Attitude is a word that is used a lot with numerous ways of being defined. Maybe when you were younger you first heard it during a scathing lecture from your parents after displaying a rather poor attitude in school. Or maybe you were consoled by your parents after a tough sporting loss in your adolescence by encouraging you that despite the sadness of losing, you maintained a respectable attitude of sportsmanship toward the winning team. Perhaps you've been lectured by an employer about your lousy attitude at work. Regardless of the circumstances, you probably have heard it been used in a myriad of ways since your childhood, and the definition of what an "attitude" is has been discussed for decades.
Oxford Dictionaries defines attitude as "A settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior." Social psychologists on the other hand have been attributing different definitions of attitude dating back to the 1930's when American psychologist Gordon Allport described attitudes as "the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology."
Bernard Proshansky and Bernard Seidenberg (1965) said that "an attitude is a complex tendency of the person to respond consistently in a favorable or an unfavorable way to social objects in [the] environment"
Milton Rokeach (1968) stated that attitude is... "a learned orientation, or disposition, toward an object or situation, which provides a tendency to respond favorably or unfavorably to the object or situation."
Early and Chaiken (1993, p.1) "...A psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor."
Hogg and Vaughan (2005, p.150) "An attitude is a relatively enduring organizations of beliefs, feelings, and behavioral tendencies towards socially significant objects, groups, events or symbols."
Daryl J Bem (1979) put it more simply then the rest... "Attitudes are likes and dislikes."
To simplify things a bit, attitude is about things and how these things make us behave. You can have attitudes about things that are concrete such as attitudes towards sporting teams. If your a Giants fan you may have a negative attitude toward someone wearing an Eagles jersey. It doesn't have to be negative either, attitudes can be favorable or unfavorable. The flip side of that coin would be seeing someone wearing a Giant jersey on the street, and you decide to say something to him in an endearing way through the shared bond of being fans of the same team. Or it can be a bit less tangible, perhaps you have a particular attitude toward country music as you disdain it's existence and the mere sound of it will put you in a noticeably foul mood.
Being that attitudes are evicted from us because of things that trigger said reactions, it can be a broad term. Attitude objects are essentially limitless. It's almost comparable to an equation, there has to be two things that lead to someone's attitude about something. There has to be the attitude object which we mentioned before, and there has to be an emotional response to that object. For example, let's say I don't like cats because I'm allergic to them. I go over my friends house, and see his cat come into the room. My emotions when I see the cat are "I'm allergic to the cat, don't pet it or go near it". I'm evicting a negative attitude that can be visibly seen in my behavior. Maybe others in the room will go up to the cat and pet it. Or simply give it a passing smile at its cuteness. But I would avoid the cat at all costs, and maybe even give a look of displeasure as a result. This emotion and behavioral response is tied to a belief I hold, which would be cats are dangerous to me. They pose a threat, if I pet it I will have an allergic reaction. Or it could be for more petty reasons, as simple as I just don't like how cats look or behave.
These three components are called the ABC model of attitudes.
Affective Component: A persons feelings or emotions towards an attitude object, i.e "I'm allergic to the cat, don't pet or go near it."
Behavioral Component: The attitude we have influences how we act and behave, i.e avoiding the cat at all costs while others adore it.
Cognitive Component: Persons belief/knowledge on the attitude object, i.e I'm allergic to cats therefore they are dangerous to me, cats aren't cute etc.
When you realize how to spot, analyze and dissect an attitude towards a particular attitude object is when you can truly make adjustments in your personal life. Let's look at a more practical example, let's say you despise your job. Your co-workers are making more than you and got the raise you feel you deserved. Therefore you feel you are being undervalued at your job. Your emotions toward your place of work might be "My job sucks and they treat me like I don't matter". Having those emotions towards your job will reflect in your behavior. You might be more inclined to show up late, be disrespectful to your co-workers or customers, which could lead to you losing your job. This emotional response and behavioral response is tied to the belief that your job doesn't value you because you haven't received a raise yet and all your co-workers have. There's a million different ways to remedy the negative attitudes in your life. Perhaps you quit that miserable job and take some time off to find a better one. Or maybe you suck it up while silently looking for a better job.
If you experience a positive attitude from something, you are bound to repeat it. You wouldn't want to stop going to the gym if merely pulling into the parking lot elicits a smile on your face. If that's the type of emotional response the gym generates for you then it's safe to say the root belief you hold about the gym is a positive one. Perhaps it's a safe space for you to get away from the stresses of the world, or simply because you know its good for your physical health. If the thought of the gym repulses you and your reaction is to find an excuse to skip a workout, maybe you hold a negative belief about the gym. Perhaps you think you'll stick out like a sore thumb and everyone will know you're new. Or you just simply don't find it necessary for whatever reason. The belief tied to the object is what drives the behavior. The good news about attitudes is they can change and adapt overtime much like anything in life.
If perhaps you want to build a more sustainable gym routine but can't muster up the motivation to go consistently, perhaps you need to pop the hood open and do some digging as to what is holding you back. Once you find the root belief that is driving your behavior, you can diagnose the situation and begin to treat it. I'll use an example of my old gym habits, and how I evolved to becoming a regular at the gym. When I wanted to begin going to the gym I struggled to find the consistent motivation like most people. After I did some digging I realized my hidden fear and belief under the surface was being scared of looking like a rookie. I knew I was thin and didn't like my appearance, between that and my lack of gym knowledge I thought for sure I'd be the laughing stock of the gym. After I discovered this was the belief holding me back, I slowly began to shatter that belief. I had other people who I admired in their physical transformations tell me they had the same fear. I had to repeatably hammer it home that everyone is a beginner at some point, and no one will judge me, they want to help me. Once I made that change in my belief about the gym, I was able to muster up the courage to get started.
Attitudes are a subject with many different intersections that can be examined, but understanding the root causes of what they are is the first and most essential step. What most people fail to realize is the depth that attitudes have on our psyche and behavior.