Debra Searle, professional adventurer and serial entrepreneur, relates her moment of life-or-death clarity. It came when she was rowing – alone – across the Atlantic Ocean.
Have you ever noticed how there is a direct correlation between how positive you feel and how productive you are? If in a team situation or a leadership role, our attitude ripples outwards even further and can have a huge impact on the productivity and positivity of those around us. I’m sure the last thing any of us wants is to be that toxic colleague everyone hates working with! So, what are you doing about it?
I was forced to find a way of becoming conscious of the attitude I was adopting when I unexpectedly found myself stranded in a little wooden rowing boat at sea. I was a novice rower who had set out to row the Atlantic with my then oarsman husband; but within days it became apparent he had a completely debilitating phobia of open ocean. As his mental and physical condition rapidly declined, I called for a rescue and made the decision that I would continue alone. The next three months were the loneliest and most exhausting of my life, battling Force 8 gales and sharks, and dodging container ships – with the nearest rescue boat two weeks away. I had every right to be grumpy!
It soon became apparent that I couldn’t choose whether I got blown backwards 20 miles by headwinds, or face a whole host of other problems that I was left to tackle alone, but I could always choose the attitude with which I approached them or bounced back from them. In the crazy, stressful, problem-riddled situation I found myself in, I could choose my attitude. It was the one thing – the only thing – that was completely in my control. Hence my daily “Choose Your Attitude” exercise was born, and I clung onto it for dear life.
I had written ”Choose Your Attitude” on the blue arrows on my cabin door that I stared at every day as I rowed. At breakfast time I would sit by the door, and those three words became a visual brain trigger for me to ask myself a question – the same question – every day: “Which attitude will you choose today, Debra?”
Negative attitudes were banned from the boat, but my mindset wasn’t always a positive one either. It was whatever it needed to be for me to perform at my best on that given day. Sometimes it was “patient” or “strong” or “enthusiastic” or “optimistic”, but the choice of attitude was always followed by listing out loud all the benefits that would come from sticking to that attitude for the day. This final part of the exercise was crucial because it trained my unconscious brain to look for opportunities to make those potential benefits a reality.
Sadly, I don’t have my ’ickle floaty boat anymore, so I have new brain triggers to remind me to ask myself that question. Now it’s the “beep beep” noise my car makes when I lock it. I try to park as far away from the office as possible, so that I’ve got the walk across the car park to list the benefits of sticking to that attitude for the day – before I reach the office door. If I am working from home I am triggered by pressing the button to boil the kettle for my first coffee of the day. I’ve noticed that I need a brain trigger, be it audible or visual, or I forget to choose, and I need to choose because I don’t naturally leap out of bed full of the joys of spring.I’m just not wired that way (and secretly find those people quite irritating!).
Often we can’t control our environment, the people around us and the challenges that are arising at work and at home, but we can always choose our attitude. Having the right attitude focuses our energy on what we can do something about, rather than wasting time and energy on the things we can’t, and stops us from becoming that toxic, grumpy colleague. I’m convinced that if we choose the right attitude, even when faced with what can sometimes feel like insurmountable hurdles, anything is possible.
So, what will your brain trigger be? Head over to my Twitter page and let me know! @DebraSearle
More from Debra Searle
→ Discover three ways to make or break your day before you even hit the office.
→ Choose Your Attitude guide/infographic.
→ Get a free online Choose Your Attitude training course.
→ Watch Debra’s TEDx about “How to deal with changes we would never choose.”
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