By Dean Whittaker

How many times have you heard that it is not what happens in life, but how you react to it that matters? Life can deal us some pretty crummy cards from time to time, but our attitude can make all the difference in the outcome. Where does our attitude come from, and what shapes it? According to the authors whose books I’ve read recently, we create our attitude by the thoughts we hold in our minds. Our repetitive thoughts become habits that shape our approach toward life. We may not control the wind, but we can certainly adjust our sails to make our passage more enjoyable.

While our approach to life shapes our experience, it also significantly influences those around us. Recently, I had the pleasure of encountering a potential vendor through an email message that reflected a great attitude towards life. Her positive attitude made me look forward to working with her on a challenging project in which we are engaged. Her approach made a difficult project seem engaging and challenging rather than demanding or impossible.

I recommend three recent books to get you thinking about the mysteries of attitude. One set of authors, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Lee Hewitt, argue in their book The Power of Focus that those who focus on what they want prosper, and those who don’t, struggle. The trick is to remain focused on what you want (or, for those of us who take our good fortunes for granted, on wanting what you have). They take the pragmatic approach of creating a personal master plan to promote focus on specific areas of life–health and fitness, relationships, personal goals, financial aims, career enhancement and contributions to society. The Power of Focus also urges you to focus on your obvious talents, spending most of your time each week on what you do best while letting others do what they do best.

Rhonda Byrne, in her runaway bestseller The Secret, takes a more mystical approach to how attitude shapes events. Byrne has documented the “secret” of several successful individuals through a series of interviews that first resulted in a documentary (available on DVD), which later became a book. The Secret is that we attract what we think about. We draw to us those events and people that we hold in our minds. How many times has someone called you just as you were thinking about them? How many times have you created a parking space in front of the store where you are headed? Ask, believe and receive is Byrne’s mantra. At the risk of seeming too metaphysical, I believe that our mind shapes energy into matter. So be careful what you wish for, because you are very likely to get it.

If you need a kick-start each day to focus on improving your attitude, I would recommend The Power of Attitude by John Maxwell. His book offers a series of quotes from thoughtful people regarding their approach to life. For example, “Health, happiness and prosperity are primarily mental,” says Marian Ramsey, or “Attitude…it is our best friend or our worst enemy,” says John Maxwell. This is a great book to flip open to a page for an inspirational quote.

If a summer reading list is part of your personal development, here are a couple you can add to it. My two current books are Einstein – His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, a biography based upon a series of personal letters, and Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, a look at how mass collaboration changes everything.

Note: for the non-readers in the crowd, these books are also available on CD and through iTunes.