What to Do About Your Piggy Attitude

Profanity Progress Report 
For those you new to American Grandpa, I am on a campaign to quit using profanity and I have asked my readers to keep me accountable. This is my most recent report. 
# of Consecutive Days Without Swearing$ Paid Out for Getting Caught Swearing
7$4

It was the spring of 1990 and we were living in Safford, Arizona.  I had been granted sabbatical leave to work on a doctorate at BYU that fall, so we needed a place to live near Provo.   

Debra was very pregnant and didn’t want to make a house hunting trip. She put me on the bus with the latest Dave Barry book, a wish list for the new digs and instructions not to confuse the two. I promised to find a great place.

Finding a great place was a lot harder than I’d supposed. We were soon to have six kids, so there were not a lot of options and being on reduced salary required watching the budget. On my last day, I finally got a lead on a house in American Fork. It would be a bit of a drive, but it sounded roomy and was in our price range.

When I saw the house, I was disappointed. It left a lot to be desired, but I was sure we could make it work for the one year we would be on leave. Besides, it was in the country; what more could Debra want? I made a deal with the owner and gave them the deposit. I then went home and painted Debra the rosiest picture my conscience would allow.

We arrived at the house in early June and I was shocked to see what a poor choice I had made. It was much dirtier than I remembered and there must have been a hole in the wall behind every piece of the former tenant’s furniture. It was so bad that even the kids were shocked (and these were tough kids).

Debra, who was now very close to delivery, looked like she was ready to cry, but I didn’t know what to tell her. Our furniture was in a moving van on its way and if we didn’t make the best of this, we really had nowhere else to go. I was just about to give her a pep talk when the wind shifted.

What I had not known until that moment was that the house sat on the edge of a huge hog farm. With the shifting wind came the worst agricultural stench you can imagine. Debra glared at me and pronounced (insert scariest wife voice (SWV) here) “I will not live in this place!” With that she was out the door, back in the Mormon Assault Vehicle (van to the uninitiated) and the discussion was over.

Everything eventually worked out.  We were able to put our stuff in storage and lived in family housing at BYU for the summer.  By fall we’d found a home and settled in, but the memory of the hog farm house did not wane.  You could see its silos from the freeway, so every time we drove past that spot over the next ten years, Debra would look over and sneer (insert SWV) “there’s the hog farm!” She continued even after we moved to Salt Lake and only made occasional trips past the spot.

It was funny the first 200 times, but eventually got on my nerves. Debra wasn’t trying to hurt me, but every time she said it, I was reminded that I had failed my family. One evening, as we were traveling from Provo to Salt Lake City and approached the spot she said, “there’s the …” There was a short pause before she finished with “… temple.”

I looked over and saw her gazing above the silos to the newly completed (and beautifully lit) American Fork temple, situated in the foothills above the hog farm. Debra had raised her sights just enough to look past a painful and ugly memory to see something beautiful and meaningful. She never pointed out the hog farm again.  

WHAT IS AN ATTITUDE?

Every time I recall this story I am reminded of the basic principle of attitude and the effect that it has on our lives.  Now before you accuse me of saying Debra has a bad attitude, let me define what an attitude is.

An attitude it a predisposition to act in a particular way in a particular situation. And we have thousands of attitudes about everything in our lives – some are good and some are bad.

I have a bad attitude about cottage cheese. I don’t have to think about it at all. I can’t stand to look at it or smell it, much less eat it. I complain every time it is on the table and actually resent attempts to disguise it in lasagna, Jell-O or mix it with fruit. It is my least favorite rotting milk byproduct and I don’t understand people who eat it.

I have a good attitude about cold milk. I don’t have to think about it at all. I love the taste and the creamy texture. I even enjoy the lingering aftertaste on the back of the pallet. It is especially delicious as a chaser for chocolate and Heaven forbid you would eat Fruit Loops without it. (Yes, I slurp the leftover milk out of the bottom of the bowl when finished.) Don’t drink milk? I don’t get you!

Attitudes about food substances don’t make me good or bad. They are just part of who I am.  However, they do affect my life. Sometimes I choose to pass on the lasagna and offend the cook. I ask for milk refills at I-HOP and that costs me more. Attitudes lead to thoughts and motives, and thoughts and motives lead to actions and behaviors. It is the basic principle of attitude. 

Debra had a bad attitude about the hog farm. She didn’t have to think about it. When we drove by it, she remembered the dirty, beat up house; the nauseating smell and the fear of being stuck there. She couldn’t help herself from pointing it out. She didn’t realize that it hurt my feelings or made me uncomfortable being with her, but her attitude affected all that.  

We cannot possibly worry about every attitude in our lives and frankly some just don’t matter, but others make a huge difference.  How does your attitude toward your mother-in-law affect your marriage? How does your attitude toward diet and exercise affect your health? How does your attitude about your minister affect your spirituality and religious devotion?             

CAN YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT ATTITUDE?

The bad news is that each of us probably have a few (or more) bad attitudes that are negatively affecting our lives.  

The good news is we can change our attitudes

First of all, we need to realize that we are not born with our attitudes. They develop in reaction to the experiences in our lives. I don’t know why I have such a bad attitude about cottage cheese, but I think I know why I had such a bad temper. You may not think that a temper is an attitude, but it does fit the description – a predisposition to act in a particular way in a particular situation.

To make a long story short, I will just say that as a young boy I learned to get my way by throwing temper tantrums, learned to defend myself against threats (real and perceived) with rage and turned to anger as a manifestation of fear and depression. By the time I was a young man, my predisposition was to become the Incredible Hulk whenever I was betrayed, taken advantage of, or threatened.

I didn’t have to think about it, it just happened and it ruined so many relationships. Within seconds of losing my temper I felt terrible remorse, but didn’t know what to do to prevent it.

Finally, with the encouragement of my wife, I sought therapy. I quickly came to understand many of the underlying causes of my anger and immediately began working to gain control. Just knowing the reasons behind my behavior made a big difference.  I saw myself in a new light as an imperfect person still loved by God and felt, for the first time, I could really seek his help with this problem.

My efforts made a big difference and I wish I could say my temper totally went away immediately. No! It’s been a long twenty-five years. Those who know me, know I can still fly into a rage, but those who have known me for a long time laugh when someone says, “Vince got mad!” The raging monster is now just the occasional jerk. And the difference in my relationships are amazing.

But enough about me. If you are interested in changing some of your bad attitudes let me share what I’ve learned. 

When Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, he put attitudes in their proper place and perspective in our lives. He started with attitudes; moved to thought and motives; then actions and behaviors. He knew that if we cultivated the right attitudes, our thoughts, motives, actions and behaviors would better fall into place.

We have two options when it comes to changing attitudes. We can do it backward or forward. 

One way to do it backward is to fake it until you make it. This is basically behavioral modification – rewarding yourself for a wanted behavior or punishing yourself for an unwanted behavior.  It’s not all external because you are initiating the change and so, you already have some thought or motive for doing so already, but the idea is that as you learn the proper behaviors your thoughts and motives will adapt and you will eventually have the right attitude. 

This won’t work with every attitude, but it did happen to work (or has so far) with my swearing (check out the stats at the top of the post).  I started paying anyone who could catch me swearing a dollar per swear word. I am such a tightwad that it only took $4 to basically kick the habit. I haven’t sworn in over a week.

If that were the whole story it would be impressive, but there is more. I immediately began to realize that it was my crusty attitude about everything that encouraged me to swear – the weather, the painters not showing up on time, stupid drivers. I actually said to my wife as we were driving down the road earlier this week, “I’d better change my attitude or I’ll be swearing here!”

Another way to back into an attitude change is to talk yourself into it. People have successfully used affirmations to change their attitudes for years. There is a right way and wrong way to use affirmations, so you’ll have to look the details up, but in short you write a statement describing the kind of person you want to become, wording it as if you are already that person. Then you read it to yourself several times a day until you convince yourself that is who you are.

It worked for Debra when she was a young woman. Her father owned an Arabian stallion that terrified her. Determined to master that horse, she wrote an affirmation about being the young woman in control of that horse. She read it to herself each day and soon she had not only lost her fear of the horse but was his master. (I can tell you how that horse felt!)

If you want to change an attitude moving forward, you have to change the attitude and let it change your motives and behaviors. I only know one way to do this and that is to totally surrender yourself to God and ask him to change you. If it sounds like being born again, it is.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world.”

I’ve used all of the options discussed above with varying degrees of success, but testify to the fact that surrendering myself to God had done more to change me, my attitude and my behavior. Those changes have been deeper and more permanent and brought me the greatest peace.

If what I’ve shared with you today is helpful, I am glad and I ask you to pass it on.

If not, well it’s probably your bad attitude. 

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