Is a Positive Attitude Enough?

Yesterday, Carrie made a very interesting comment in response to my review of I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This:

if being happy is a matter of attitude […] then shouldn’t people be able to make anything work […] by simply changing their attitude?

positive attitude by Alex Cheek on Flickr!Carrie’s question strikes right at the heart of a key question about personal development and success: is a positive attitude enough to succeed?

My answer? No, it’s not. It’s a piece of the puzzle, and quite often it can be the piece that turns failure into success, but alone, a positive attitude isn’t enough to make you succeed.

The Elements of Success
I don’t believe that there is any one recipe for success. Instead, I believe success is the result of a combination of a lot of different factors – and not all of them are needed for success. The more factors you have on your side, the more likely you are to succeed, and positive attitude is just one of those factors. Here are seven additional factors that are also important.

Knowledge A strong body of knowledge about the area in which you wish to succeed is often one of the key building blocks of success. You can build this by pushing yourself – read and try out the foundational materials and push yourself into challenging areas to build your knowledge.

Natural talent Some people are born with a predisposition to succeed in certain areas. Find this out for yourself by trying a lot of different activities and seeing what comes easy to you. The things you do with little or no effort that genuinely impress others are likely very near your natural talent, and natural talent combined with a lot of hard work leads to greatness.

Clear goals and planning Much like a trip, it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go if you know where you’re going and spend the time to plan the route you’ll take to get there. Think about what your definition of success exactly is, then identify some of the things that need to be done to help you move towards it.

Passion An intense, burning desire to dig deep into a particular area is often a sign that you’ll find success there. Much as with your natural talent, the way to find your passion is to touch on a lot of different areas and see what resonates for you.

Focus/consistent effort Hard work is another key to finding success. You don’t become a champion without practicing every day. If you want to succeed in a certain area, work hard in that area and go beyond what others are doing – deliberate practice is one big key.

Luck/opportunity Luck and opportunity also play an important role in success – sometimes things just click due to forces outside your control. You can improve your luck by making as many strong personal contacts as you can and sharing what you have to increase their “luck” and “opportunities.”

Cooperation/support Along with luck comes cooperation – the fact that others are working in small ways to help you succeed rather than hinder you. A spouse telling you that you can do this is going to go a lot further than a spouse telling you you’ll never make it.

The Value of a Positive Attitude
That’s not to say that a positive attitude isn’t a key part of the picture – it is. Believing you can succeed and treating the people around you with a positive attitude as well are both important to helping you find the success you want. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find success even if you have the most sunny optimism if you don’t focus in with some hard work, build your knowledge, plan for what you want, and build other foundational pieces of success.

Here are seven ways to build up your positive attitude.

Make lists of your own positive attributes. Better yet, see if you can get a friend to help you by making a list for you – I made a list like this for a friend once upon a time. Then, keep this list somewhere and look at it regularly. Remind yourself that you have a lot of positive attributes, and think about how you can do things so these attributes are accentuated.

Don’t dwell on your failures. We’re all going to fail sometimes. While it’s useful to reflect on them a bit, it’s not healthy to dwell on them. Identify mistakes made, figure out how to correct them, and then move on. You’re not defined by your failures.

Make lists of the successes and positive attributes of those around you – and remind them of those successes when you can. Make a list of all of your regular coworkers and contacts and list a few positive attributes about each one – their knowledge, their insight, their communication skills, their logical skills, and so on. Then, be sure to focus on those skills – the good things they bring to the table – with every interaction.

Avoid thinking negatively about others – if you find yourself going negative, look for their positive attributes. No one’s perfect. Sometimes people are going to rub you the wrong way. Other times, they’ll do something not up to snuff, or they’ll engage in behavior you don’t agree with. Don’t focus on that. Instead, think about their positive attributes – and let them know you see them in a positive way. Knowing that others see you as positive and look up to you is often a big push to get people to act in a positive fashion.

Never speak negatively of others. It’s often tempting in the lunchroom to engage in snarky talk and office politics. Avoid it at all costs if you can. You’re a lot better off interjecting with a “Hey, they’re not all that bad…” and a positive comment than to pile on the negativity. If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything at all.

Surround yourself with positive people. If the people around you are constantly negative in their comments and actions towards others, it’s time to look for a different circle. Focus on building friendships with people that engage you (and others) in positive ways.

Reduce your time spent in activities that make you feel bad about yourself. Then, fill that time with activities that are positive. For example, if you spend hours each night watching television programs that make you feel bad about yourself at night when you climb into bed, look for other forms of entertainment – uplifting and educational programming. Or, turn off the television entirely and engage in exercise or other activities that increase a positive feeling about yourself.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.