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Own your attitude: Controlling how your brain works

Your attitude can influence how your day will flow and how your mind will react to situations.

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“If I were immersed in constant melancholy, I would not be who I am.” — Elie Wiesel

Back in 2001, I was assigned to provide personal security for Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel. It was during the Days of Remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

After the event, I escorted Mr. Wiesel to his limousine. He asked about me: did I have a family, what were the children’s ages, etc. It was an amazing experience to be inside his space for that short period of time.

When we arrived at his car, he shook my hand, thanked me and asked if there was anything he could do for me. WOW! I told him there was one thing he could do, he could share with me how he made it through the Holocaust and yet was so kind and sincere, without a trace of bitterness.

“No prison, no tyrant, no war criminal, no dictator or persecutor can touch your attitude. They can destroy your body, but your attitude is yours, and that is what defines you.”

With that, he squeezed my hand, got into the limo and my time inside his space was over—but the impression will last a lifetime.

Indian woman

You define your own attitude, and it can help you deal with situations you’ll face in your life. (Source)

Our attitude is our choice. It is the last bastion of freedom, a fortress that no human can breach unless we open the gates from the inside.

Every situation doesn’t call for a “positive” attitude. For example in the midst of getting shot at, I have never found myself thinking “sunshine, waterfalls and unicorns” about those doing the shooting. I found controlling and deploying my attitude much simpler once I learned how the brain works.

In the last decade or so, through cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, we have learned enormous amounts about how the human brain works. With a functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) brain imaging and brain mapping, we have learned that the brain takes in approximately 11 million bits of information per second.

How much goes to the conscious mind for action?

The number varies between 126 bits per second all the way down to 40 bits per second. For the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to the high side. The human brain takes in 11 million bits of information per second and filters all the information in real-time, sending only 126 bits of information to our conscious mind for action.

Thinking, Own your attitude

The human brain usually absorbs at around 11 million bits of information per second. (Source)

How do we each pick the 126 bits that get sent to the conscious mind for action? The studies have shown that our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and attitudes are the filter that chooses the 126 bits. We discard 99.9% of all that information and then pick only the information that proves and reinforces our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and attitudes.

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For instance, if you think today is going to be an AWESOME day, your brain will go to work and find the exact 126 bits of information per second that prove yourself to be correct. However, if you think today is going to be an AWFUL day, your brain will go to work and find the exact 126 bits of information per second that also prove yourself to be correct.

In psychology, it’s called confirmation bias. Your brain knows you are a genius and will never go against your genius self. Never. Ever. No matter what! Your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes create a medical, electrochemical and biophysical self-fulfilling prophecy. The person who thinks they can do something can do it. The person who believes they will do something sets their brain in motion to find a way to do it. The flip side is also a medical fact, the person who thinks they can’t do something, can’t do it. So, the person who believes that it’s impossible to do something immediately shuts the brain down from searching the 11 million bits per second for solutions, making it impossible.

Use your intellectual power to choose your attitude wisely, and deploy it strategically. But whatever you do, don’t open the gates to your citadel and abdicate your choice to others or outside circumstances. Don’t give anyone or anything that power over you.

Your attitude is yours and yours alone.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Andrew D. Wittman, PhD, is a United States Marine Corps infantry combat veteran, a former Police Officer and Federal Agent. As a Special Agent for the U.S. Capitol Police, Wittman led the security detail for Nancy Pelosi and has personally protected Hillary Clinton, Tom Delay, Trent Lott, King Abdullah of Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Sir Elton John, as well as Fortune 20 CEOs. As a security contractor for the State Department, he taught high-threat diplomatic security to former Navy SEALS, Marines, Rangers, and Special Forces. Wittman is founder of the Mental Toughness Training Center, a leadership consultancy specializing in peak performance, team dynamics, resolving conflict in the workplace and is the author of the new book, “Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You” (2016). He holds a Ph.D. in Theological Studies, is a guest lecturer at Clemson University and co-hosts the radio call-in show “Get Warrior Tough”.

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