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You Own Your Attitude

(or Where are My Sunglasses?)

Revised from an article which first appeared in Schwimmvergnügen in 1994.

Ever have a “crummy” day? One of those days where nothing goes right. Oversleep, out of toothpaste, burn your mouth on a cup of McDonald's coffee, misjudge traffic, late to work, boss points out your shirt is buttoned wrong, stock you just sunk $4000 in lost 16 points over night, computer on the fritz, drive across town for a 2 o'clock meeting which has been canceled, flat tire on the way back, your company to down-size dramatically next quarter, called into a “quick” meeting at 4:55, late to workout, have to swim with that guy that likes his half in the middle of the lane, Coach wants those stupid freestyle drills done right, no hot water in the showers, locked keys in the car, $50 to wrecker driver before he spends eight seconds opening the door, no beer in the refrigerator, pizza delivered with anchovies, cable is out except for C-SPAN, still out of toothpaste, forget to set alarm for tomorrow.

The day I just described would probably qualify as a crummy day in most people's book. I know it would in mine. And most people would spend a good portion, if not all, of that day in a rotten mood. That's only natural, right? A person couldn't help but have a bad attitude when everything is going against the grain, right?

Wrong.

One of the great gifts you possess as a human being is Your Attitude. I write it like that to emphasize that it is your attitude. You own it. You control it. You are responsible for it. You can change it at will. Your attitude is not dependent on your surroundings, not ruled by events, not tied to the Dow Jones Index and, most importantly, not excusable when it is lousy.

If you are not in a good mood it is only because you choose not to be. I have no quarrel with deciding to be in a bad mood and then acting on that decision. A little self-pity is probably therapeutic from time to time. Just realize that it is always your choice. If your attitude is poor and you find that unsatisfactory then it is incumbent upon you to make a change.

“But coach, how can I just change my attitude?”

A good attitude starts with a smile. It sounds corny but you would be surprised how far a big smile will take you into the realm of positive outlooks. Next time you are in a bad mood I challenge you to smile for two minutes. You have to do it right — you gotta make it look real. Even if you are the only one around to see it — look in a mirror and give no hint that it is not a genuine beam.

Next, apply the principle of Self Speak. Talking to yourself in the correct manner is a powerful tool. At first you may feel silly. That's OK. Just think how often you say things to yourself in a negative manner. All you need to do is change the wording a bit. Start with the time honored “Damn, I'm good!” Back it up with other positive utterances “Man, this is going to be a great day!” or “I'm going to have a great workout!” or “When my boss sees how enthusiastic I am about my job today he'll have to give me a raise on general principle!” Your brain responds positively to positive input. And it doesn't care where the input comes from.

Dwell on the present and future, not the past. What you do, or don't do, right now determines your future. How you approach the present moment is up to you and you alone. The future you envision and dwell on for yourself is your guiding light as to how to approach the present. If you visualize great things for today, this week, this year and this lifetime you will have a hard time not being enthusiastic about the present. On the other hand dwelling on past misfortunes and allowing them to be harbingers of doom will just as certainly make your present moment a torture.

Espouse your enthusiasm to others. Try the following — the next ten times someone asks you “How're ya doin'?” answer with an enthusiastic and convincing “I'm doin' great!” The more believable you make this to the other guy the more believable it will be to you. People who are enthusiastic about life and activities are more attractive to others. You will find that others will respond to you better if you demonstrate a positive outlook.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Sounds corny. Yet, every setback you encounter, every pitfall, every hardship has some positive aspect to it. How you look at any situation is up to you. If the elevator is out of commission, walking up nine flights of stairs might be a hardship if you choose to see it that way. On the other hand it could be great exercise. You choose your own viewpoint. Each morning when your alarm clock goes off you have choices to make. You might choose to curse the dawn, seek excuses for skipping workout, dread the rush hour traffic, plot the boss’s demise etc. You could also choose to relish getting a jump on the rest of the world by getting up early and having a great workout. Embrace the challenge of learning new swimming skills. Look forward to that satisfying feeling you get while you are in your car going to work and you look over at the guy in the next lane struggling to come to terms with the new day and his fourth cup of coffee, knowing you have already done something good for your body. Every day you are presented with opportunities to either search for the silver lining or to just see the gray exterior of a cloud. When you get good at spotting the silver linings you will no longer need a sunny day to feel good about life.

I pity people who spend lots of time feeling sorry for themselves. They are so close, yet so far from a better quality of life for want of a little conscious effort. And I refuse to endure the presence of ones who feel they are entitled to inflict their poor attitudes on the rest of us. Look around you from time to time and try to spot the people who have figured out that they are in control of how they feel and how life affects them. Think about how your actions and utterances measure up under the same type of appraisal.

Most successful people make a conscious habit of attacking every moment with the right attitude — an attitude that demonstrates their high expectations for themselves and for their futures. Take a step in the direction of improving your attitude toward swimming, work, relationships and life in general — adopt a new motto to express your attitude and outlook. My personal favorite is a line from a Timbuk3 tune — “My future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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