The Attitude That Works to Learn Anything

The Attitude that Works is how I describe an attitude I bring to my coaching with special needs children, and try to apply everywhere, in any learning environment. The attitude consists of three parts:

  • Love
  • Presence
  • Acceptance

For background, I’ve been developing an attitude that works for years. When I talked a guy down from jumping off a bridge in college, this is what I was using. This philosophy is what makes me effective in coaching children, and also throughout my physical studies. I am by no means perfect – far from it – but formulating guiding principals has been extremely useful as a reminder of what creates an effective environment for learning.


When I began working with children with autism I discovered that they often lack the social standards that we take for granted. I found that the only way to work with these special children was through being completely compassionate to their experience, even if I didn’t know what that experience was. These children rely on their sense of those around them – their intuitive feel for the attitudes held by others – instead of just the social niceties. It turns out that we all sense the attitudes held by those around us, whether we recognize them or not, and that these attitudes profoundly shape how we behave. When we are compassionate or loving with someone else we are much more inviting to that person, and more likely to foster a connection. The rule holds true for ourselves, as well: when we are compassionate with ourselves our brains are literally more available to process new information and form novel connections.


Aikido calls presence “flow,” the brazilian martial art Capoiera calls it “axé,” world class archers sometime use an exercise called “seeking the void,” contemporary meditation teachers speak of the “monkey mind,” and Tibetan Buddhism teaches seeking “one-ness.” All of these are designed to create an internal sense of ease and calmness which all of these disciplines advocate as the most useful or desirable way to practice the form. In my last blog post I discussed my recent discovery of presence through writing daily.  In coaching special needs children I have found that their periods of greatest learning come when they are relaxed and simultaneously attending closely to our work together. Presence also comes to me at odd times and through unexpected sources. Regardless, with enough different disciples and philosophies advocating quieting the mind and focusing awareness, it is pretty easy to see that practicing presence is a useful way to conduct oneself through many different facets of life.


Acceptance means the lack of judgement. For me this had to come through increasing my awareness of my own judgments. Judgements (such as good, bad, right and wrong) have long been guiding principles for my life.

Is this food good for me or bad for me?
Would I better or worse off for accepting that job offer?
Is this date a good idea?

Judgements are quick and easy determinants of direction. They also lead to unhappiness. How often have any of us said “Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is bad for me” and then gone ahead and eaten it anyway?  There are always reasons for our judgements. Among other reasons, there is an evolutionary psychology argument that judgements lead to quick decision making, which could have been a matter of life and death. Most of us are fortunate enough to live with little that is actually a matter of immediate life and death. Judgements need not be the only way we make decisions anymore. I have found asking the question “What do I want” in any situation is an excellent substitute.  To put oneself in a learning state, to find flow, or to increase fulfillment, it is essential to drop those judgements and accept ourselves, as we are.

Try It

Whether for yourself and your emotional wellbeing, with a romantic partner or child, or within a specific learning project, try to implement one aspect of the attitude that works. I promise: you will notice the difference.

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