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5 Tips for a Major Attitude Adjustment

Give thanks, surround yourself with Scripture and other ways to see the glass as half full.

Emily Marszalek and her fiance, Nick; photo by J. Craig Sweat

I slumped on my couch after coming home from work. My fiancé, Nick, looked up from his phone. “You okay?” he said.

“No, I’m crabby!” I said. “I stepped in dog poop this morning. I had 62 emails waiting for me at work. I ordered no sour cream on my taco at lunch and guess what? Mouthful of sour cream. The driver in front of me was going 10 miles an hour all the way home. And I’ve had toothpaste on my sweater all day.”

Nick cracked a smile. “Is that all?” he joked. “You’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, aren’t you?”

I opened my mouth to object, then stopped. At 29, I was the assistant director in the giving department at the University of Idaho. In love with a good man who was in love with me. But if I was honest with myself, I was consumed with grumpiness, pessimism and stress on the best of days.

Nick, an electrician, was the opposite. Even a day spent maneuvering through spider-infested crawl spaces and 120-degree attics never seemed to sour his mood.

“I can be pretty negative,” I said, as tough as it was to admit.

“Shouldn’t your faith help you with that?” Nick said.

This time his question was sincere. I’d been talking to him about the importance of faith. But he’d seen right through me.

“You’re right,” I said. “I need to work on that.”

Since that day, I’ve made a conscious effort to be more positive, more grateful, to truly live my beliefs. Small steps that anyone can do. Let me show you what I mean.

Give thanks daily

I excelled at identifying things that weren’t going right, many having to do with my two dogs: Lucy, a boisterous puppy, and Charlie, a three-year-old with health issues. But counting my blessings? Not so much.

A few days after my conversation with Nick, I was taking my morning shower. Despite a double dose of conditioner, my hair remained a tangled mess. Soapy water pooled at my feet, the drain semi-clogged. “Off to another great start,” I muttered.

Then I heard Nick in my head. I stopped grumbling and let the shower spray warm me. It was soothing, washing away my annoyance.

Thank you, God, for clean water,” I said. Something I took for granted. “Thank you for my family,” I continued. “For my dogs. For my old Audi, which is still running. For my health, my job and Nick—especially for Nick.”

Afterward, I found myself looking forward to getting to the office, chatting with my coworkers, digging into those emails.

In the next morning’s shower, I gave thanks for more specific things. The potato chip meat loaf I planned to cook for dinner. The vanilla bean lotion I’d bought the day before. A coworker who’d passed along positive feedback from a donor. I committed to thanking God for something new each day during my shower. I was worried I’d run out of things to mention, but the more gratitude I expressed, the more I found to be grateful for.

Take time-outs

Plenty of things still annoyed me, like the day I picked up Lucy from the vet after surgery. “No running or jumping for two weeks,” the vet had instructed. On the way home, Lucy pinballed around the back seat. I rolled down the window, hoping a little fresh air would calm her down. Instead, she started yelping, loud enough for other drivers to notice.

Finally home, Lucy proceeded to pee on the carpet, then the couch. I wanted to scream, “Can anything else go wrong today?” Instead, I took a time-out. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It took only a minute for my aggravation to leave me.

The world wasn’t ending. Lucy’s surgery had been a success. I had the week off work to care for her. I got my spray bottle of stain remover, and soon everything was clean. I curled up on the couch, Lucy next to me. Not even her cone of shame or the damp cushion under my feet could spoil the moment.

Surround yourself with Scripture

As a teenager, I loved reading the Bible, but I’d let the habit lapse. I decided to start every day on a positive note, with Scripture. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier. I stayed in bed and read, so I wouldn’t disturb the dogs. The stillness alone helped me feel closer to God.

I focused on verses about gratitude, joy and peace and used them as pick-me-ups whenever I felt myself feeling a little down. I wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16 in my planner, a reminder to be joyful always. I jotted Colossians 3:15 on a note card and set it in my car’s center console. It prompted me to let peace rule my heart whenever I got stuck in traffic. Reading Psalm 118:24 on a bookmark before bed encouraged me to come full circle, ending my day with rejoicing.

Encourage others

My coworker Dave exudes joy. He’s always positive. Always encouraging the people around him. I told Dave once how much I admired him. “What’s your secret?” I asked.

Dave thought for a moment. “I guess I try to think of others more than I do myself,” he said. Good advice, but I couldn’t flip a switch and be naturally outgoing the way Dave was. I’m an introvert, better at putting my thoughts down in writing. Maybe I could work with that.

I bought a jumbo pack of greeting cards. Each week I wrote and sent cards of encouragement and appreciation, starting with close friends and family, then distant relatives, friends I hadn’t talked to in years, the front office staff at the vet.

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I wrote a letter to my childhood best friend Karla’s mom, Pam, who’d been like my second mom. We hadn’t been in touch in almost 10 years. I included photos of me, Nick and the dogs.

A couple weeks later, I was delighted to find a letter from Pam in my mailbox, with an update on her life, including her adoption of a puppy. She gave me Karla’s new phone number. I messaged Karla that evening. We spent hours reminiscing. With just one small gesture, I’d regained two friendships. I made sure to thank Dave. In person.

Use positive reinforcement

Potty training Lucy was a nightmare. After she soiled the carpet for the fourth time in one day, I screamed, “You’ll never learn! This will never get better!” Lucy tucked her tail between her legs and wouldn’t look at me. Then I remembered the dog training advice I’d heard hundreds of times: Use positive reinforcement. I wasn’t such a fast learner myself, was I?

I changed my tone. “You’ll get the hang of it, Lucy,” I said in an upbeat voice. “This will get better.” It didn’t. For weeks. Still, I praised her for the slightest improvement. One day, she walked to the back door and stood there. “You want to go out?” I asked. I opened the door, and she trotted into the backyard, squatted and looked at me as if to say, “See? I’m doing it!”

“Good girl!” I said, scratching her head and giving her a few treats. Sure, there were more accidents, but I encouraged her instead of scolding. Every time she did her business outside, I lavished her with praise. I used the same technique on myself (minus the head scratches and treats, of course). Rather than berating myself when I backslid into negativity, I said, “I am becoming more joyful. I can do this.” Repeating these affirmations lifted my spirits and gave me more determination to keep trying.

A few months after I committed to being more positive, I noticed drops of oil on the garage floor. I took my beloved 2007 Audi A4 to the mechanic.

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“I’ve got some bad news,” he told me. The repairs would cost more than the car was worth. It was time to say goodbye. I was heartbroken.

“I’m so sorry,” Nick said when I told him about the Audi. “Try not to stress about it.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’ve enjoyed seven great years in that car—with almost as many speeding tickets.”

Nick looked surprised for a second, then wrapped his arm around me.

I leaned into his hug. He’d noticed my glass was half-full, even though I hadn’t told him how hard I’d been working on my attitude makeover.

“I’ll help you look for your next car,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “as long as you don’t drive it as fast as you drove your Audi.”

I laughed and said, “I need to work on that.”

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