Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
~ Viktor Frankl
While I was waiting for a late train I overheard a man asking a transit employee when the train would come. She told him that she wasn’t sure and would let him know if she got any updates. This seemed to bother the man, who was obviously anxious to be on time. He said something that made me think about how we react to situations where we have little or no control. He said: “I was hoping for some clearer news”.
I don’t doubt that some passengers could have made other arrangements if they knew how late the train was going to be. However, for most of the passengers, myself included, the train was the only option. Many passengers were getting frustrated at the tardiness of the train. Some were discussing how the transit employees were incompetent or how more money should be invested in more trains, track and other resources to increase the speed and frequency of the trains.
These were interesting discussions, but frankly nobody on that platform could make that train arrive any faster. Nobody could have prevented whatever situation caused the delay. We all had control over one thing on that platform: our reaction.
It’s understandable to be upset or put off when something doesn’t go as planned. But it happens all the time. Everyone on planet Earth and all the forces of nature are not combining to create a perfect life for you. I hate to break that fact to all of us, but it’s just not going to happen.
The one thing that we can always control is our attitude, or how we act and react to anything that happens. So how do we control our seemingly unwieldy attitudes?
One of the first things you should do is figure out what you have control over in your life. You’ll be surprised how often the only thing you can control is your attitude.
Try this: Write down everything that you do or that happens to you for one day or one week. At the end of each day, mark what you have control over and what you can’t control. You’ll be able to quickly recognize the things you can control and the ones that you can’t.
For example, your morning might look like this:
- Got out of bed when alarm went off
- Ate breakfast
- Picked out clothes
- Smiled at my neighbor
- Kissed my wife goodbye
- Packed a healthy lunch
- It’s raining today
- Traffic on the way to work was very busy
- Lots of commercials on the radio
- The toaster was broken – no toast 🙁
- Couldn’t find my favorite shirt
- My neighbor didn’t smile back
- The guy behind me was driving too fast
Learn to change your attitude first, then change what you can about the situation. If you can’t change the situation, at least face it with joy and happiness.
Think about the rain from our morning list. Obviously nobody can change the fact that it’s raining. Instead of being grumpy and upset because of the rain, be grateful for the water that renews the earth and grows food. Then be sure to wear a jacket and bring an umbrella. You can’t change the rain, but you can change how to react to the rain and how prepared you are for the rainy day.
The trick to controlling your attitude is to find what you can control and then do something about it instead of complaining or being upset. Do this with a smile and you’ll find a sense of inner joy and peace. Then learn to let go of what you can’t control. There’s no point in wasting energy over things that you have no power to change.