Attitude Equals Altitude


When Caroline wakes up, she’s generally in a good mood. She putters around making breakfast, talking to her cats, filling the bird feeders, planning her day. She’s fine. But then her husband gets up, and “that’s when my day gets dirty,” she sighs. “He’s taciturn until he sits with his coffee and toast. And when he turns on the morning news, it’s a running commentary on this idiot in government should be impeached and that bunch of people deserve what they get and look at what big business is doing; no wonder we’ll never be rich and why do they think we care about furniture sales at six in the morning? and even if this weather keeps up I’ll never be able to stack the firewood and there goes another weekend.” By the time he finishes his breakfast and goes to shower, she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, and wonders how she’s going to get through the day. She never used to be like this, she muses. Maybe the world really has gotten as bad as all that, and she hadn’t noticed. Maybe her husband is right, and she’s just a Pollyanna…

Then there’s Abigail. She, like me, is an “elegant woman of a certain age,” and for the most part, she’s fine with the fact that she’s on the wisdom side of 50. But the women she meets at noon every day are constantly carping about their grey hair and wrinkles and sagging jowls. They fear that their husbands or boyfriends will leave them for someone without those telltale age events. And they snipe at the 20-years-younger, slimmer, apparently happier versions of themselves that pass by. So when Abigail leaves the restaurant, it sometimes takes her a full afternoon to shake off the “how-can-anyone-think-I’m-anything-but-used-up” feeling she took in from The Ladies Who Lunch.   She knows better; when she stops and examines what she really thinks, she knows that’s not who she is. But, like clockwork, she lets it happen again the next day, and the next…

On the other hand, there’s my friend Richard. Richard has the innate ability to listen to someone else’s complaining and carping and negative thoughts and realize “well, that’s just them.” It wasn’t always this way. He used to be as susceptible as most of us to picking up the feelings of those around him, taking in points of view and opinions indiscriminately, and letting it color his experiences. Now, however, he listens objectively, and automatically asks himself “is this what I believe?” And if it’s not, he simply lets the observation slide away. He doesn’t view the other person’s opinions – or his — as wrong or right. They’re just in their space. And he’s in his. He may choose to be around those people or not, based on how he wants to use his time and mental space. But at no time does he feel “impinged upon” by someone else’s outlook.

You wouldn’t accept someone barging into your living room and painting your walls a different color. You wouldn’t wear clothing someone else picked out for you if it didn’t fit.   So why would you give someone the chance to over-paint your worldview with theirs? Why would you wear someone else’s opinions if they weren’t yours to begin with?

It comes down to whom you allow in your “personal mental cockpit.” When you think of your brain as a flight deck and the people around you as licensed pilots, you choose who gets into your personal mental cockpit more carefully.

On commercial airlines, the pilot is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the flight. This includes making major command decisions, leading the crew team, managing emergencies and handling particularly troublesome passengers.   In life, it’s an easy analogy to use, because for the most part, we’re our own pilots on Incarnation Airways. We make the major command decisions (How will I live my life? What kind of a partner/parent/friend/employee do I want to be? How do I want to affect the world around me? What legacy shall I leave behind?). We lead our team – the people in our lives – by demonstrating to them how we want to be treated, and how we will treat others in return; we demonstrate our values and those we expect others around us to hold as well. We manage emergencies (births and deaths, illness, stress, change) so that they have the least amount of negative effect on us and our circle of family and friends. And we handle “troublesome passengers” – those people who insist on attempting to throw us off course – in a calm but firm manner.

Pilots, even when equal in terms of knowhow and licensure, get their assignments by seniority. That position and experience means the pilot has a certain level of insight into flying in all kinds of weather and circumstances. They know themselves and their aircraft inside out. It’s what makes them so valuable.

Who in your life can possibly be more senior than you when it comes to determining your own flight schedule and itinerary?

Let’s continue the analogy, and see what happens on a commercial flight when a pilot comes into the cockpit that isn’t familiar with the airplane and doesn’t know the flight plan.   For one thing, if he or she barges in without permission, they are immediately asked to leave! At best, they are asked to sit in the back with the other passengers. At worst — if they refuse — they are escorted off the plane. If they do know the crew and have entered with permission, they might be invited to sit in the “jump seat” and observe, but they aren’t given the controls. And any good pilot will respect the captain of the flight and refrain from “back seat flying,” distracting the flight’s command person and possibly endangering everyone aboard.

So how does this airline analogy work for you as you travel your life road? It’s simple and succinct:Don’t allow your life to be hijacked by people who can’t fly at your altitude. They won’t know how to read your flight plan, and you’ll never get where you want to go.

Who – or what — can “hijack” your mental plane? Whatever changes your focus from what you want to what you don’t want. Whether it’s pessimistic people, matters that are urgent but not important – anything or anyone that engenders negative thoughts or emotions (think newscasts or programs that focus on hopelessness about the world situation, end-of-the-world scenarios or “anti” anything) — these things can take your life and put it into a nosedive – if you allow them to.

On the other hand, affirmations, visualizations and such are popular with self-enhancement work because they assist you to change your focus from what you don’t like or don’t want — to what you do. Those kinds of exercises encourage you to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings, rather than being emotional “flypaper” where anything that flies by gets stuck in your brainpan. To continue our airline analogy, these self-enhancement tools are like radar and traffic controllers, assisting us in making “course corrections” to keep us on the right path and at the right altitude.

Try something different this week, in the form of a little self-examination.  Be very present and aware of what influences surround you and permeate your life.   Discover what radio or television programs you listen to, what newspapers or magazines you read, what you gravitate to when you surf the Net.   While not judging where they are for themselves, focus on the people you’ve chosen to be part of your life. Are they optimistic or pessimistic? Objective or judgmental? Are they the sorts of people who look for solutions and ways to move forward, or just focus on the problems without hope of changing things? To paraphrase Mother Theresa, are they “anti war” or “pro peace”?

As you make these observances, check in with yourself at a gut level. Observe what your instinctive reactions are to these stimuli. Do you feel yourself moving toward those things that support your flight pattern or those that block you? Do your reactions keep you at that high altitude you seek or bring you down? Remember, people, information and circumstances in and of themselves don’t “do” things to you. You are completely responsible for flying your plane. It’s time to notice whether you’re being distracted by those “back seat flyers” instead of keeping your eyes – and mind and heart – or the true destination ahead.

In the words of Viktor Frankl, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances is to choose one’s own way.” This week, remember the old saying that “attitude equals altitude.” If you want to fly high – if you want to create your world and your life so that both are enveloped in possibility, hope and achievement – then do your preflight check every morning. Make sure that your fuel tank of positivity is full. Ensure that your plane of existence is in top shape, and that your worldview has no cracks, rust, or loose bolts. And trust that Spirit and the Universe – everybody’s Co-Pilots – are ready to go when, and where, you are.