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 YouTube1 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).

2 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 heavy­hearted 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!

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