Driving away from a negative attitude

Spencer McDonald
Did you ever know someone with an attitude of “nothing ever goes my way”? You may have a friend or colleague or even a family member with this attitude. Maybe even you have this attitude. My friend Steve certainly does. I like Steve, but I sometimes find him exhausting to be around, especially when he’s driving and I'm the passenger.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s not that he’s a bad driver, it’s just that he finds fault with everything and everyone around him. He’s quick to verbalize his displeasure too.

You know the type: “That guy should get off my tail and quit tailgating me”; “Someone should build more roads or widen the ones we have to reduce this stupid congestion”; “People should learn to drive properly”; “We shouldn’t let new immigrants drive without more training and testing”; “That idiot should have signalled before turning.” It goes on and on.

Steve wouldn’t call himself a complainer or even a particularly negative person; he would just say that he knows how things should be. Some days it seems like nothing is right for Steve. Everything should be different. It really bugs him and when things don’t go Steve’s way, someone else is always to blame. Steve lives in the world of should. In Steve’s world of should, nothing and no one is good enough, right enough or fair enough and should be different (according to Steve).

Steve knows how everyone else should drive and is disappointed daily when his expectations are not met. What Steve doesn’t realize is that with his attitude of finding fault in everything and everybody, he’s actually giving away his power and turning himself into a negative, critical, judgemental driver who is so caught up in everyone else’s driving that he upsets himself and gets stressed out as a result.

This is a concept called “locus of control.” What this refers to is where we place the power or control over the events in our lives. If we place the control and responsibility for our sense of happiness, contentment and safety outside of ourselves we have an external locus of control like Steve. If we live in the world of should, and expect that things should change and be different if only someone would do something, we are in fact placing the control of our happiness or contentment outside of ourselves. We will be happy when someone fixes everything that bugs us.

But there is no one making these fixes. Steve has spent his entire life complaining about how things should be different and he is in a perpetual state of disappointment that things are not as they should be. This isn’t to say that things couldn’t be a lot better in many areas, but what’s the point of complaining if you are either unable or just unwilling to take action to make them better. What about your expectations? Do you get out of bed each morning hoping that this will finally be that perfect day? When you never get cut off, traffic lights are cooperative and green, the sun is shining and everyone is moving along at the perfect speed (for you)? As one student said to me “You are dreaming baby” that’s never going to happen.

It is possible to change your world view from the world of “should” to the world of “is”. In the world of is, we accept how things are and take action to deal with them. Unlike Steve, we then see results. So you don’t like that guy tailgating, simply do something to change the situation. Move over, let him pass, slow a bit and increase following distance.

Realize just because you think he should stop tailgating you, wishing he would not, will not make that so. If you can’t do anything about it at the moment, be aware of him there, but why get caught up in complaining? It just reinforces a sense of powerlessness. A great way to move out of a mindset of negativity is to make a point of noticing when things do go well and being grateful for them. Take it a step further and make a point of daily noting everything that you are grateful for in your life. This is powerful tool to change a negative outlook and the express ticket out of the world of should.