My Dad Taught Me How to Have a Positive Attitude, and It's Been Helpful in So Many Ways

Caitlin Johnston
Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema
Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema

My dad has always handled situations with grace and composure (well, other than Notre Dame football games that don't go as planned). Little did I know, he's had a method up his sleeve the entire time and used it to help himself accept situations in his life with a positive and effective response rather than impulsively reacting.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when my dad taught me this lesson, but it was most likely my preteen years. He and I were talking about something that had happened at school and how upset it had made me. I had handled the situation horribly and let my emotions control my actions. In hearing this, my dad looked at me and said "E + R = O." Naturally, I was confused by this string of letters, and he explained to me that when an event (E) happens, you react (R) to it, and that reaction to the event produces an outcome (O) to the whole situation. You aren't able to change what happened, but you can control your reaction and produce a better outcome.

I kind of forgot about the whole lesson for a year or two until I encountered my first big setback in life: a torn ACL. I was a freshman in high school, I'd just earned a spot on the varsity volleyball team, and I was ready for a great season. As I lay in bed one night postsurgery, having a pity party for myself, I remembered my father's words of advice. I took a good long look at the situation. I was constantly battling the negativity: "If I had jumped a second sooner, I wouldn't have landed on her foot and then my knee wouldn't have bent wrong" or "I hate this. I hate the fact that I can barely walk." I would focus on the pain and long journey ahead instead of taking it day by day and changing my attitude to help improve my knee's recovery and my mentality.

Related: My Dad Taught Me to Have Perspective, and It's Completely Changed How I Think

I couldn't change what happened but I could determine how I approached the rest of the journey. Instead of letting my negative thoughts control me, I focused on the day-to-day victories of slowly being able to use my leg again and strengthening myself physically and mentally. Though it wasn't always easy, I did my best to maintain a positive attitude and I even finished physical therapy in seven months instead of nine.

My dad's advice has been with me through everything that has happened in my life. I'm entering my senior year of college this fall, and I know it will be even more beneficial as I head into the real world. Throughout college, I didn't always get the classes I wanted to fit into my schedule. I would be upset, but I worked to reframe my attitude and I went into my classes with hope. In the end, I came out of those classes with knowledge and experiences I was able to use to better myself as a journalist and storyteller.

The same goes for after graduation. Maybe I won't get the exact job I want. Instead of wallowing in disappointment, I will take the situation and use it to better myself and learn skills I might never have learned if I didn't get that job. Maybe I won't get a job in the place I really want to live. Instead, I'll look at the bright side and use the opportunity as a way to grow and experience a place I never thought to be in. And one day, when I have a family of my own, I hope it will help me through marriage and raising my own children. His words will always be tucked into my back pocket, comforting me and guiding me like he always has even if we are far apart. I hope one day I will be able to do the same and pass along this advice to my own kids.

Related: My Dad Said These 4 Words to Us Every Day, and It Changed the Way We Saw Ourselves

I have been able to approach life with a better attitude and handle situations with grace and dignity since taking time to really understand what is happening in my life and how I can react to it in an effective and controlled way. I know I wouldn't be as successful, hardworking, and self-disciplined if it hadn't been for that small lesson all those years ago. Having his words on my mind and in my heart every day always reminds me of the person I want to be.

This lesson has given me a newfound respect for my dad and his life choices. I know without a doubt, every choice he makes is a conscious and thoughtful decision. He doesn't just react. He takes time to understand the situation and what exactly he can control. I have seen him use this lesson countless times growing up. When one of us kids would break a rule or make a decision he didn't quite understand, he would take the time to find the right words that would help reprimand us for our decisions while also teaching us and making sure we understand what we did.

My dad has become my biggest role model through all of this. I admire his ability to take every situation that is handed to him throughout his life. From marrying a woman over 20 years ago who had a 2-year-old son and raising him as if he were his own, to demonstrating what real love and kindness looks like to all of his kids. He is my hero and I have never respected him more than I do today.

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