My sole intention in writing this article is to bring awareness to the power of remaining positive. It may feel a little hokey at first, but please bear with me and I assure you it will make more sense. Most importantly, it is useful and there is a great benefit that can be bestowed upon you if you let yourself buy into it. This may sound like it’s easier said than done because many people are skeptical. I was skeptical at first. However, I learned how trying to stay positive can not only help with recovery but any challenge that may be faced.
Then what exactly is the power of positivity? It’s keeping a positive outlook and celebrating small victories. Celebrating small victories is important because as I have written in previous articles, a seemingly small improvement could have a fairly big impact on a person’s life and recovery. For example, when I was in a rehabilitation center I used a motorized wheelchair to get around. I fortunately have progressed to being able to walk with a cane. However, back then my family, loved ones, or therapists would latch the seatbelt on my wheelchair for my safety. I lacked the strength in my hand to push the button and release it. I would essentially be imprisoned in it until someone let me out. One day, I became strong enough to do it by myself. Now it seems somewhat unreal as I am able to put on and take off my own seatbelt in an automobile. However, being strong enough to release my own seat belt is actually a fairly large improvement toward my independence and, quite frankly, my sanity. Please remember that we have to crawl before we walk, but recognizing each gain is important. Positivity starts with this recognition. If we only see what we do not have then it is a spiraling down effect of negativity. In acknowledging those small victories we allow ourselves to be encouraged. This leads to motivation to think positive and work hard towards our goals.
Where I go to therapy, there is a gentleman that goes by the name of Chester. Now I have no idea what medical issue he has. However, I am able to see that he doesn’t have any legs. He primarily uses a wheelchair to get around although I have seen him walk by using prosthetics. Whenever he encounters someone, they are acknowledged with a loud and friendly greeting. He also greets everyone in the waiting room awaiting therapy with a loud “hello everybody.” He is an incredibly positive person in spite of whatever challenges he faces. He’s a shining example of using the power of positivity to not dwell on any negativity and maintain an upbeat outlook. It is very easy to succumb to society’s pressure to take a negative spin on things. Society often teaches us to view the world as glass half empty. Please try your best to resist this urge. We may not be able to do what we once were able to but try to participate in a different way. In some ways it’s very similar to a broken bone. It will heal and while the ability to regain full function with activities is attempted to be regained, the bone becomes its “new normal”. The same concept can be correlated to a neurological injury. A regained and modified way of doing an activity is accomplished to find our “new normal”. As mentioned above, trying to do something a different way is moving in the direction of independence and that is a reason to celebrate. Often, there are ways to participate with adaptations. It may not be the exact way we did it before but take pride in at least trying to do it. Some activities we just cannot participate in any longer or feel that if we can’t do it a certain way we no longer choose to do it. In those circumstances, try to mourn it as a loss and then try to do your best to put it away and move past it. It may always be a source of sorrow, but try to maintain a proper perspective on it. Any change in our body’s ability to not carry out its innate function will certainly be overwhelming. A loss has been suffered and needs to be mourned. Self-talk can do wonders. Try to give yourself a pep talk in the morning. Please give yourself permission to focus on the positive and recognize the loss. Be motivated in the opportunity to make a difference in THIS day. Smile, greet someone, look at yourself in the mirror and remember that you are not a stroke, or the illness or injury. You are a person and unfortunately you are in a life altering predicament. Please know that with any kind of loss one will experience a grieving process. Whether it is secondary to an illness, or loss of someone or something, mental or physical, your mind must explore all the stages of dealing with that loss. Be kind to yourself, this current situation is not your fault and it’s a moment in time. Tomorrow may hold something different. Education is empowerment.
Please try to look at it using this analogy. Years ago, Blackberries dominated the landscape of business and were used by many for private use. When the iPhone launched, the company that owns Blackberry (called RIM) claimed it would never take off because the public demanded a physical keyboard and didn’t want to type on a piece of glass. Now touchscreen phones dominate the market. Does that mean the blackberry was a bad device? It was a fine device, but times and more importantly, preferences have changed. A certain limitation may change the way you do things. It may require you to adapt to participate again in even a much different way than you once did. Try to take this on as a challenge and a new journey. Times and circumstances have simply changed and having to adapt or do something differently may just be a fact of life.
In my opinion, there is no greater satisfaction than achieving a goal that many people didn’t think you would accomplish. The amazement in others makes it priceless. It can even take you a very long time to achieve it. I always say play the long game. Set your sights on something and have the persistence and patience to see it through. It may be a task or an activity. Set your sights on clawing your way back to it. Do this even if it’s a painstakingly slow process. Often goals are not achieved quickly but by a combination of baby steps. This emphasizes the importance of setting reasonable and achievable goals. The sum total accomplishes something rather large. This is rather difficult for me because I am by nature an impatient person. I prefer to see instant results. However, forcing yourself to practice patience is a key to success. You may need adaptive devices to do it and you may not do the activity in exactly the same way you did before, but at least you are doing it if it’s your intention to do so. Please do not confuse what I am saying. I am not advocating a “prove all the haters wrong” attitude. Many people express legitimate concerns like safety, etc. These doubts often come from a place of caring and they are merely looking out for your best interests. Take pleasure in relieving all these doubts when you accomplish your goal. Time is certainly relative. Many people who are more experienced at life will say “time really flies when you get older.” Time is constant and obviously not moving any faster. However, your perception of time changes as you age. For example, when you are six years of age three years passing seems like a long time because it’s half of your life. Many can relate in that reflecting back to a time when school’s summer break seemed so long and now summer seems to fly by. When you are sixty six, comparatively, three years is a much smaller percentage of your life. That is why you perceive three years as passing much faster when you are much older. The reason I am mentioning this is because taking two years to accomplish something will not take that long in the grand scheme of things. More importantly, it will feel like it’s passing in no time. Please do not get discouraged if a goal takes a long time to accomplish.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that we should engage in magical thinking. This is defined as thinking the obviously impossible is possible. The late great Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer, was accused of doing this. However, this example does fail in his case because he would demand his corporate team meet a completely unrealistic deadline and then they would actually accomplish it. He almost willed the impossible to be possible. I do always think people should have hope. After all, you really never know? For example, while not totally impossible, if a person has suffered a complete break in their spinal cord it may be very unlikely that they will walk. However, a person in that situation has countless realistic goals that can significantly improve their life. Please try your best to be somewhat truthful and realistic with your goals.
Please take time to celebrate the seemingly small improvements. A small increase of strength or improvement may lead to a rather large functional gain. We tend to be used to employing the get up and go attitude as we did prior to injury. There are no limitations and no need to think of the steps involved. This just isn’t realistic. Mindset is key in recovery. We live by some social norms. There are expectations to do things a certain way and to follow the “normal” way of doing things. Acknowledgement of loss or limitation of functions help make the goal a personal one. One without judgment of others. Try to acknowledge the challenge of the day. This is about you. You are moving at your pace and the rest of the world is moving at their pace. One shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed or ashamed or feel they have become a child again; learning basic skills. I think often what happens is we are our worst enemy, beating ourselves up for our loss of ability. Please remember, you are not in the driver seat; you did not choose this, so please stop the blame game. Instead, praise yourself for waking up with a smile and fighting to accomplish your tasks at your very best each day. Glass half full thinking can make the difference in your quality of life. That is the goal in life. To live each day to the fullest. A person who is well and a person with physical or mental limitations also live somewhat different lives. Choose to live life with vigor. Each step up the ladder is a step in the right direction and an accomplishment. Look back and recognize the strides made. Give yourself that self-talk and permission to enjoy and celebrate small gains.
At this point you may be thinking, this is all great, but the reality is I can’t live life the way I did and it may be depressing and your outlook is very dismal. I encourage you to look up the process of acceptance and dealing with grief. You can choose to be happy and choose to be motivated by the way you view your current situation. Thinking positively has visceral effects on your health. It’s often said that “stress is a killer.” Negativity affects the way we perceive things. If we perceive it to be a loss, it will be a loss. Negative thinking increases stress which can in turn increase the risk of many other illnesses.
That certainly is the purpose of positive thinking. To make life better. Even if it’s holding a utensil to be able to feed yourself. This small improvement can be the start of something that drastically improves everyday life. It can put a smile on your face and this positive feels is inspiring. It can lend to a domino effect of other positive thinking and behaviors. Embrace challenges and always try your best to celebrate small victories. They could be the start of something big. Most importantly, stay positive.
by John Carbonara
Tricia Richards helped develop concepts that were critical to the writing of this article. She is employed as an Occupational Therapist. More importantly, she is a true believer in the power of positivity.