Attitude check: Are your good intentions out of whack?

Everyone makes mistakes. And we all make excuses for them from time to time. We know what we should have done instead, but we bend our beliefs — just a little — to justify our actions.

It happens. But, like anything else, if it happens enough, it becomes habit. Our excuses make us lose sight of our original intentions, and then our actions and expectations fall out of sync. We stop holding ourselves accountable. We get focused on the things we want and need, what’s convenient and comfortable, and we forget about the bigger picture, the people around us, the world at large. Without realizing it, we’ve crossed a line.

That shift in mindset can really sneak up, turning minor excuses into major attitudes. The four common adages below show how even words of wisdom can get a bit twisted — and offer some fresh thoughts to air out your original intentions and keep you on the right track.

Guiding principle:
Don’t rely on others to meet your needs. Be responsible for yourself.
Wisdom gone awry: Put yourself first and consider your needs above others’.

Warning signs:
• You can’t remember the last time you really compromised.
• You don’t always keep your commitments to others because you have more important things to do — you can make time for people later.
• You think keeping your priorities straight means putting yourself first.

Consider this: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill

Yes, it’s important to take care of yourself, but to what end? When we’re trying to be our best, it’s easy to start making comparisons between our needs and someone else’s. In those moments, it helps to remember that we’re truly at our best when we feel satisfied by the whole of our lives — not just pride in our individual successes but also the respect and appreciation that come from our relationships. And that requires some give as well as take.

Guiding principle:
Work hard, be assertive, and don’t be afraid to pursue the things you want in life.
Wisdom gone awry: You deserve to be happy, so it’s your right to do what you want and demand the best.

Warning signs:
• You ask for opportunities or rewards without doing the work to show for them.
• You think it’s okay to break the rules when you need to (e.g., cutting in line because you’re late), yet you get riled up when other people don’t follow them.
• You feel jealousy or resentment when people seem more fortunate but less deserving than you.

Consider this: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

As adults, we have to accept that we can’t have all the things we want, even when we deserve them, because (grumble, grumble) life’s not fair. But life is also what you make of it. So think about what’s really important to you, choose which good fights you’re going to fight, and let the other stuff go. And, don’t forget, karma can be kind — if you want to earn recognition, it helps to recognize others’ efforts too.

Guiding principle: We should be understanding of each other’s differences.
Wisdom gone awry: No one has a right to criticize you because your opinion can’t be wrong.

Warning signs:
• You get stubborn and defensive in disagreements.
• You take offense when people don’t acknowledge the value of what you’re saying.
• You sometimes dismiss other people’s opinions — if you think they’re wrong, you ignore what they have to say.

Consider this: “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” —Bertrand Russell

If you can be proven right, so can others; if others can be proven wrong, so can you. Our aspirations and opinions are driving forces that make us us. But when they loom so large that they shut out our ability to consider otherwise, it becomes hard for us to learn and grow. (If you suspect you might be stuck in a rightness loop but need help wrapping your mind around it, start by getting to know what goes wrong when you’re always right.)

Guiding principle: Make everything you do count. Make the most of the time you have.
Wisdom gone awry: You deserve to do whatever makes you happy.

Warning signs:
• You get what you want, even at the expense of others. They should respect your determination.
• You expect people to be happy for your joys and successes. You think they’re unsupportive if not.
• You make plans without consulting others who might be involved.

Consider this: “Life isn’t a matter of milestones but of moments.” —Rose Kennedy

Life is pretty long, actually, and better with good company. So consider how your decisions affect others. You don’t have to stop wanting the best for yourself, but you can try for a more a balanced give-and-take approach. When you give others a hand, you’ll experience the joy of helping, and likely receive some gladly given help in return.

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