“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.” ~Gandhi
It was 1999 and my life stunk. I had failed miserably as a missionary for my church, I’d been sent to a mental hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I was in the process of losing the woman I thought I was going to marry.
I was in bad shape, and didn’t have a clue as to how I could right the ship, so to speak.
Now, 13 years later, I have a great job that provides for me and my family. I have a beautiful wife, two lovely children (with another on the way!), and plenty of free time to pursue the hobbies I enjoy. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and thanks to a few tiny little pills I take every day, I also enjoy good physical and mental health.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that everything changed completely overnight. It didn’t.
To deal with the loss of my girlfriend I did some therapy; I put myself back on the market and did a lot of dating; I consciously chose to let go of what I thought should happen and accept what had happened. Slowly, I healed until one day I realized that I was open to loving fully again.
Dealing with my mental illness is a challenge that continues to this day. I’ve put in place the foundation for good mental health by accepting the fact that I will need to be medicated for the rest of my life.
After making that choice, there has still been an endless parade of medications as we try to find the right cocktail for me. And even with the medications, I still have good times and bad. The medication, I’ve found, is a tool and not a panacea.
Making these outward choices has really helped, but there is one thing that really changed everything for me: I changed my attitude.
What caused that change? I read a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He was forced to work as a slave laborer and watch as many of his peers died slow, miserable deaths.
He was separated from his own wife, mother, and father, and lost them all before the war ended. But what did Frankl learn from his time in the concentration camp? Here’s what he had to say:
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances…”
When I read those words, something clicked inside of me. I intuitively knew that they were true, and I knew that I needed to learn how to give myself an attitude adjustment if I wanted to have any measure of peace in this world. So I began to study.
I read everything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with personal development, and I began to notice patterns in the books I was consuming.
Over time, the patterns became clearer and clearer until I was able to identify 10 “rules” of happy living.
I call these rules The Ten Principles of Personal Development. They are, in no particular order:
- Be loving toward everyone you meet.
- Forgive all who attempt to harm you.
- You become what you think.
- Look for ways to strengthen those who have less than you have.
- Always seek knowledge and truth.
- Always be honest.
- Never waste what you are given.
- Be grateful for all that you have.
- Develop a spirit of optimism.
- Have faith in something greater than yourself.
Once I identified the Ten Principles, I needed a way to make them a part of my life. So I studied some more. What I found is that the best way to make something a part of your life is to set a goal and follow through on it.
So I began to set one goal a month, doing my best to live one of the principles for 30 days or so. I used The EASIER Method of Goal Achievement to pursue my goals.
If you were trying to be more grateful using the EASIER method, you would:
- Envision yourself being grateful for everything that was given to you throughout the day.
- Assess your current levels of gratitude. In what situations do you easily express your gratitude? In what situations do you struggle?
- Create a strategy that will allow you to be grateful more often.
- Implement your strategy.
- Evaluate your progress as you go through the day’s activities.
- Report your progress to someone you love and trust.
The impact of my decision to live the Ten Principles was monumental. The more I tried to live the principles, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more I wanted to live the principles. I had created a positive feedback loop that was self-reinforcing.
There were still challenges in my life, of course; now, however, I was able to tackle them with a positive attitude, and that seemed to make all the difference. Little by little my attitude improved, and as my attitude improved, I began to enjoy my life more and more.
We all go through difficult situations in life. If you’re in a tough place right now, choose one of the principles above and set a goal to practice it as well as you can over the next month.
This might not immediately change your circumstances, but you will likely find that changing your attitude slowly but surely changes your life.
Photo by h.koppdelaney