YOUR MENTAL ATTITUDE to life is one of the key elements of your personality makeup. It is your default way of viewing reality, the seven options being: Realism, Spiritualism, Idealism, Pragmatism, Cynicism, Skepticism and Stoicism.
For an introduction to the “overleaves” of personality, see
Overleaves: The structure of Personality
What’s with the attitude?
Each of us has a mental framework which we use to frame our view of life, to give events and experiences a consistent meaning. This is a part of the personality known as the Attitude. It enables us to interpret reality in a consistent way.
Attitude means perspective or viewpoint.
Just to clarify, we are not talking about specific attitudes such as your attitudes to art, religion or Justin Bieber – although such attitudes could reflect your underlying Attitude. Nor are we talking about having ‘attitude’ in the sense of acting tough.
We are talking about Attitude as a major component of personality — the overall orientation of the mind, a fundamental mindset that is with you for life.
Think of it as the lens through which you see your life unfolding.
Your Attitude sits alongside your other major personality components or ‘Overleaves’ — the Goal and the Mode.
- Your Goal is what you want most deeply out of life, both in general and in any given situation. Dominance and Acceptance are examples.
- Your Mode is how you go about getting that — cautiously, for example, or perhaps aggressively.
- Your Attitude is how you interpret your life experiences — your individual take on life in general — how you make sense of reality.
A coherent story
Every Attitude is, in effect, a ‘bias’ in how we interpret our life experiences. For example: Realism is biased towards paying attention to the solid facts and their consequences. Cynicism is biased against non-facts.
In fact, there is no way to mentally construct reality without one bias or another. We can experience the essence of reality purely and directly in exceptional moments of spiritual insight (awakening, enlightenment). But everyday life is more chaotic and uncertain, a jumble of events and experiences, one after another. The Attitude is how we join together our experiences to form a coherent mental picture or story of life as we live it.
By way of example, I have the Attitude of Idealism. I tend to look at life in terms of how perfect it could be. I look for ways in which life is good, or better than it seems, or could be made better than it is. My mental framework automatically reconstructs everyday life events so that they fit some perfect, ideal pattern (as I see it). So my sense of life is biased to a framing it in terms of some nice idea that makes perfect sense to me.
My wife, in contrast, is very sensitive to ideas that don’t make sense. She has the attitude of Skepticism. Her basic mental orientation is to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
This works well as a combination — or at least it does now that we understand our different takes on life. I come up with nice ideas and she puts them to the test. For example, let’s say we’re in a hospital: I can imagine the medical staff doing a great job, and look for signs to verify that. My wife, however, will point out all the things the staff are doing wrong.
The seven Attitudes
As with all ‘overleaves’ or personality components, there are seven possible types of Attitude — seven ways of framing life. You can probably relate to all of them to some extent, but your personality will be marked by one dominant Attitude.
The seven Attitudes with their positive and negative variants are as follows:
As ever, the seven options represent three pairs of polar opposites (Action pair, Expression pair, Inspiration pair) plus one neutral option (Assimilation).
Realism and Cynicism
Those who have an Action Attitude, either Realism or Cynicism, take a ‘wilful’ view of reality in terms of hard facts which can be acted upon. Both have a down-to-earth, solid, evidence-based approach reflecting what actually occurs in life, but in opposite ways.
- Realists like to turn their experiences into “actionable knowledge”. They look at all the facts to assess the most plausible explanations and reasonable predictions. “The more facts we know, the better we can understand the past and predict the future.”
- Positive = perceptiveness (making justifiable assessments, based on evidence).
- Negative = supposition (making assessments unjustifiably, without evidence).
- Cynics challenge non-facts; they refuse to be misled by bogus assertions. “Anything you say that isn’t a proven fact is nonsense.”
- Positive = contradiction (criticising unlikely claims, with reason).
- Negative = denigration (criticising unfairly, without reason).
Idealism and Skepticism
Those who have an Expression Attitude, either Idealism or Skepticism, take an intellectual/imaginative view of life in terms of ideas that can be, or have already been, expressed about it.
- Idealists conceive of reality in terms of ideas that express a sense of great perfection or inherent possibilities. ” Truth is beauty, and beauty, truth.”
- Positive = coalescence (generating ideas to make perfect sense of many things).
- Negative – naïveté (assuming things makes perfect sense, without reason).
- Skeptics refuse to accept false ideas, so they put dubious-sounding ideas to the test, or simply reject them outright. “I’ll believe it when I see it for myself.”
- Positive = investigation (checking the validity of doubtful ideas)
- Negative = suspicion (doubting unfairly, without checking)
Spiritualism and Stoicism
Those who have an Inspiration Attitude, either Spiritualism or Stoicism, give their lives a consistent emotional meaning or sense of order. They look for higher meanings or universal truths that have a consistent emotional quality.
- Spiritualists make sense of life in whatever way brings greater comfort and joy – this usually means believing in something esoteric which gives life a higher meaning. “I believe everything happens for a reason.”
- Positive = verification (ensuring personal beliefs fit with personal experiences).
- Negative = credulity (willingness to believe anything esoteric, regardless of actual experience).
- Stoics refuse to allow any experience of life to disturb their inner peace and calm. “There’s no need to get excited.”
- Positive = tranquillity (regarding life experiences in a way that maintains inner peace and calm).
- Negative = resignation (assuming suffering is inevitable, regardless of actual experience).
Those who have the Assimilation Attitude don’t really care about viewing things this way or that way.
- Pragmatists just take in whatever information is useful right now and then move on. “That’s all I need to know.”
- Positive = practicality (finding what works in each new situation).
- Negative = dogmatism (assuming, without reason, that whatever worked in the past will work now).
The prevalence of the Attitudes
The seven Attitudes are not equally prevalent in the population. The top three Attitudes are Realism, Idealism and Pragmatism:
Understand that none of these viewpoints is right or wrong. They are all limited and biased in their own ways, and they all have the potential to be used positively or negatively, but they are all valid and they all give life a consistent sense of meaning. Seen as working together, they provide a rich picture, a kind of tapestry view of life.