THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT II (YOURSELF) // CHAPTER 11
“A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.” // Seneca
In Stoic philosophy, there is a sequence. How you think leads to the next step. That next step is your attitude. Your state of being. Once we’ve considered our thinking, we must consider our attitude.
Why do you feel the way that you feel? Good and bad? What makes you feel positive feelings? What makes you feel negative feelings? The way most of us answer these kinds of questions sounds something like, “When good things happen, I feel good. When bad things happen, I feel bad.”
Most people don’t realize they are in control of what they think about. Therefore, most people don’t realize they are in control of their attitude. What creates your feelings and attitudes? It is your thinking.
If you want to understand your attitude, start with how you are choosing to think about that thing.
Prior to World War II, Victor Frankl was one of Vienna’s most distinguished doctors. He had a wife, family, prestige and success. The Nazi nightmare changed it all. He spent several years in concentration camps performing slave labor and inhuman tasks. Frankl survived the Nazi horrors and in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes the horrors and hope of life in a concentration camp. He said that the last of the human freedoms is “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”[i]
“Keep in mind that what injures you is not people who are rude or aggressive but your opinion that they are injuring you.” // Epictetus[ii]
“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.” // Marcus Aurelius[iii]
We’ve all heard it, “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” That’s a good sentiment, but it takes work to turn lemons into lemonade. It doesn’t just happen. I’m convinced that some people believe the more upset they become, and the louder they complain about the lemons, the faster they’ll turn into lemonade.
Without lemons, I wouldn’t be able to make lemonade. What’s bad about a lemon? The way we decide to see and feel about lemons is what’s bad, not the lemons themselves.
Difficulty and struggle are common to all of humanity. All of us will face challenges in life. Setbacks, struggles, problems. What’s the worst thing that could happen to us when faced with difficulty? Most of us would say the difficulty itself. Events that are outside of our control can and will happen to us. The worst thing that could happen would be if we experienced a setback and lost control of our attitude at the same time. Then we would have two problems and one of them is our fault, and unnecessary.
The problem is still the problem. The event is still the event. The “problem” will still be there no matter how we feel about it. One choice makes our lives a little bit easier: the choice of our attitude. How we respond to how we feel about the problem.
Of course, like most things, simple ≠ easy. It’s easy to understand that we can and should control our emotions and attitudes well. Emotions are hard to predict and understand, and attitude is much more than emotion. Most of the time, we need to have a certain attitude and set aside our emotions.
In aviation, an attitude is the orientation of a plane relative to Earth. In other words, an attitude reading tells us the direction a plane is pointing. Regardless of the conditions it finds itself in.
“It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” // Zig Ziglar[iv]
This is true in aviation, and it also seems to be true in life. The direction we decide to point will determine where we go. If we believe something to be good, it will be good. If we believe something to be bad, it will be bad.
Dr. Martin Seligman in his book, Learned Optimism, describes a study that he conducted. He found that negative people get sick more often, are divorced more frequently, and raise kids who get in more trouble.[v]
Dr. Seligman even found that negative people make less money. In one long-term study of 1,500 people, 83% of the people took their jobs because they believed they could make lots of money. Only 17% of them took their jobs because they had a positive attitude about their jobs. Twenty years later, the two groups had produced 101 millionaires. The amazing thing is, only one of those millionaires came from the 83%, but 100 of them came from the 17%.[vi]
According to Dr. Seligman, over 70% of those millionaires never went to college. And over 70% of those who became CEOs graduated in the bottom half of their class.[vii]
How does our attitude differ from our emotions? Is “being positive” the same as being happy? There is much debate regarding human emotions. Some people say that our emotions are always within our control and we can choose how we feel. Some people assert that our emotions are instinctive responses that we are incapable of dictating. This is like a fight-or-flight response. Whether we can control our emotions or not, we can always control our attitudes. Our attitude is our will. It is our ability to restrain and control our emotions and impulses. Whether you believe you are in control of your emotions or not, you are always in control of what you do with your emotions. And what you do with your emotions constitutes your attitude.
What is a positive attitude?
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals in the world. They can run up to seventy-five mph and can go from zero to sixty mph in about 3.4 seconds. However, science tells us that if a cheetah ran for more than thirty seconds straight, it would die from exhaustion.
Usain Bolt is the fastest human being in history. In 2009, he ran a 9.58-second hundred-meter dash. Which equates to around a 27.8 mph top speed.
It is likely that no matter what humanity does, we will not ever be able to run faster than a cheetah without the assistance of technology. Our biology prevents it. But pretty much every human being that can run, can run thirty seconds straight without dying.
In 2005, Dean Karnazes ran 350 miles without stopping even to sleep. He ran for eighty hours and forty-four minutes without a break. Over these 350 miles, he averaged a thirteen-minute mile.
The human body is not built for speed. It is built for endurance. Biologists say that one of the key things that makes human beings the dominant species on the earth is our ability to endure an untold variety of challenges, climates and circumstances. Endurance athletes speak about “runner’s high” or second wind during lengthy or intense exercise. Researchers say this happens because when we experience intense exertion, our nervous system floods our body with endorphins. These endorphins produce feelings of happiness, euphoria and decrease anxiety and feelings of pain. The pain of pushing through exercise is what causes our body to release endorphins that release the pain. Endurance can produce positive feelings.
If endurance through physical pain leads to a positive result, why couldn’t the same thing happen emotionally? Our attitude is what gives us the ability to endure difficult situations and emotions. Being positive is not about smiling our way through things; it’s about believing our way through things—our ability to endure is the highest form of positive attitude. How can endurance be an attitude? If we are enduring something, it’s because we think we can get through it. Sometimes, being positive is about gritting your teeth, not smiling. It’s about thinking that you will get through something and deciding to get through it in spite of how you feel. You and I may feel like quitting, but that’s just a feeling. Our feelings should be secondary to our attitude. Call it grit, resilience or staying power. Endurance is not a feeling, it’s a deliberate response to how we feel.
A human being’s greatest physical and emotional strength is the ability to endure.
There are times where we feel like we are in a fight and we have to win. In ancient Greece when they trained armies, they wouldn’t train them to be skilled at battle. They trained them to endure the fight. In ancient warfare, standing your ground and “looking spears in the face” was the greatest predictor of victory in warfare. The ability to mentally endure a battle was ten times more important than the skill to fight.
The strength of ancient Greek warriors was not their fighting ability but their readiness to face hardship and danger. As the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus put it,[viii]
This is a common benefit for the state and all the people: when a man stands firm in the front without ceasing, and, making his heart and soul endure, banishes all thought of shameful flight, encouraging his neighbour with words. This is a man good in war; he quickly turns the waves of enemy spears, and stems the tide of battle with his will.
A good warrior is not one who kills the most, or who outmatches their enemies in skill. A good warrior endures in the heat of battle. A good warrior encourages others to endure. The difference between a good warrior and a bad one is the amount of time they are prepared to stay in the battle before they retreat.
In the Iliad, Homer talks about Ajax, the son of King Telamon. Ajax is described like a tower. He never moves, never retreats, and allows others to rally around him. In battle, Ajax leads his army into battle with only a defensive weapon, a shield made of seven cow hides covered in bronze. His greatest strength is his ability to outlast the attacks of his enemies. Homer tells us that Odysseus and Achilles would surge forward in battle and force the enemy back. The ideal hero is not someone who can beat their opponent in a fight but someone who shows courage and inspires courage in others like Ajax. This was not just Homer’s ideal, this was true for many leaders in ancient war. And it’s still true today.
We see this clearly when we turn to the legendary warriors of actual history. Authors like Herodotos and Plutarch tell stories of heroes who are always heroically brave but never heroically skilled. They tell stories of people like Sophanes, who challenged his enemy to charge at him. He did so only after placing an iron anchor into the ground and chaining himself to it to face the onslaught.[ix] Socrates himself was described by Epictetus as a brave warrior.
“[Socrates] was the first to go out as a soldier, when it was necessary, and in war he exposed himself to danger most unsparingly.” // Epictetus[x]
A legendary warrior in ancient Greece was one who had proven themselves brave when it mattered—a person who endured. A warrior was someone who could serve as an example to others, who also needed to be brave. Facing this kind of person in battle would be terrifying. Fighting alongside them would be inspiring.
Having a good attitude isn’t about being happy or only experiencing good things. Having a good attitude is about staying in the fight. It has nothing to do with your skills, feelings, or even fear. We must tame our fear when it really matters, stare our enemy in the face and hold the line no matter what. The greatest enemies that most of us will face are our own negative emotions. If you stay in the fight, it’s because you believe you can still win. That’s a positive attitude.
“If it’s endurable, then endure it. If it’s not endurable ... then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.” // Marcus Aurelius[xi]
The direction you decide to point the plane will determine if you go up or down. Most of the time, success is just about getting on the other side of the obstacle. It’s about being willing to endure the fight, stand like a tower and not run away. The only way out is through. So if you’re going through hell, keep going.
“Is a world without pain possible? Then don’t ask the impossible.” // Marcus Aurelius[xii]
Many of us believe that there will come a day where we face no difficulties. We live with a belief that our lives are somehow supposed to get easier. One day, we will enter a magical land where nothing is hard and we always feel good. We end up inadvertently setting this imaginary land as a goal for our lives.
There’s a Haitian proverb: “Dèyè mòn, gen mòn.”
Behind mountains, there are mountains.
You are made to win. Your win will be determined by your ability to endure. Your ability to endure will be determined by the attitude you choose to have. You can and will climb this mountain you are facing. Once you climb it, you will see the next mountain you have to climb. Understand that you are built to do this, created for it. Passing one test just means you get to take the next one. Every challenge you face is meant to help your life get better. The only way to win in life is to continue to climb your mountains and do it with a smile on your face. We can smile because we understand that we were created to do this. It’s not supposed to be easy; the race is hard and long. We should see all adversity as an opportunity to practice a good attitude. The difficulty you face is meant to teach you to endure. Whatever you’re in, commit to stay in it. If you stay in it, you’ll win. If you stay in it, you inspire everyone around you. Just like the heroes of ancient Greece. Staying in this fight will take everything you have.
“...regard all adversity as a training exercise.” // Seneca[xiii]
Do not let your emotions cloud your state of being. Your being, your attitude, is always up to you no matter the circumstances you face. It’s hard, yes. But who said it wasn’t supposed to be? The truth is, it’s going to be hard either way. Hard is a guarantee. Don’t make molehills into mountains, make mountains into molehills.
Being your Best is hard.
Being your normal is hard.
Making wise decisions is hard.
Making bad decisions is hard.
Being in shape is hard.
Being out of shape is hard.
Losing weight is hard.
Being fat is hard.
Working out is hard.
Being weak is hard.
Being disciplined is hard.
Being lazy is hard.
Getting out of your comfort zone is hard.
Staying in your comfort zone is hard.
Starting a business is hard.
Working for someone else is hard.
Making a lot of money is hard.
Making a little bit of money is hard.
Being rich is hard.
Being poor is hard.
Having great relationships is hard.
Having bad relationships is hard.
Having friends is hard.
Having no friends is hard.
Fighting for your marriage is hard.
Divorce is hard.
Having a lot of things is hard.
Having nothing is hard.
Living on purpose is hard.
Living off purpose is hard.
Doing life God’s way is hard.
Doing life your own way is hard.
Everything is hard!
Choose your hard!
// Keith Craft[xiv]
[i] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
[ii] Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings.
[iii] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (1797), ed. Gregory Hays (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2003).
[iv] Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top (New Orleans, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1977).
[v] Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism (New York, NY: New York Knopf, 1990).
[vi] Seligman, Learned Optimism.
[vii] Seligman, Learned Optimism.
[viii] Tyrtaeus, Fragments, ed. James W. Bailey (Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishers, LLC, 2010).
[ix] William Smith (ed.), The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biology and Mythology (London, England: Taylor and Walton, 1844).
[x] Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings.
[xi] Aurelius, Meditations.
[xii] Aurelius, Meditations.
[xiii] Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, eds. Tobias Reinhardt and John Davie (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2007).
[xiv] Keith Craft, “Choose Your Hard.” Warrior Night, Elevate Life Church, Frisco, Texas. May 16, 2019.