquent the choice of words is – attitude, aptitude, altitude – it sounded like someone put a lot of thought into it. But it also left a deep impression on myself. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s easy. I just need to have a good attitude and I’ll be a successful person someday’.

At that point, good attitude = being an obedient boy = study hard, do my homework, score well in exams, don’t go cyber cafes. Yes, I was a pretty nerdy, goody two-shoes kinda teen.

The next time I came across this word prominently is when I started getting into meditation. My teacher taught us the Right Attitude to Meditation. Lo and behold, there are 23 points in this little booklet that had nothing to do with studying hard! More importantly, it challenged my idea of what ‘attitude’ means.

The Complexity of Attitude

In the course of my work as a learning facilitator (or trainer, if you’d like), one of the common comments I get from clients on their own students are, “Why is their attitude so bad?” and “Can you help to change their attitude?” On further probing on what ‘bad attitude’ meant to them, it’s usually along the lines of:

  • Not paying attention in class, i.e. Using phones in class, going in and out of class, talking in class
  • Lack of basic manners and courtesy, i.e. Passing by Mr. Client with earphones on without any greeting or acknowledgement
  • Lack of responsibility & initiative in solving problems by themselves, i.e. Complaining when given too much assignments by various teachers and they can’t cope with it, breaking down when their class project encounters an unforeseen obstacle
  • Not adhering to house rules even after multiple reminders, i.e. Leaving the classroom messy and disorderly, not clocking in their attendance

Herein lies the complexity of attitude. Not only is it being used to describe all sort of physical, mental & emotional behaviours, but it is also largely based on individual opinions. Agreeable behaviours are considered ‘good attitude’ while disagreeable behaviours are considered ‘bad attitude’. And yet, everyone seems to think that there is a list of good vs bad attitude that is universally accepted by everyone (spoiler alert: there is none, only the list you have in your head).

So, stop being a good boy?

Like many things in life, then answer is… it depends. There may not be a universal good vs bad attitude, but there is a good and bad attitude for you. This is a simple guideline:

Good Attitude = Helpful to you, your aspirations and your long term well-being
Bad Attitude = Not helpful to all the above

For example, if you are someone who wants to have good health and live a long life, taking up smoking would be considered bad attitude and you’ll be shunned by all your yoga friends. But if you are an undercover cop who wants to penetrate a street gang, taking up smoking might just get you a raise or even save your life.

Or how about raising your hands and asking questions during class. If the teacher’s attitude is ‘I just want to finish the syllabus & go home’ your raised hand would be considered as a disruptive attitude while another teacher who sincerely wants to help you learn, they would welcome your raised hand with open arms (hand puns, anyone?). Trust me, I’ve had the good fortunes of being taught by the first teacher.

Or the act of sitting still all day and doing nothing. Your Mother would certainly disapprove and gets increasingly passive-aggressive at your nonchalant attitude. But your meditation teacher who has been trying to get you to calm the monkey mind might think otherwise!

But, what is attitude? Disclaimer: I’m no expert in this, but I think it’s helpful to break it down into 3 general components:

  • View: A mental perception of the world. Also commonly known as mindset or beliefs.
  • Intention: A desire to respond in a certain way. Can be conscious or subconscious.
  • Action: Behaviours that reflect our Views and Intentions. Which creates our results.

Note: This definition of ‘attitude’ is different from the one share by my meditation teacher. This definition is more ‘layman’.

Tips to change an attitude

1. Raise your Awareness

You want to be a better human being? Good on you! Know that it isn’t easy, but it’s possible if you stick with it. First thing to know is that all change begins with awareness. Start by recognising your current attitude without trying to suppress it or change it. Recognise what are your views, intentions and actions surrounding the topic you are working with.

For example, if you tend to get angry easily when someone cuts you off on the road, first notice your reactions. What happens in your body? What thoughts come to you? What feelings arises? Without judgement. Try to stay away from saying things like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking like this!’

2. Investigate your Views

When your mind is calm, you may consider investigating your views. Ask yourself: What is it that riles me up so much when someone cuts me off on the road? It’s worth mentioning that this is a meditative practice. So, we are not trying to analyse or break down some neuroscience here. Rather, we are just searching for the truth in our hearts. So, let the answers come naturally to you. It may take 2 seconds, it may take 2 days, it may even take 2 years. Self-discovery does not have a clock.

3. Be Mindful of your Actions

The next time someone cuts you off on the road, try to simply notice whatever happens inside you. It could be feelings of anger, anxiety or unfairness. Pay more attention there. And if there’s a desire to show the middle finger, notice that desire too. Notice how that desire makes you feel. Then, you can remind yourself of your intention. What kind of person do you want to be in the long run? What response would align with that?

These tips are an oversimplified version of meditation – there are many more nuances that can only be addressed when you experience it for yourself. Just know that it takes time and effort to change an attitude as it’s usually something very deep-rooted in a person. But, it can also be one of the most spiritual and fulfilling journeys you take in your life.

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