120 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
• the signifi cance of a
• why people use defense
• the importance of
integrity and credibility
• the importance of
humility and patience
• the importance of respect
• the importance of
focusing on task
completion and people
Why do you think it
would be important to
have a positive attitude?
What effect might that
have on others?
Developing a Positive Attitude
The Signifi cance of a Positive Attitude
As you learned in Chapter 3, Lesson 1, an attitude is a thought,
feeling, or belief, while a behavior is an action that others
can see you doing. Attitudes are internal, and behaviors are
external. The attitudes and behaviors of a healthy, reasonable
person are usually in harmony.
The previous lesson also discussed the difference between
negative attitudes and positive attitudes. You learned that you
can control your attitude. Will you have a positive attitude
or a negative one? The choice is yours. This lesson will help
you learn more about positive attitudes and how to develop
Why do you need a positive attitude? For one thing, it will
make you a happier and more successful family member,
student, employee, and citizen. People are attracted to
individuals with a positive attitude who can solve problems
for themselves and others.
People with a positive attitude make things happen.
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 121
• learning curve
• defense mechanisms
• acting out
• role model
• task completion
• black hole
People with a positive attitude make things happen—
or, as baseball executive Branch Rickey once noted, “Luck
is the residue of design.” He meant that if you plan things
right and have the right attitude, you’ll be prepared if things
fall into place. It’s not really luck at all. You made it happen.
Think about it. Do you want to hang around with people
who are always saying things like, “I’m no good at anything,”
“I never get a break,” or “I don’t feel like doing anything”?
That kind of thinking is not only depressing: It’s contagious.
If you want to be a winner (and who doesn’t?), you need to
think like a winner. And thinking like a winner starts with
taking some concrete steps toward your goal.
Let’s look at a few things you can do to develop a winning
A positive attitude makes you a happier and more successful
family member, student, employee, and citizen.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
122 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
Why People Use Defense Mechanisms
Everyone has faults and weaknesses. It’s part of being human. So the fi rst step to
developing a positive attitude is to accept that you won’t always succeed at everything
you do. The second step is to realize that trial and error provide a wonderful opportunity
to keep improving. In the business world, professionals set goals for themselves.
Salespeople, for example, have sales targets. Their employers often reward them when
they reach these targets. But failing to meet a goal—in business or anywhere else—
doesn’t mean that you are a failure. If a baseball player doesn’t make every hit, or a
lawyer loses a case, or a doctor can’t cure every illness, we don’t label them failures.
People talk about the “practice” of law and medicine because those professionals are
constantly improving their art.
Of course, some professions have a zero tolerance for failure—and it’s a good thing
they do. Take an architect designing a bridge, for example, or a pilot fl ying an airliner.
You don’t want them to make any big mistakes. But even the pilot isn’t always on
schedule. And even the best architect doesn’t win every contract. Within reason,
everyone is entitled to follow a learning curve—the time necessary to get better at a task
or to reach a goal.
Why do some people handle their mistakes well, and even learn from them, while
others don’t? The difference often lies in a person’s defense mechanisms. These
are behaviors and mental processes people use to deal with mental or emotional pain—
with anxiety, shame, loss of self-esteem, confl ict, or other negatives feelings and thoughts.
Defense mechanisms are normal. Everyone has anxieties, and defense mechanisms
provide a way to deal with them. They can be healthy or unhealthy—it all depends
on when and how much you use them.
If you’re not careful, defense mechanisms can turn into excuses. People use them,
often without even realizing it, to blame others or to divert responsibility from their
own actions or inactions. They also use them when they’ve made a mistake or failed
to meet expectations.
You probably don’t respect the athlete, for example, who constantly makes excuses
for his or her shortfalls—blaming the media, the coaches, the opposing team’s noisy
fans, and so on. Or how about the singer who throws a tantrum on stage and blames
her band when the sound isn’t just right? Constantly using defense mechanisms is
a sign of an immature personality. It’s the hallmark of someone who still has some
growing up to do, no matter what his or her age may be.
Psychologists have identifi ed and studied a number of defense mechanisms people use.
Consider the situation of Tyler, Donna, and Tawana, as related on the next page under
“How Defense Mechanisms Affect Relationships.”
Understanding Your Attitude
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 123
How many of these defense mechanisms do you recognize? Have you ever used any of
them yourself? Because defense mechanisms can be unconscious, people sometimes use
them without even knowing it. If the cheerleading squad is to work through its issues
and improve its performance, Tyler needs to realize that he needs to talk to Tawana about
showing up for practice; Tawana needs to understand that her absences are hurting the
squad’s performance; and Donna needs to talk to Tyler about his treatment of her.
Tyler, Donna, and Tawana are all members of the high school cheerleading squad.
They practice hard, but sometimes they make mistakes that embarrass them in front of the
school or cost them points in state competition. The squad members often feel as though
they are doing things right, but that their teammates aren’t trying hard enough. They risk
using one or more of the following defense mechanisms instead of addressing the real
problems and improving the squad’s performance.
• Displacement—Transferring a feeling about a person or an object to another, less
Example: Tyler has a crush on Tawana, but he’s upset that she sometimes misses
practices or arrives late. So he yells at Donna instead.
• Repression—Pushing disturbing thoughts, wishes, or experiences from one’s conscious
awareness while the feeling continues to operate on an unconscious level
Example: Donna doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong, but she puts up with Tyler
yelling at her. However, she’s seething with resentment at both Tawana—who she thinks
is the real problem—and Tyler.
• Rationalization—Concealing the true motivations for one’s thoughts, actions, or
feelings by offering reassuring but incorrect explanations
Example: Tawana is doing her best to get to practice, but she sometimes loses track of
the time. She doesn’t think her mistakes are hurting the team, however, so she fi gures
missing a practice here or there is no big deal.
• Projection—Falsely attributing to others your own unacceptable feelings, impulses,
Example: Tyler assumes that Donna feels the same way he does about Tawana’s behavior,
and accuses her of criticizing Tawana unfairly.
• Acting out—Using actions rather than words to express the emotional confl ict
Example: Tyler hides Tawana’s knapsack, but makes it look like Donna did it.
• Denial—Refusing to acknowledge some painful aspect of external reality or one’s own
experience that would be apparent to others
Example: Tyler doesn’t realize that his inability to confront Tawana about her attendance
is creating confl ict within the squad and hurting its performance even more.
How Defense Mechanisms Affect Relationships
124 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
Mature people don’t fall back on defense mechanisms—mainly because they don’t
need them. They confront their problems directly and try to solve them. That doesn’t
mean they’re always successful. Many times, you simply have to “grin and bear it.”
But growing up and developing a positive, productive attitude requires a willingness
to keep working to solve an issue rather than dodge it.
Nobody comes into this world with a guaranteed perfect life. But the attitude you
develop once you get here is under your control. A positive attitude can make it easier
to handle life’s troubles. As Norman Vincent Peale, who authored several books about
positive thinking and attitudes, once wrote, “How you think about a problem is more
important than the problem itself—so always think positively.”
People with positive attitudes usually have other personality traits that help them meet
life’s challenges, frustrations, and disappointments. These people can call these traits
into action to solve problems and to succeed. Some of the most important of these
traits are integrity, credibility, humility, patience, respect, appreciation, and the ability
to focus on task completion and on people.
The Importance of Integrity and Credibility
Who are your heroes? Whom do you admire most? What is it about those people that
holds your attention and inspires you? Is it their good looks? Their wealth? The cars
they drive? Their ability to make three-pointers on the basketball court? Or maybe it’s
something else. If you tend to admire people who always seem to say and do the right
thing, you’re admiring their winning attitude.
A positive attitude can make it easier to handle life’s troubles and work with others.
Understanding Your Attitude
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 125
A person with a winning attitude sees the world as a whole rather than in bits and
pieces. Such a person meets life’s challenges in an orderly, calm, and unifi ed way. He or
she is an integrated person. There is harmony between the way that person feels, thinks,
and acts. If you say that your friend Steve “has his act together,” he is probably an
An integrated person, in turn, expresses integrity. Integrity is a commitment to a code
of values or beliefs that results in a unifi ed, positive attitude and approach to life. For many
people, their integrity is their most prized possession. They value honesty and a
straightforward manner in dealing with others and events.
People with integrity are trustworthy. If you are trustworthy, people believe that what
you say and do has value. In other words, you have credibility. Credibility is a quality
of character that inspires others to trust and have confi dence in you—when you say or do
something, people believe you.
People learn integrity and credibility from role models. A positive role model is a
person with integrity and credibility on whom others base their own attitudes and actions.
A role model’s values and behaviors, good or bad, rub off on others. Role models can
be parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, big brothers or sisters, neighbors,
teachers, coaches, counselors, club advisers, community leaders, religious leaders—
just about anyone. You usually pick your role models out privately. They may not
even know you are holding them up as a model unless you tell them.
But when a role model knows
you respect him or her, and
when that person takes an active
interest in your development,
he or she becomes your mentor.
A mentor is a life coach who
guides, advises, and advocates for
you in your individual life path.
A mentor can be your guide
in school, sports, work, and
community service—in every
aspect of your life. A mentor
doesn’t judge or criticize you,
but provides positive feedback
that helps you grow. A mentor is
your custom-made role model.
A mentor can also become a
lifelong friend. Do you have
positive role models? Do you
have a mentor?
People learn positive values and behaviors from role models
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
126 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
The Importance of Humility and Patience
Some people say that to learn anything, you have to be willing to admit that you don’t
know everything. They’re demonstrating humility. Humility can be hard to defi ne.
You could say that humility is not thinking you are superior to or better than other people.
It’s the opposite of pride and arrogance. A humble person is willing to learn from others.
People with humility don’t think they have all the answers. This attitude puts them
in a frame of mind where they can grasp new concepts and ideas.
But several mental states can block your ability to learn. These include fear, pride,
Suppose you’re taking an advanced math class. It’s the fi rst day of class. You page
through the text and realize that you’ll have many new concepts to master.
If you’re not a math whiz, one result might be a fear of failure. Lots of people become
“math phobic” because of this fear. Fear is an emotion that people may feel when they
face something new or unknown. Fear can freeze your ability to respond. It cuts off
the learning process.
If you’re math phobic, a good teacher can help you overcome this fear. Such a teacher
will help you realize that mastering any new subject takes time and patience. Overcoming
other fears, such as fear of driving in heavy traffi c or fl ying, also requires time and
patience. Patience is the ability to bear diffi culty, delay, frustration, or pain calmly and
without complaint. A patient person calmly awaits the outcome or result. He or she is not
hasty or impulsive. According to the old expression, “Patience is a virtue.” But it’s also
a learning tool. If you don’t understand something, you have to give it time to sink in.
Pride is an exaggerated feeling of self-worth. It can also be a barrier to learning. It can be
both positive and negative. On the negative side, pride is the inner voice in some people
that says, “I’m better than this. I know all about this. No one can tell me anything!”
Pride can lead to negative attitudes about learning, about people, and about life in
general. Self-esteem and confi dence are fi ne, but pride goes a step further. A person
who is proud ignores the needs and wants of others.
The worst hurdle to learning is indifference—sometimes labeled the “whatever” mindset.
Someone who is indifferent has no desire to get better at anything— whether it is
playing an instrument, mastering a sports skill, meeting new people, completing a
project, or being a good student or employee. The indifferent person is bored. He or she
can’t be bothered to pitch in or even to pretend to be interested in what’s going on—
in class, on the fi eld, or at work.
Understanding Your Attitude
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 127
Indifference has nothing to do with aptitude or intelligence. In fact, sometimes
the people who exhibit this attitude are the smartest people in the group. They
have the most to contribute in terms of helping others understand and learn.
But they just don’t want to.
Humility and patience are the keys to defeating fear, pride, and indifference. You can
learn to be humbler and more patient if you want to. How does this benefi t you?
The answer to that question is complex but richly rewarding. When you show
interest in other people, they will show interest in you. You will make connections
Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? By being a participant, an interested party
to the business of life, you move up in the hierarchy from the basic needs, such as
food and sleep, to the higher levels of human functioning. You belong. You learn
to love and to be loved.
The Importance of Respect and Appreciation
Unfortunately, there aren’t many prestigious awards for being a nice person. You’ll
never win a Nobel Prize simply for being a decent human being. But you can earn
intangible awards for your attitudes toward others. If you accept responsibility
for yourself and show concern for others—in other words, if you do your duty
to others—people will reward you with their respect and appreciation.
When you accept responsibility for yourself and show concern for others,
you gain others’ respect and appreciation.
128 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
Respect is the esteem, regard, and consideration that you pay others and that you earn from
them. The way some people talk about respect, you’d think it was one of Maslow’s fi rstlevel needs, right there with food and water.
“Graham dissed me yesterday about my jump shot.” “Patti dissed her mother right
out in public.” You know the story: “dissing” someone means you pay him or her no
respect—in fact, you insult the person by “disrespecting” him or her. Getting dissed
hurts, doesn’t it? It makes you angry and frustrated. Why? Because respect is like food
and water. Every human being feels a deep-seated need for respect. It’s in your nature
to want it.
How do you get respect? The answer is simple: You earn it by respecting others. Here
are some basic ways you show respect for others:
• Listen—People who listen in conversation are attractive to others—especially
to people who like to talk.
• Be polite—Don’t interrupt people when they’re talking. Wait for a pause in the
conversation before plunging ahead with what you think. Always say “please”
and “thank you.”
• Keep your word—When you say you’re going to do something, have the integrity
to do it.
• Be on time—When you agree to be somewhere at a set time, show up on time.
Don’t keep people waiting—their time is as valuable as yours.
• Don’t spread gossip, rumors, or loose talk about anyone—even if you have fi rsthand
experience—Your listeners will wonder what you’re saying about them behind
• Always give people the benefi t of the doubt—Before you judge people, consider
how you’d feel if you were in their shoes. Realize they may be facing challenges
you know nothing about.
• Practice the “abundance theory”—That way of thinking says there’s enough of
everything to go around—credit, glory, admiration, friendship, smiles, laughter,
and compliments. Everybody needs them, and you can dispense them for free.
Encourage other people and help them feel important.
• Stick with what’s important: people, their feelings, and their needs—Pay particular
attention to the person who’s helpless or disadvantaged.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously—Lighten up any situation with a joke about
yourself. Help everyone in a confl ict preserve his or her dignity.
• Keep a fl exible mindset—You’ll be better able to bend without breaking when
life and other people draw on your time and energies.
Understanding Your Attitude
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 129
A wise teacher once said, “It’s hard to be grateful and unhappy at the same time.”
Appreciation is the admiration, approval, or gratitude that you express to others and
receive from them. You show your respect for people when you express appreciation
for what they do. They will be grateful, and show you their appreciation in return.
This aspect of a positive attitude has a practical side, as illustrated by the anecdote
A young woman applied for a job and got an interview. The next day, she wrote a
note of appreciation to the employer, thanking him for the interview and the chance
to talk about the job. The employer interviewed fi ve people that day. All were well
qualifi ed. But this young woman was the only interviewee to send a follow-up note.
Guess who got the job? Showing your appreciation—especially by writing a note,
letter, or e-mail—is not corny or old-fashioned. It is a wonderful way to demonstrate
your maturity and positive outlook. And it may one day land you that position
The Importance of Focusing on Task Completion and People
By now you’ve learned that teachers, parents, and employers value a positive attitude.
You’ve also found out that a positive attitude includes personality traits such as
integrity, credibility, humility, patience, respect, and appreciation. Two more things
round out the picture: a focus on task completion and a focus on people.
Task completion is the process of doing things expected of you in a timely, orderly, accurate,
and honest manner. To complete a task successfully you must set aside enough time
for each of your classes, sports, and other activities. Doing this effi ciently requires
• Recognize things that waste your time
• Set goals that will reduce patterns of wasted time
• Adopt a system that will move you toward your personal, educational, and
To begin this process, you must fi rst gain control of your greatest asset: time. Start by
creating your own semester calendar that includes all classes, key assignments, fi tness
workouts, sports events, extracurricular activities, social events, and other important
activities. In addition to keeping a daybook or calendar, make daily or weekly “to do”
lists. Your computer, tablet, or smartphone may have calendar and other apps to help
you do this.
130 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
Avoiding Black Holes
Once you start keeping a calendar, you may become aware of a strange entity: the
black hole. Astronomers originated this term. For them, it’s a point in outer space
where a massive object pulls in all the light near it. In theory, nothing can escape
the tug of the black hole. In your schedule, a black hole is a period of time that eats
into your productivity and prevents you from reaching your goals. Black holes devour
your productive time.
Being able to identify black holes is one of the most important aspects of task
completion. To identify your black holes, make a list or diagram of how you use
your time in a typical week. Within that week, chart a typical day. Most people are
surprised at how much time disappears into a black hole. That time is unfocused
and unstructured. It has no specifi c goal or purpose. It is wasted.
One main cause of black holes is procrastination—the process of putting things off.
A second cause is distraction, or anything that takes you away from your planned
activities. If you can overcome these two sources of black holes in your life, you’ll
be a lot closer to making better use of your time. And again, success breeds success.
The better you get at doing things on time, the better you’ll get at scheduling time
for fun, such as hobbies, sports, social activities, and other things you enjoy.
Devoting Time to People
If you’re able to stop wasting time, you’ll have more time to devote to people.
People you care about—your family, friends, relatives, classmates, and neighbors—
know you best by the time you devote to them. The time you’re willing to spend
with others, more than any other single thing you say or do, shows your focus
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people begin their journey toward selfactualization by focusing on physical and safety needs. The middle stages in the
journey focus on relationships with people and your place in society. Only when
you move beyond these can you arrive at the fi fth level, self-actualization.
So what does a positive attitude have to do with those middle stages, in which you
form relationships with others? Having a positive attitude means trying to be on
good terms with everyone. You must be able to work with other people in teams
and focus on helping others. You need these skills to get along in high school
and later in life— no matter what kind of a career you have. A team, group, or
organization of any type can succeed only when its members can get along.
When you’re talking with others, be a good listener: Ask about their families,
interests, and hobbies. Don’t hog the conversation. Stay away from controversial
topics—such as politics and religion—and avoid off-color jokes.
Understanding Your Attitude
LESSON 2 Developing a Positive Attitude 131
At some point, you’ll fi nd yourself dealing with people of questionable character.
It’s best to distance yourself from such people and be careful about including them
among your friends. Never do something that you know is wrong just because others
are doing it. You always have the option of saying “No,” and of going to a family
member, teacher, counselor, clergy member, or neighbor and talking to him or her
in confi dence about how you’re feeling.
Relationships with other people are often complicated. By following the suggestions
in this lesson for getting along with and respecting others and yourself, you’ll fi nd
that developing a positive attitude isn’t as hard as you might have thought. And any
work it does require will be worthwhile—the benefi ts are lifelong and enormous.
When you’re talking to others, be a good listener: Ask about their families,
interests, and hobbies.
132 CHAPTER 3 Understanding Your Attitude
Using complete sentences, answer the following questions on a sheet of paper.
- Why do you need a positive attitude?
- What does thinking like a winner start with?
- What are fi ve common defense mechanisms?