“You are not a helpless victim of your own thoughts, but rather a master of your own mind.” — Louise Hay
Recently I attended a bridal shower. Someone had spilled something on the floor and the wait staff were busy drying it up. Well, apparently they missed a spot because I ended up slipping and falling hard on the floor. It hurt but feeling embarrassed and not wanting to draw any more attention I quickly got up and brushed it off.
A young waiter came rushing over to me, “Are you OK? Can I get you some ice?” I responded that I was OK and made my way over to the buffet line.
As I got my food, the same waiter was there serving me. “Are you sure you’re OK? You fell hard.”
I appreciated his concern and again told him that I was OK, despite my painful and throbbing right knee.
A short time later I went down to the bar with my sister to get a glass of wine for my aunt and again ran into this waiter. “You say that you are OK. Are you sure?” he asked yet again. “You are limping like crazy.”
I looked over at him appreciatively and responded, “I have C.P.” He looked at me both puzzled and confused. “I have cerebral palsy. That’s why I limp.”
He didn’t know quite what to say at this point and only said, “Oh.” After we walked away I asked my sister, “What does he mean ‘limping like crazy?’” My sister didn’t answer. Truthfully, though, she didn’t need to.
Fast forward one week. My sister and I then attended a wake for a family friend. The deceased and her family lived upstairs from us for many years and we became close. I went up to the receiving line to pay my respects to her husband when her daughter introduced me saying, “Dad, this is Josephine. You remember Josephine?”
I can’t say I was prepared for his response, “No, that can’t be Josephine. Josephine could not sit up straight or even walk.” I stood there stunned at first not quite knowing what to say but soon responded, “Well, I guess it’s a good thing that you don’t recognize me.”
Now, what’s my point in telling you all this? Growing up I never thought of myself as disabled. Sure, there were of course times when the thought would creep in like when kids made fun of me or when I fell down. But I never dwelled on my disability. I never thought of myself as limping. In my mind, I walked just like everyone else. In my mind, I sat up perfectly fine.
As I’ve said countless times, you get what you focus on in life. Our thoughts create our reality. Our thoughts create our actions and our actions then create the end results. Had I thought of my disability and all the things I could not do, I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have went to college for journalism had I thought of myself as disabled.
The day after the wake I was really upset. I kept replaying those words over and over again in my mind, “Josephine could not sit up straight or even walk.” What did he mean I couldn’t sit up straight? That was certainly news to me.
Later that evening I called my mother and told her what happened. “Is it true, Mom?” I asked. “Was I not able to sit up straight?” My mother, who has always been brutally honest with me, replied, “Well, he remembers you when you were little. I used to hate seeing you like that but I never let it show. I used to go to sleep at night and cry.”
Now, I really felt bad. First I didn’t even sit up straight and now my mother cried into her pillow at night. For the next week or so, I wallowed in self-pity. Why? Because unconsciously I started to think of myself as disabled. I started to worry about what others think of me. I started to wonder if everyone could notice my limp. I became so self-conscious and insecure that it drove me crazy.
But I soon realized, however, that my experiences were a powerful lesson in positive thinking. My experiences were a beautiful reminder of the importance of a positive mindset. My reaction to both the waiter at the bridal shower and the family friend at the wake was yet another example of something that I have been practicing since I was just a little girl walking with leg braces. That if you concentrate on what you can do, and not what others say you can’t, then what they say about you not only doesn’t matter, but can actually serve as motivation to prove yourself right and them wrong.
It has been scientifically proven that thinking positive thoughts actually creates new neural pathways in the brain. Hence, you can actually change the makeup of your brain simply by changing the way you think. Changing your thoughts really does change your life.
As I write in my book, Make Up Your Mind to be Happy/page xv, “So, then can we change our reality? Absolutely, we can by simply changing the way we think and what we choose to focus on. These choices then precede action and reaction. For example, say I choose to focus on the fact that one of my friends lied to me in the past. I may then become upset and opt not to speak to this person again. Let’s try this from another angle.
Now, say this same friend lied to me, but I choose to instead focus on his good traits. I may then laugh his action off and continue on with the friendship for many years to come. How we respond to the past will continue to control what happens in the future unless we learn to take control of the present by changing the way we think.”
We all have setbacks in life. Perhaps the end of a long-term relationship has you feeling lonely or maybe the loss of a job has you feeling insecure. Sometimes we can’t control what happens to us in life but our response is always within our control. Our reaction is always our choice.
One of my favorite quotes by Abraham Lincoln is, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” When I was little, we had a beautiful rose bush in our backyard that would bloom big pink roses every year. I remember one time trying to break off one of the roses and getting pricked by the thorns.
Later instead of trying to break off the roses, I would simply smell them and admire their beauty. Sure everything in life is not beautiful but there is something beautiful about every day. You need only look. When you do, you’ll cherish the roses and not waste time fretting the thorns.