A can-do attitude is, simply put, a belief that one can tackle whatever comes their way – and a willingness to do it. Whether you are on the ‘can’ or ‘can’t’ side of things, you probably noticed that how you value yourself and your abilities directly reflects onto how much you can actually do in life. We are, indeed, our best friends or worst enemies. Here I'll explain what a can-do attitude is, where it comes from, and give you seven ways to develop it.
You probably know at least one person with a can-do attitude. They are those people with a conviction that anything can be done once they’ve set their mind to it. It’s more than mere optimism, though. Such a belief is combined with a motivation to work on accomplishing the goal or completing the task.
A can-do attitude is a mindset. As such, it is usually deeply ingrained into our psyche. Different factors might contribute to us either being can-doers or doubters, from our temperaments, upbringing, to various experiences we have had throughout our life. Although the can’t-do attitude can be a strong habit of mind, we can also retrain ourselves into a different habit.
Indeed, we can learn to change our mindset, believe in ourselves, and – do it!
A can-do attitude is responsible for the great deeds and ideas that came to fruition. Heroism, altruism, change, revolution – none of it exists without such a readiness to make it happen. I witnessed many exceptional contributions to the community during my volunteering years. “We can do it” was so contagious that none of us ever even thought those projects might not succeed.
What’s more, technological advancement would have probably ended at just stone tools if it wasn’t for those endowed with a can-do attitude. But you don’t need a can-do attitude just to make the whole world a better or more evolved place. You need it to challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be – in any field. As a mother of a four-year-old, I know it’s safe to say that motherhood is absolutely impossible without such a stance. People who seem to sprint through career advancements, too, are guided by the same attitude: “I can do it!”
Everyone’s path towards developing a can-do attitude will differ depending on where you start from. Nonetheless, there are some things everyone can implement to reprogram their mindset. Here are seven ways you can start to develop a can-do attitude.
The concept of a growth vs fixed mindset was put forth by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist. In its simplest, fixed mindset means believing that we have unchanging traits. Those characteristics are dictating what and how we can do in life. Thinking of yourself as stupid (or intelligent) would be an example of a fixed mindset.
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A growth mindset, on the other hand, is about believing in the effects of exercise and learning. So, you would not suppose that your intelligence got you through school and into a fulfilling career. You would credit all the hard work and time invested instead.
“You don’t need a can-do attitude just to make the world a better place. You need it to challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be.”
Why would believing you were intelligent, talented, or good be wrong? The problem with a fixed mindset is that once the trait fails to deliver the results you were after, you feel lost. “This isn’t working! The only explanation is that I’m not clever enough!” See the logic?
People with a growth mindset are more resilient to stress and associated adverse outcomes (from academic and career underperformance to depression or substance use). In other words, they believe that anything can be achieved – if the necessary effort and thought are put into them.
Whether you like it or not, you will make mistakes. In a way, being alive means erring. However, are you prone to becoming fixated on your errors or beating yourself up? Or, do you tend to cast blame on others for the circumstances? Both habits are probably preventing you from developing a can-do attitude.
Accepting responsibility is the first step towards learning from your life experience. Self-forgiveness is the next one. The research revealed the ability to use past mistakes constructively and learn from them results in better individual and group/organisation performance.
So, the next time you get it wrong, don’t throw sticks and stones at yourself. Analyze. What happened? And what could be done better the next time? Take a moment to feel bad about it – and then move on.
One thing that’s usually hard for those who do not have a can-do attitude is to notice and take up new opportunities and chances in life. The comfort of the known feels safe. This is perfectly natural.
However, if you aspire to become someone who believes in themselves, goes out, and gets things done – you need to move outside of your comfort zone. It’s not necessary to be extreme and go far beyond what you used to feel comfortable about. Baby steps will get you there, too.
Can-doers always grab new opportunities shutterstock/mavo
Simply make it your task to start noticing growth opportunities. When you do spot them, ask yourself if maybe you could engage with it? What would feel safe enough, but still bring a bit of change in your life? Do this regularly, and you’ll start noticing a new perspective opening up.
When we are trying to transform the way we think about ourselves, we need all the support we can get. In this case, you want your thoughts, actions, and emotions to align. What do we mean by that?
Although some proponents of affirmations would tell you that repeating “I can do it!” would be enough to conquer the world, the reality isn’t that simple. A failed attempt at affirming ourselves into greatness will likely result in the psychological discomfort reemerging, a study revealed.
We need to work on changing our thoughts, actions, and feelings and make them all congruent. For example, noticing and changing your thought pattern is one step (we’ll get back to it next). However, you need to work out your emotional reactions and understand why you feel the way you do. Is it rational and substantiated, or could you feel in some other way?
Finally, the way you act should also support the can-do attitude. The next time you get the opportunity, make yourself respond to it slightly different to what you’re used to. Somewhat more as a can-doer, to be precise.
We all have an inside voice telling us different things. For many, the voice is the harshest critic one could imagine. For those with a can-do attitude, on the other hand, “You got this” is the mantra they hear repeatedly in their head.
A systematic review of nearly 70 scientific papers confirmed the power of self-talk. Positive self-talk can improve our performance, help with depression or anxiety symptoms, and increase our confidence. Reframing your thoughts makes your mind work for you instead of against you. What we think tends to happen. This so-called Pygmalion effect often works both ways.
Be mindful of what you tell yourself shutterstock/pathdoc
Therefore, the next time you catch yourself thinking “This is too hard”, “It’s impossible”, “I couldn’t possibly do it”, stop. Then, come up with alternative statements. Don’t go for super-hero level right away. In other words, for affirmations to work, they need to be believable for you. Gradually progress towards automatically thinking positive about yourself, your abilities and your outlook. In that way, you will also start believing that you can do it.
Psychological experiments have revealed a phenomenon called ‘learned helplessness’. In short, dogs were put in a problem situation. Every attempt to resolve it and run away from an adverse stimulus would result in more adversity. Afterwards, even when they could escape or terminate the shock, they would not even try. They learned that they were helpless.
Humans learn this, too, although, thankfully, usually in a much less dramatic manner. Seligman proposed that, in the face of traumatic events that we cannot control, we might become passive, depressive, and stop learning. Such a state could generalise and make us freeze when facing any challenge. Therefore, if you want to change your attitude towards life and challenges, it’s time for you to start unlearning the learned helplessness. How?
“One thing that’s hard for those who do not have a can-do attitude is to notice and take up new opportunities in life. The comfort of the known feels safe.”
One thing that’s usually hard for those who do not have a can-do attitude is to notice and take up new opportunities and chances in life. The comfort of the known feels safe. With time, you will accumulate too many arguments against helplessness for your mind to oppose them any longer.
One thing that is characteristic of individuals with a can-do attitude is that they have an inner locus of control. Locus of control is a psychological term indicating where you position the power over your experiences. Is it internal or external?
In other words, do you feel that a lot of things are outside of your control? Or do you feel in charge of both your reactions and the events that happen in your life? A study revealed that people with an internal locus of control are healthier, more satisfied, and, overall, have higher subjective well-being levels.
If you want to become a person who believes in themselves and has the zest to accomplish whatever they set their mind to, try shifting your locus of control. How to do it? The majority of the above tips will result in a gradual shift of the locus.
Additionally, try and remember that you always have a choice. Brainstorm your options, talk to people, make lists of pros and cons, whatever works. The choice is always yours. Even when the uncontrollable life events come – you choose how you will see and feel them.
If you don’t possess a can-do attitude just yet, don’t be too harsh on yourself. You’re far from being alone. Nonetheless, if you wish to change things, believe that it can be done. You can become one of those people who seem to have it going for them. Their secret? Allow me to respond with a quote:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning •
Main image: shutterstock/IC Production
Stanislava Puač Jovanović has a master’s degree in psychology and works as a freelance writer and researcher in this area. Her primary focus is on questions relating to mental health, stress-management, self-development and well-being.
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