“It’s not how long you live; it’s how you choose to live your life.”
These were the words that my mother passed on to me and my brother during her struggle with a rare disease called amyloidosis, and it was in the face of this painful challenge that she unleashed her positive attitude and taught us the importance of mental resilience.
Often, she would get a call from her doctor telling her to come to Boston for another round of painful procedures. As a single mom, she knew that she had to lead her sons by her own example in the face of adversity.
So she made the conscious choice to turn the medical trek to Boston into a fun family trip. She knew we liked Chinese food, so we visited Chinatown. She knew we loved bowling, so that was part of the trip, too.
My mother decided to find the positive (even if she had to create it) rather than focus on the negative elements she couldn’t control — even in the face of her own death from a rare disease with no cure. It was through her amazing actions that I learned that we all have the power to reframe a negative situation to discover the positivity within.
The Power to Reframe
We’ve all heard this saying before: Mind over matter.
It’s one of the first rules of sports psychology, and it involves the understanding that athletes cannot perform at their highest levels based on natural talent and physical training alone. There must be a mental toughness if they’re to get back on their feet following failure or push their bodies beyond what would otherwise be possible.
This principle can be applied to pretty much anyone, and it can be especially useful for entrepreneurs or anyone trying to make a positive impact on the world.
With the ability to reframe negative situations, a positive mindset, and mental toughness, we’re able to unleash our true potential. The process of developing these characteristics can be difficult and even painful.
You Get What You Expect
There’s a principle in psychology called “expectancy theory,” which states that people are motivated by the outcomes they want. So if you focus on the positive because that’s what you expect, you get more positivity; it’s the same with negativity.
As in sports, your success in life is determined by your ability to get up more than you’re knocked down. It starts with your ability to choose a positive mindset in the face of adversity. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Find your advocates.
Avoid naysayers. It’s important to surround yourself with mentors, friends, and other advocates who believe in you and will support your positive mindset when times get tough.
- Exercise your brain.
Our brains have a structure — the insular cortex — where we process positive and negative experiences. We also have a structure called the medial prefrontal cortex, which is where we develop our mental toughness and choose how to respond to a challenge.
Exercise these areas of your brain the same way you would a muscle. This might mean intentionally putting yourself in difficult situations to practice your positivity. If you already have enough challenges in your life, it means training yourself to put the positive thoughts first.
- Believe in yourself.
You need to attain belief in yourself by identifying the person you are today. Use that knowledge as the foundation for who you want to become.
Take Muhammad Ali, for example. He had unbeatable confidence in himself, and he started declaring that he was the heavyweight champion of the world long before he actually won the title. No one thought it was possible, but he believed, surrounding himself with advocates who supported, loved, and inspired him. The result was that not only did he become the heavyweight champ, but he also became one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Don’t expect yourself to be able to maintain positivity in the face of adversity with the flip of a switch. It won’t happen overnight, so stay strong and acknowledge that you must continue to believe and actively engage in the process if you’re to experience concrete change that will benefit your future. The next time adversity rears its angry head, face it with a smile — you’ll be amazed at how it affects the outcome.
Ben Newman is the owner and president of The Ben Newman Companies, a motivation and training provider. Ben is a bestselling author, an international speaker, and a highly regarded performance coach whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, business executives, high-performing salespeople, and athletes in the NFL, PGA, and NCAA.