Emotion, Attitude Translated

attitude-emotion-state-modificationemotion-attitude-matrix-1How a good attitude can modify emotional inputs

Recently I have been attempting to maintain as positive of an attitude as I can regardless of emotional state. To preface this I must admit that my life currently is in a state of extreme change and emotions have had a tendency towards the lesser desired. To accomplish this I have set goals to write and perform positive tasks throughout each day as a sort of self-experiment to see how it might affect the outcome of my actions and overall sense of being. This article is a part of the experiment attempting to detail the definitions of attitude and explore the interaction between attitude and overall mental state.

I must disclose that I have no psychology experience (other than that of a patient) and anything in this article should be taken only as my experiences documented as I see them. In a way, as a recovering alcoholic this article is also an attempt to maintain honesty with myself as it relates to my emotions, my attitude, and my actions through this experiment.

Digging in I feel it imperative to define what I believe emotion, attitude, and mental state are. Without correlating definition this article has no direct context and will inevitably be misread.

Emotion: For context I am defining emotion as any raw overall and direct feeling over a mid to long term meaning more than just minutes. These feelings typically last several hours or days to several months or even years. By direct I mean that these feelings are singular in nature and not a varietal combination of feelings.

Attitude: Again for context, I am defining attitude as a more immediate sense of how things are going or are going to go within the short term. Attitude is much more dynamic in nature and can change quickly. Typically, an attitude is held for hours and sometimes days or months with practice.

Overall Mentality: I would define overall mentality as the immediate sense of being or the absolute of how one is feeling overall. Overall mentality directs how we interact with the world around us and think as it relates to “right now”.

So now that we have our definitions let me begin with my overall thought process in how these interact, we will dig a bit deeper later. Again, as this is a self-experiment I will be using myself as an example for context.

The past few months I have bounced between two primary emotions: fear and sadness. More recently I have started this idea of maintaining a new attitude: positive. This is to say that I can be sad and positive at the same time. Originally. I would frame my mental state to be either one or the other however, through this self-experimentation I am finding out that they are indeed two separate items that maintain an interchangeable relationship.

I have found that emotion itself is merely an underlying constant and attitude is more of a current modifier that acts as a catalyst to create overall who I am at any given moment. Over the course of the last few weeks my attempts to maintain a positive attitude has directly affected the outcome of multiple aspects of my life:

  • Despite numerous setbacks I have persisted in my forward progress
  • I have been much more approachable
  • My overall routine has become more enjoyable
  • I have been able to maintain solid productivity
  • Etc.

I find myself examining this dynamic and piecing together a somewhat “aha” moment as it relates to my propensity to sometimes fall into periods of depression or anxiety. If I examine periods of say, depression and work backwards treating the depression as my overall mental state things get even more interesting. Working backwards, I can see that during my most recent fit of depression I had a pessimistic attitude combined with emotions of either sadness, fear, or guilt.

In the middle of the spectrum I have had times where even with a happy emotional state moments of negative emotions change the dynamics resulting in a less than desirable emotional state. What I find more interesting about this is how quickly an attitude can change due to external influences.

I can describe the times when I find myself moody by this effect. I may have the same emotions however my attitude will bounce up and down like a rubber ball. Others then describe the outward appearance of my emotional state as “moody”. Examining this personal trait illustrates how something so simple as maintaining a singular attitude can have a profound effect on day to day life.

So, I begin to ask myself a whole new question entirely, how can I maintain a consistent attitude towards the positive regardless of external influence? If I insulate myself entirely from external influence I cut myself off from possible inspiration. Opening the flood gates to let everything in allows for poor circumstances to directly change my mental state.

The goal here would be to establish some sort of effective filter allowing external influences that reinforce my target attitude, while denying other unnecessary influences. This water gets muddied when I examine how external influences and growth of intelligence are directly tied together. As part of human nature; we often associate our own opinions to be factual (or at least semi factual), when those opinions are challenged there exists opportunity for intellectual and emotional growth.

By filtering out any challenging thought, we tie ourselves to perceptions that may be one sided or inherently wrong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that drives me nuts when counselors say it to me: “What does that look like?”. If we were to erect such a filter how many layers are we building around ourselves simply to maintain an attitude?

Consider for a moment the option of “practicing” a positive attitude. If I make the conscious effort to relate maintaining a desirable attitude during an assault of undesired external influences with perhaps military boot camp; it now becomes a training exercise. With this idea in mind I can reduce the smothering nature of so many layers of filter and allow for open dialogue to change views or increase intelligence.

This is not to say that I will not be filtering at all, there are many instances of extremes both to the minus and the plus that should be avoided. Becoming overzealous and overly optimistic can often be just as damaging as having a “woe is me” vision. As far as the intensity of the need for a negativity filter, simply spend 5 minutes looking at the news and the reasoning should be directly apparent.

To avoid beating a dead horse I will close this article at this point and attempt to illustrate attitude training in a future article. As always comments and suggestions are welcomed and this article as well as its accompanying diagrams will be available for download via pdf.

~Joe

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Coping With the Perpetually Unhappy

Why be happy to be unhappy?

Yesterday I did something rather normal even for me, I went grocery shopping. I had a printable gift certificate that I wanted to use and given that the grocery store I patron had just changed point of sale systems a few weeks ago I expected a little bit of trouble. I have been through this before and at this point I can tell the checkout clerk the exact steps to take to use the gift certificate so I was pretty confident things would go smoothly.

The checkout clerk was a little frazzled to begin with, it seems he wasn’t having too good of a day. This is fine I tried to be as cheery as possible making small talk about the weather and such, my ID already on the counter for him as I was also getting cigarettes. And then the gift card, he scanned it first. This of course was the wrong way to go and it resulted in a little bit of delay which he apologized for. My response, “I’ve got more time than money no worries man” I wasn’t worried as I expected it and really I had nothing pressing and was in a particularly good mood to begin with.

Unfortunately there was a woman directly behind me who had just gotten in line that did not share such an upbeat attitude. Immediately she began to make comments about having ice cream and frozen chicken and making some of the most intense and ugly faces I have seen in quite a long time at the cashier and myself. The cashier made several attempts to assure the woman that it would not be very long she gathered all her items and turned around to use the self-checkout, giving us the finger after she moved her groceries.

This woman did not have a whole lot of groceries, I’m not sure what the hang up was, nor do I really care. In the end I was rung up and checked out, and as I walked by the woman who was still checking out at her new post all I could do was smile and say “Have a nice day mam” Having been around a lot of people in a lot of situations I have learned to identify those that seem to only be truly happy if they are unhappy. This woman fit incredibly well into this category, as she continued to grumble and make more nasty comments she proved that not only did she fit in the category, she *wanted* to be there.

I just couldn’t jive with this at the time in fact I had to actually try to keep quiet. I wanted to comment regardless of knowing that it would do no good other than to validate her anger with the idea that the world is against her. I have had times in my life where I have been in a hurry and things would hold me up and slow me down; in fact if you’ve read yesterday’s article on ADHD and have experienced any of those such symptoms you might understand how incredibly frustrating this could be to me. Still, I don’t think I have ever been so passive aggressive to throw snide comments at the world around me simply to validate my own existence. This woman’s anger actually attached to me and made me angry.

Wait… I have spent the last several days trying to spread positive attitude in the same exact way! I have set out to purposely spatter happy positive thoughts on anything and anyone I could. The confusion I have is that this woman most likely had no conscious idea that she was spreading her negativity. The dynamic is something for me to consider in depth for sure, why is it that spreading positivity is so difficult to do yet spreading negativity happens so naturally and often with very little effort?

The question of why popped into my head as I was driving home with my stock of veggies and healthy stuff (and yes the cigarettes) why would this person exert so much energy just to be sure everyone was absolutely aware of her disdain for what was a common and unintentional mishap? What does anyone stand to gain through such efforts? I began to think about times in my own past when I had acted in such ways and realized that in fact I myself had spent many years with the same negativity demon. Anybody that has known me for any long period of time can most likely bring up several instances of me exhibiting this same action. Oh wow!

I eventually let the thoughts fade off and returned to my new positive and happy to be here attitude that I have found to be quite simply much more enjoyable and healthy overall. I actually began to feel sympathy for this poor woman as I thought about the experiences I missed myself by pushing anger and negativity outwards. It was actually quite depressing thinking about it, so I found myself in this anger -> depression cycle that kept going on and on, I was angry that I had missed out because of my anger… the only answer was to come back to my positivity.

Bringing life back to the present, I try (and after a while it is starting to come naturally) to be as positive as possible, small talk and good comments no matter how trivial they may seem have absolutely changed my life and hopefully at least the days of others. If avoiding that one comment, or making a simple gesture and putting the small effort of a smile in can make somebody else feel better I now have a hard time understanding why anyone would not do this.

In the days of instant everything, the microwave, the internet, online shopping we have all but destroyed the reality of patience and god forbid we be held up for an extra minute or two even if we have nothing planned. Let’s take a moment to relax, and understand that maybe things do not need to happen so lightning fast for our own good, let’s compliment those in front of us rather than pander to our online friends. Today I choose to be positive and happy, I will take my time and enjoy my actions on purpose simply because I can!

Don’t shoot the messenger,

~Joe