Light candles or curse the dark


You can complain...

... or you can change your attitude...

What do you do when life doesn't meet your expectations, when things don't fit in with your plans - and there's nothing you can do about the situation?

Some people complain, moan, and berate anyone or everyone.

Some people recognise it's outside their area of control - and just change their attitude to it.

Take the weather, for example

Once again, we’ve not had a good summer here in the UK.  In fact, both July and August have been among the wettest on record.  (This was written in the summer of 2015.)

And, encouraged by the media, there’s a lot of complaining going on.

It’s just not fair. We wait all year in the hope of two or three warm, dry, and balmy summer months and what happens? Rain, rain, rain!

Whatever happened to all this global warning stuff?

The children are back at school this week – and what sort of summer did they have, then?

That’s the last time I’ll stay on the UK for my summer holidays, I can tell you!

It didn’t used to be like this – not back in the old days.

Some endure – some enjoy

Yes, it has been unseasonable weather – wet, cool, and windy at times. And lots of people are complaining about it and bemoaning that summer hasn’t turned out as they’d hoped.

Over the past few weeks, especially since the school holidays began, I’ve seen families and groups wandering about on Bournemouth’s beautiful beach and through the lovely gardens – in blustery weather and wearing rain gear over their summer shorts trying to make the best of their seaside holiday in the rain.

Different attitudes

And what’s been interesting is the different attitudes being displayed. Some rush around with heads down and glum faces. Yet others laugh and joke as they struggle to keep their light rainwear covering them rather than blowing away in the wind.

Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a consistency in who enjoys and who endures.

It’s not that the young are cheerful while the adults are not.  Nor vice versa.  And both groupings have the same circumstances – the weather is unseasonable and their expectations of a warm sunny break at the seaside haven’t been met.

That said, there does tend to be a consistency within each group – some groups are miserable and some are cheerful.

Attitude – and 3 clichés…

Perhaps it’s the ‘misery is contagious’ versus ‘cheerfulness is catching’ thing and some groups are lucky; they have an influential personality who infects them with a cheery bug whereas others get infected by a misery spreader.

(1) One of my favourite old proverbs is Chinese

'Don't curse the darkness - light a candle.’ 

This highlights(!) that we can choose how we respond to life’s ‘events’: we can curse the darkness or we can go into active mode and do something about it by lighting a candle.

(2) Another favourite cliché is

‘Misery seeks companionship’

Some of us like a good old moan!  When things are not to our liking we whinge and moan and blame. We don’t take action. We don’t light candles!  We go into passive and complaining mode.

And, since, there’s little satisfaction in moaning alone, we seek out others with whom we can share our misery - and who will support our passive attitude.

(3) And to make it a hat-trick of clichés

“Two men looked out through the prison bars – one saw the mud and the other saw the stars.”  

It’s a useful, if slightly corny, reminder of how attitude works.  Two people can look at the same situation and, depending on their habitual attitude, have a quite different response to it.

Our habitual way of responding

You could say that our attitude is our habitual way of perceiving situations and responding to them.

And a negative or pessimistic or fatalistic attitude is just a set of habits that guide how we look at and how we respond to situations. It’s not a deliberate decision or choice. It’s a frame of mind we gradually slip into - unless we’re careful.

For example:

Some people develop the habit of only seeing the bleak, the negatives, and the problems.  Others look for the opportunities or possible benefits or positive aspects of even unwelcome events.

Some people develop the habit of complaining about things we don’t like – rather than doing something about them. Others look for ways of changing or improving things – and then roll up their sleeves and move into action mode. And if this doesn’t work they adapt to the unexpected situation.

Some people have discovered that finding people who share their negative attitude enables them to feel righteous and justified in complaining rather than acting.  Others haven’t the time to do this because they are too busy doing or adapting!

What about your own ‘attitude’?

These attitudes might be summarised:

  • Proactive: action oriented and prepared to adapt to the unexpected - if I can’t change things I can always change how they emotionally affect me.
  • Passive: they reject and resent unplanned change – It’s just not right - things shouldn’t be like this – why is this happening to me?

Did you recognise your ‘attitude’ or habitual response in these descriptions?

If you do and you are happy with things as they are then there’s nothing to change. If you recognise that your habitual response isn’t enhancing the quality of your life the good news is…

How to change your attitude

Your attitude is not you – it’s not even ‘how you are’. It’s merely a set of thinking habits and emotional habits that you’ve picked up along the way. And if you can ‘pick up’ or develop a habit you can replace it with a new habit.

Here’s how to get working on replacing the passive and complaining habitual attitude.

(1) Recognise your current attitude

Think back over how you’ve handled disappointments, difficulties, and setbacks in the recent past. Do you tend to accept and put up – in other words, do you curse the dark?

Or do you take action – do you light candles?

(2) Weigh it up

You don’t need to immediately reject the passive, complaining approach.

It has its benefits. You don’t have to actually do anything, for example. You can just lie back and hope things will improve.  You also have a way of making friends because you can seek out people who share your passivity and your pessimism. And this is easy because there are a lot more negative thinkers out there than of the other kind!

But if this passive approach doesn’t work for you and you’re not prepared to go around complaining then decide that it’s time for a change of attitude.

(3) Motivate yourself

Wait before you change your attitude. Yes, be passive for a little longer!

Just observe your passive and complaining and rejecting attitude in action for a few more days.

This is to build up your motivation through seeing and feeling what the passive approach is costing you in terms of peace of mind and quality of life.

(4) Change you attitude

Move to this stage once you feel sufficiently motivated.  And if you’ve done a good job with the 'negative motivation' in No. 3 above this is relatively easy.

From now on every time you encounter an unwelcome situation you:

Determinedly refuse to whinge or complain - instead you see it as a call to action

Then come up with a plan of action for proactively handling the situation – and act on this

And, if you cannot take action, your back-up plan is to change how you emotionally respond to the situation in a positive and life-enhancing manner.

NLP Principle: There’s a solution to every problem

Being proactive and positive may not be enough. In the real world there’s no guarantee that changing your attitude and having a go will always work. Sometimes things don’t work out no matter how proactive and positive you are.

That’s when we can use our backup plan comes into play. We can change how it emotionally affects us. It is a core principle in NLP: There’s a solution to every problem

It is a very valuable principle to adopt for everyday life. It implies that even when we cannot influence what is happening in the world around us we can always be in charge of how we are emotionally affected by these events.

A similar idea is encapsulated in Ghandi’s comment No one can hurt me without my permission.

Check out this article, too:

Originally published 31 August 2015. Revised and edited March 2019 



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