Change for the better

It was one of those days when anything could make me angry. I was sad, irritable, made a big deal out of small inconveniences, and couldn’t stop thinking of negative outcomes or repercussions. But the day had to go on regardless. I had work to do, deadlines to meet, and part of my job was meeting with people and being the one to brighten their day. Ever been in this kind of predicament?

That’s when I decided that something in my attitude had to change. I remembered watching Joseph Grenny on YouTube take the viewers on a trip through the worst slums of Nairobi, where young girls are forced into prostitution in their struggle to survive. He goes on to explain how a successful charity manages to turn their lives around.

He lists six major influences on our psyche and behavior: personal motivation (make the undesirable desirable), personal ability or skill (surpass your limits), social motivation (harness peer pressure), social ability (find strength in numbers), structural motivation (design rewards and demand accountability), and structural ability (change the environment).1

The charity in Kenya uses all those sources of influence to help change the lives of countless women in the slums. Reflecting on the talk, I decided that, besides applying those principles in my line of work (also connected to charity and influencing people in a positive way), I could apply them to myself and my own quest for a change of attitude.

I was tired of my negative mindset, so the motivation was there.

Now for the skill. I discovered that throwing myself into an absorbing activity—like helping or listening to someone, working on a creative project, or writing a thankfulness journal—had the power to dissipate the momentary negative and heavy-hearted feelings and clear up the clouds in my mind. For example, on Christmas Day, instead of sinking into the depths of thinking about what I didn’t have, I volunteered at a local homeless shelter. I ended up meeting and listening to people from five different nations with colorful backgrounds and heart-wrenching stories. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that this was the most fulfilling Christmas Day for me in the past ten years.

Next I needed some social support and motivation. At the time, there was no one in my life with whom I could share my change program and no support group available. But Jesus is always there for me, to listen to me and support me in my endeavors. So I decided that my daily communication with Him would give me the necessary encouragement until the time that He provides people in my life to fill that need.

The next source of influence was an extra incentive. What could I do on that score? I decided that once a week, if it was a good one, considering the needed changes and if I felt that I was living up to those changes, I would reward myself by doing something I liked—an extra outing or dessert, some time spent in a favorite activity, etc.

The last source of influence was my physical surroundings. I’m quite an avid reader and often find memorable quotes in the inspirational books I read. So I hung a heart-shaped blackboard on the wall, got some chalk, and started writing quotes on it. I’d erase each quote after I’d memorized it to free up space for a new one. I also made a “wall of doodles” where I hung more motivational quotes, photos, or loving notes from friends which had motivational power of their own.

So there were my six sources of influence! Now I was testing the method and would soon find out if anything was going to change. It’s been an adventurous and rewarding journey, as I work on recreating myself and changing some of the habits I have acquired in over thirty years of life. There have been skirmishes and even occasional dips into my old melancholy; nevertheless, the direction of change has been generally forward.

In a recent personal trainer course I took, I learned that even following a diet 60–70% of the time is usually successful, because we, as imperfect beings, will never be 100% the way we want to be; but if we persist and don’t give up, we usually get to our destination, even if it takes longer than the time we’d originally planned for the journey.

I’m convinced that there is barely anything that we can’t change for the better, whether in our surroundings or our attitudes, with a little determination, some skill, and God’s help!

  1. To read more on the six sources of influence, see here.