Winning is a Matter of Attitude

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When a person truly wants to grow, nothing can stop them. But becoming a better person always starts with a change of outlook or perspective. Here are six general rules for nurturing a winning attitude.

In some respects, life is like a game, and a pretty high stakes game at that. The object of any game is to win. So why do some folks always seem to be losing at the game of life while others appear to enjoy success after success? Some would say it’s purely a matter of luck or circumstances. But others would argue has a lot to do with the player’s attitude.

Although historians have recently cast some doubt upon whether he actually made the statement, proponents of the importance of attitude often quote Thomas Jefferson as saying: “Nothing on earth can stop the person with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.” In so many areas of life, winning appears less about the innate talents and abilities one brings to any contest or the nature of circumstances and more about the mindset with which one approaches life’s challenges. Life is indeed full of challenges, some of which can be quite daunting. Rising to the occasion requires a certain level of hopefulness, confidence, and a resolute determination to persevere in the face of the inevitable obstacles. With the right degree of faith, you might not actually be able to move a mountain, but you might well be able to accomplish some remarkable, seemingly impossible things. With the wrong outlook, no amount of guidance or support can save you from defeat.

As readers of Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?) already know, I spent many of my years as a therapist working with individuals with significantly impaired and sometimes disordered characters. Most of these folks were sorely in need of various “attitude corrections” if they were ever to get their lives on the right track. It was easy to tag some of these folks with the “loser” label because they’d chronically made such a mess of things in their relationships, careers, etc. (See Are You Dating a Loser? Identifying Losers, Controllers, and Abusers in Relationships and my series of articles on character disturbances.) Just as there’s a mindset to winning, there’s a mindset that goes along with losing. The “loser” mentality is much like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. It’s the very nature of character disturbance to be both overly fond of and deeply entrenched in one’s approach to life despite how dysfunctional it might be. Even when a troubled character has finally come to realize the futility of their ways, achieving a true change of heart and making the crucial shift in attitude that has the power to transform one’s life is a daunting task in itself — one that often requires some highly specialized professional support.

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There’s a certain mindset to winning in general, and that mindset can be readily applied to the process of character growth. If you really want to become a psychologically healthier person and, accordingly, a truly more successful person in life, you have to part company with your old self-defeating ways and embrace some new ways of seeing and doing things. Winning is largely about both perspective and perseverance. You have to adopt the right attitude, then keep your commitment to it. (See “Dealing With Character Disturbance is All a Matter of Perspective” and “The Power of Perspective: Five Flawed World Views”.)

Some general rules for nurturing a winning attitude are:

Think positively
We know from abundant research that nothing breeds success like the expectation of success. Positive thinking is not just about believing that everything will always turn out just as you’d like. Rather, it’s about how you regard the disappointments and setbacks you’re inevitably going to experience. If you regard them as proof that you’re a failure and that all is hopeless, you’re probably doomed to give up the fight and revert to your old ways. If you regard them as valuable lessons to be learned and are open to making “course corrections,” you’re likely to eventually emerge victorious.
Define your goals
Set some clear objectives you want to achieve, visualize them, and outline a plan to achieve them. If your goal is to be more attentive and responsive to your partner, or responsible, for example, imagine what behaviors you’d have to display to achieve those ends, then set about practicing those behaviors.
Aim high
Set your sights on total victory, even though you might have to settle for some fairly small gains along the way. When it comes to being a better person, it’s important to play to win.
Keep the faith as well as your commitment
You can do whatever you set your mind to do. It’s important to remain confident about that. But you need more than faith in yourself. It’s equally important to honor your commitments. As you do, both your faith and level of trust will grow, and so will your sense of self efficacy.
Cultivate and utilize a support system
No one conquers alone. The game of life is a team sport. When you have your sights set on positive character change, you’ll need to distance yourself from the “enablers” who helped promote your dysfunctional ways and ally with those who share a positive, growth oriented mindset.
Recognize your efforts
Even the little ones! No one maintains a behavior unless it’s reinforced. And because you don’t have power over the outcome of your actions — only the actions themselves — it’s important to recognize and reinforce yourself for every effort you make, no matter how small. (See “Becoming a Better Person: Covert Self-Monitoring and Self-Reinforcement” and “Four Steps to Character Health”.)

Educators, coaches, and successful entrepreneurs all agree that winning is mostly about mentality. This is as true for character development as it is for any other life enterprise. When a person truly wants to grow, nothing can stop them. But nothing can help the person who is determined to stay the same and expects the world to conform. Becoming a better person always starts with a change of outlook or perspective. Sound, supportive therapy, if it’s to be effective, must always focus on the beliefs, attitudes, and thinking patterns that foster success. Years into the cognitive behavioral revolution, we have abundant evidence that changing one’s mind is key to changing one’s life. In the end, it all comes down to attitude. Our mindset is the secret to winning. It’s also the gateway to greater psychological health.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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