Like most people, I did not grow up in a positive home. I was much more likely to be criticized for something not done correctly than complimented for a job well done.

In addition, in my childhood years there was a subtle effort that became more blatant in my teen years. My parents tried to “guide” me to decisions that matched their expectations for me rather than my own plans and goals. Fortunately, in my teens, I was exposed to a number of writers, including James Allen, Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar and others, who impressed upon me the importance of developing a positive attitude.

This began a battle in my head, which continues through today. The positive voice that I have nurtured since those formative teen years fights against the negative voice from my childhood. The fact is that long after my parents have passed, that negative voice still tells me I can’t do certain things.

What I began to learn in my teens, and what I have built on for the last fifty years, is that a positive attitude makes a tremendous difference. In fact, except in rare instances, attitude is the largest factor in being successful. Talent, education, and opportunity certainly play roles, but they are generally much less important than attitude.

Our attitude determines our approach to life. People with a positive attitude expect that good things will happen to them. Their positive attitude allows them to recognize opportunities. When inevitable changes occur, they look at the situation with an eye for the possibility of better things. Because of a positive attitude toward change, they do not fear change. In fact, change becomes an opportunity to improve or be blessed.

Another reason why attitude is so critical to success is that attitude determines our relationships with people. The old phrase, “Birds of a feather tend to flock together” is true. Negative people attract negative people. Positive people attract positive people. Organizations reflect the attitudes and beliefs of leadership. Selfish, self-centered business owners attract negative and vindictive people. Negative leadership attracts and tolerates toxic people who impede the long term profitability and success of an organization.

Good leaders set an example with their attitudes and their actions. Leaders set the tone for the work environment as well as the home environment. Leaders with a positive attitude attract positive people who help them build a positive and successful organization. Parents who correct their children’s mistakes while using it as an example to teach their child, raise positive young people who have not been tarnished with the experience that every mistake is a failure.

Often attitude is the only difference between success and failure. Few, if any, are so talented that they can succeed with a bad attitude. A positive attitude allows you to develop a successful vision of who you are. It allows you to look at your strengths and weaknesses and use your strengths to become the best you that you can be. People with poor attitudes are inclined to ultimately destroy themselves, no matter how much external financial and social success they have. Tragically, most people who fail, do so because they cannot escape the prison of the negative attitude that they were raised with or learned as an adult.

Attitude is most important when we try something new. New initiatives require courage. Every time we try something new we are confronted with obstacles that we did not anticipate. Attitude is the key to overcoming obstacles. If you adopt the attitude that, “Obstacles come to instruct, not destruct,” you greatly improve your chances of success.

Unfortunately, we are often programmed from an early age to develop a reluctance to try new things. Well-meaning parents and teachers tell us to be careful or to watch our step not realizing that the repetition of this type of instruction programs us to become cautious and afraid to take a chance or try something new. I am not suggesting that we not caution young people about danger, but we need to also encourage young people to rake risks and try new things when danger can be controlled. Simply put, you can’t raise children who will achieve their potential if you chase them around with a net all the time.

Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. Mistakes are not failures. Mistakes are the currency of personal growth and success. Without making mistakes you cannot achieve something new. Our goal should be to make sure that we learn from our mistakes and to make sure that we only make the same mistake once. Show me someone who never makes a mistake, and I’ll show you someone who will never come close to realizing their potential. On the other hand, if you can learn to make mistakes quickly and learn from them, and avoid being psychologically damaged by them, then you are well on your way to success. Ultimately your attitude about mistakes will say a lot about the quality of your life.

Highly successful people share an attitude that is so positive that they live in a constant world of positive expectations. These expectations command the world around them. From the outside, it appears that they are lucky or that they have the golden touch. However, when you get to know highly successful people, and I have had the privilege of knowing several, you learn that their incredibly positive attitude is key to their success.

For these highly successful people, mistakes are not failure. Mistakes are learning experiences. Once they learn the lesson, they move on. They do not become paralyzed for a period of time while they emotionally recover from their mistakes. They learn their lesson, suck it up, and try something else.

If you want to live a happier and more successful life, focus on your attitude. Read books and listen to speakers who teach on attitude. Get materials from James Allen, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, and others and use their materials to re-program you mind.

Look at your friends. Are they positive and successful people? If not, start to build relationships with people who are. Spend time with positive people. Find out what they read and listen to. Ask them how they stay positive when they encounter obstacles.

Attitude is the key to a successful life, no matter how you define it. The beauty of it is that you can change your attitude. Even if you were raised in a negative environment or you work in one, you can change your own attitude. If your attitude is not overtly negative, but is also not positive, you can still improve it.

The first step is to make a personal decision that you want more out of your life. And then you need to commit to taking steps, possibly using some of the suggestions in this article, that will allow you to develop a more positive attitude. As you improve your attitude, you will develop positive expectations that will allow you to become the successful and fulfilled person that you were meant to be.