It’s 2017, and our last night in Malaysia. In the morning, we start the journey home, back to Australia. Just as we’re about to turn in for the night, one of our cousins decides to take us out. It’s one part last hurrah, seeing as it’s been a few years since we’ve been together, and one part long goodbye, given that we have no idea when we’ll be back or when we’ll see each other again.
We end up going to a little coffee shop, part of a chain called Old Town. It’s not super late, maybe 9 or 10pm, but your guess is as good as mine why there’s a coffee shop open that late. In Australia, most coffee shops would have closed by now, even though they would have opened at 7 or earlier. But in Malaysia, everything opens much later (10 or 11am), and stays open a lot later, too, so I guess it all balances out. Chalking it up to cultural differences, we order. The conversation is slow at first, given that it’s just the three of us and the only reason we’re back anyway is because of grandpa’s funeral, but eventually we get talking.
Because we’re all getting to that age where some of us cousins should start thinking about getting married, settling down, and starting a family, we start wondering who will be getting married next. It’s a topic we’ve covered before, and like last time, we come to the same conclusion: there just aren’t that many of us that have been in the kind of long-term relationship that could lead to marriage, so the chances of any one of us getting married any time soon are pretty low.
Eventually our cousin mentions that it’s unlikely one of our other cousins will get married soon, partly because of their general attitude and overall negative demeanour towards life. You know the type — always complaining, always lamenting how unfortunate their own existence is. Never happy, never content, a real pessimist in every definition of the word. Miserable.
I’ve thought about that a lot.
There’s a lot to be said for your own attitude towards life. We all know that life happens, but what happens if you start thinking about things in a positive way? Instead of focusing on the negatives, what happens if you start remembering all the good that’s happened, instead of all the bad? I’m not telling you to ignore or otherwise trivialise all the bad stuff that happens; it’s all important. But by choosing to think about things in a certain way, by choosing to find the good in every situation you find yourself in, can’t you improve your own perception of how things have panned out, whichever way the cookie has crumbled?
I’ve been calling it positive mental attitude, although it takes many forms. Positive thinking. Optimism. Glass-half-full. And the most recent one I’ve heard of, useful belief. Whatever you call it, the concept remains the same: by choosing to think a certain way about everything, your outlook on life changes. And when you choose to put a positive spin on even the worst news, it changes your perspective in a subtle way. Soon enough, you’ll start to notice the upside to everything, the proverbial and figurative light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve started carrying this attitude towards Dota. I used to have a pretty awful demeanour towards my games. While the reasons are too numerous and complex to go into here (that’s a blog post for another time, if there ever was one), I used to think that even if the game was spiralling out of control, I could at least make myself feel better about the impending loss by blaming my teammates, our lack of team coordination, wrong item choices, or really any aspect of the game that could be used as a potential target for finger-pointing. I was pretty toxic.
But things are different now, and I have a much better attitude towards Dota. Every time I believe the game isn’t going my way, I focus on the positives instead of flaming my teammates, questioning their decision making, or telling them how the game should be played. Sometimes, things just happen to work out, and other times, they don’t. That’s just how it goes, but that’s not saying I try my hardest to help influence that swing, one way or the other. If all else fails, then it’s time to try something new, time to try something outlandish that just might work, or maybe just queue up a rapier and go for the all-in play. The least I can do, regardless of how I think the game is going, is to have fun playing with the friends I’m partied and playing with.
It’s the same positive mental attitude that has also given me a much more relaxed outlook on life. I’ve never particularly related to people with anxiety very well. Not because I don’t worry about things — I worry about things all the time — I just know that most things don’t matter. The things that do are harder to measure, so unless you’re going to go around stressing about every single little thing, you might as well not stress about any of it.
Stuck in traffic? It doesn’t matter. (Unless you have somewhere to be, in which case you should have planned better, left earlier, etc.) Get something wrong at work? Don’t worry about it, you can do better next time. Say the wrong thing to someone special? It’s fine. Everyone’s human, after all, and everyone makes mistakes. You can make it up to them, I promise. It might take a little time, but you’ll get there eventually.
It’s this positive mental attitude that has also made me much more OK with where my life is at right now. Not that I think my life is bad, or anything, but like anything, it could be better. Positive mental attitude says things could be much, much, worse, and so I’m thankful that they’re not.
Positive mental attitude is great and all, but the one thing you have to be careful about is keeping it under control. Too much positive mental attitude can result in over-confidence, and feeling like nothing matters. That’s… not the case. Plenty of things matter. That directly contradicts what I said above, I know, but trust me on this, plenty of things matter. I haven’t quite been able to make the mental leap to “nothing matters, we’re all going to die anyway” because I think that’s a little too foolhardy, so, yeah, plenty of things matter. Maybe not quite as much as you give them credit for, but they matter. Which is why I’m also careful to temper my positive mental attitude with reality checks every mow and again, both as a way of keeping the balance and keep my sense of self-confidence in check, lest I become some egotistical psychopath.
And I get it, you know? It can be hard to think about what the potential positives are in every situation, especially in cases where things are genuinely sad or upsetting. Those happen all the time, thanks to this thing we call life, and sometimes, that’s just how it is. You’ve seen Inside Out, right? Things get complicated, and part of growing up is having memories that are as much sad are they are happy.
One of the ideas behind positive mental attitude, the thing I think a lot of people gloss over when they talk about it, is that even if everything sucks, you’re shaping your own perception of how things are. It’s like a Jedi mind trick you can pull on yourself. You’re the master of your own destiny, you control your own actions. Why not control your own thoughts, too?
And if you’re going to do that, you might as well think positive.
That’s positive mental attitude, in a nutshell. And if means that people see and think of you differently because of it, isn’t that a plus too?