PMA: Positive Mental Attitude

The sun is so bright this morning. Even though the air temperature is still hovering just below 50, the radiant rays of the sun make it feel pleasantly warm. It’s lovely. It refills my good mood and energy tanks, which leak and deplete over the winter. It also installs confidence in my ability to weather the depression that Seasonal Affective Disorder thrusts upon me in the face of pervasive winter darkness and cold. I feel like I “won” this winter. Despite the severe hysteria that overcame me in the early fall about the impending winter, the actual lived experience of what I usually consider a deplorable season has essentially been a non-issue so far. Winter is certainly still my least favorite time of the year, but I way overestimated its brutality this year. Although I wasted so much mental energy in unnecessary dread and anxiety and wasted so much time perseverating how I’d survive the invariable doom, I’m pleased that all this negativity and catastrophizing didn’t pollute my daily resolve to make the most of each day and keep an upbeat mood as much as possible. It seems that many times, for better or worse, attitude can strongly influence mood and by doing so, the perception of an experience. I’ve written about this concept a lot lately because my recent burgeoning awareness of it.

There have been several people in my life who have, on numerous occasions, tried to impress upon me this simple truth (that our attitudes can affect our mood, behavior, and interpretation of a situation). It’s not a novel concept. Many self-help books and respected gurus have purported the power of the mind to influence our actions and feelings. As a lifelong consumer of all sorts of these resources, I’ve known of the concept for years. However, it seems I’ve never been emotionally ready or open enough to buy in and evaluate how it plays out in all sorts of scenarios in my life, positively and negatively. I’ve often immaturely blamed bad experiences or “failures” on undue “scapegoats” (rarely people, but often circumstances like unfavorable environmental conditions). Or, I chastise myself for my own shortcomings for the reason something went poorly for me or was so unpleasant when the situation may have gone more favorably if I had been a better sport and taken responsibility for the parts I could positively control.

For example, because I have what the neuropsychologist considers “severe” ADHD, I might have fixated on that “weakness” in an activity that required sustained focus (like a long lecture in graduate school) so much so that the outcome was determined by that mindset. I “knew” I wouldn’t be able to focus so long so I gave up early on in the lecture and stopped listening prematurely, even though I could have followed along longer had I been open-minded and not count myself out. Then, when the self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition (and I’d get lost and antsy in class), I’d internally ridicule myself not for not trying my best (which would have been an appropriate reason for feeling disappointed in myself) but for being “stupid” and having “pathetic attention.” While many of my varied challenges absolutely make certain situations more challenging or even impossible (in rare cases), committing to do my best and maintain a positive outlook are always within my control. The only criticism I direct toward myself should be when I give up trying my hardest or resign myself to hating something without working to find the good on it.

My high school cross country coach was a champion teacher about mental attitude and its influence over not just athletic performance and the perception of discomfort, but on life in general and feeling happy. He was one of the first, and still most notable, people in my life who saw the constant work and worry of my mind and how much it detrimentally influenced how I felt. He used running as the metaphor and language in which he tried to demonstrate and guide me to understand this connection and my potential ability to effectuate a better outcome through a better outlook and attitude. He tried to teach me how to quiet my worries, extinguish my doubts, silence my harsh inner critic, and breed a positive mental attitude instead. He introduced our team to meditation encouraged us to be confident to harness our strengths and capabilities instead of fixating on our fears. He dedicated some of his own free time to offer me additional support, guidance, and helpful books, likely because he saw how tweaking my attitude and harnessing some of these skills could better my racing and he saw just how much I was struggling with things in my life off of the running course.

How I wish I had been mature enough to fully take advantage of his accumulated wisdom, teachings, and patience. He could have been an unparalleled mentor, especially because he capitalized on my passion, running, as the vehicle by which he instructed. I think I was not yet ready and far too immature in my thinking to be receptive to much of what he was imparting upon me. It’s some fifteen years later and now I’m finally ready. It’s unfortunately too late to profit from his teachings in terms of current life since I’m long past being his athlete, but I can try to remember what he said and seek other resources that I can use as I now desire to embrace this wisdom and cultivate my most positive attitude.

While that door has closed, the good news is that hopefully another will appear. After all, there is a reason that there is a saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Lastly, while it’s disappointing to feel like I wasted the years under my coach’s tutelage (and all those since) by not absorbing and believing in the information, I still have the rest of my life to start enacting the changes I desire and practice these skills I now understand to be so valuable.

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