“I hear you’re unconquerable.”
That was the first thing my friend Myrta said to me after I had been diagnosed with leukemia and given a 40 to 50 percent chance of surviving. I was determined to beat this cancer, and from then on “unconquerable” became my mantra.
No matter what the disease did to me physically—even if it killed me—I promised myself I wasn’t going to let it beat me mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
After many months of intense chemotherapy and radiation, I received a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated European donor. It was a grueling affair filled with vomiting, agonizing mouth sores, muscle wasting and the very real risk of being killed if someone sneezed too close to me.
Through it all though, I did my best to stay positive. That’s not to say I never had low moments. There were many. But keeping a positive attitude kept me from sinking too deeply into the quicksand of depression and despair.
As if to match my resolve to take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one, something else happened after my transplant. As my newly donated stem cells engrafted and started producing healthy blood, my old blood slowly worked its way out of my system.
And before too long, my body had completely switched to a new blood type—from A-Negative to my donor’s O-Positive.
Very weird, but very cool.
The benefits of being upbeat
How An Optimistic Attitude Can Help You Succeed
Did positive thinking cure me of cancer? No. I’ve got incredible doctors, medications, blind luck and a slew of other factors to thank for that. But an optimistic attitude did help in many ways.
It motivated me to show up for all my appointments and be disciplined about my meds. It forced me to choke down bland hospital food when I was nauseated so I could keep my strength up. It kept my stress hormones under control so my body could heal and I could sleep at night to get the rest I needed.
It compelled me to drag my butt out of bed to do laps around the ward to keep my muscles from completely wasting away. Indeed, a positive frame of mind played a very important role in my recovery.
Likewise, optimism alone won’t make your career or business venture succeed. But boy, will it help. Below are just some of the ways a optimistic attitude can have a positive impact.
- Positive work environments perform better than negative ones. Happy employees are motivated to work harder, work together as a team and get the job done.
- Positive people get noticed. Business is all about building relationships, and nothing sours one like negativity. While toxic co-workers and contracts sink to the bottom (or get weeded out entirely), the passionate and positive ones rise to the top. Bottom line: we like being around confident, enthusiastic people.
- Positive thinkers are good problem solvers. Lose a big client? Website crash? While some people dwell on the doom and gloom of a negative situation, positive thinkers are busy coming up with creative solutions. Maintaining an optimistic outlook helps you push forward during the inevitable storms that whip up.
- Being positive fosters self-development. When something goes wrong, it’s easy to slip into blame and bitterness—neither of which help you grow as a person. On the other hand, being able to see a negative experience as a positive learning opportunity empowers you to learn from your mistakes and make better decisions in the future.
How to Foster A Positive Attitude
Sure, there are benefits of being positive, but how do you make that happen? Here are some ideas on how to infuse optimism into your daily life (adapted from my free ebook, Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles, available at www.badgeofawesome.com):
1) Get up on the Right Side of the Bed
Start the day off right. Go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour earlier so you have more time for things like meditation, a healthy breakfast or going for a run. Set a positive tone for the day right out of the gate.
2) Surround Yourself with the Good Stuff
Post motivational quotes around your office. Listen to uplifting music. Hang out with people who encourage and inspire you. Who do you know who can provide you with motivation? Expertise? A listening ear?
On the flip side, who’s getting in your way of achieving your goals?
Be mindful of negative people who might be draining your mojo.
3) Get it out of Your Head
Prickly challenge got you in a thought spiral?
To quell the million negative thoughts bouncing around your brain, take the time to put them on paper. Writing down to-do lists, random ideas, questions and calculations helps you transform negative mental clutter into positive action plans.
4) Create a Personal Mantra
What’s your personal mantra?
Identify key objectives and priorities in your life and attach a word or phrase to them. I had two during my treatment: “Unconquerable” and “I am healthy, I am strong.” Write your personal mantra out on a piece of paper and post it somewhere visible.
Use it as a way to focus your attention and keep you on track. Take time every day to quietly repeat the words over and over again and meditate on their meaning. If you find yourself in a negative place, pull your mantra out of your bag of tricks as a way of calming down and taking control.
5) Get Outside
It’s amazing how a little fresh air and sunshine can improve your mood. Regular exercise is another important way to stay positive.
6) Celebrate Mini Milestones
Set little milestones for yourself along the way and celebrate your successes. Like my journey from diagnosis to recovery, some situations seem to stretch on forever, with no end in sight.
Making a point to acknowledge the little achievements along the way—getting through the first phase of chemo, remission, finding a donor, being able to do a push-up or walk up a flight of stairs—helps you stay positive and see that you really are making progress.
My experience with leukemia was figuratively and literally a journey from negative to positive. And seven years after my diagnosis, I’m thrilled to report that I’m completely cancer-free.
Yes, it was rotten, but it did teach me that success involves the ability to be optimistic, adapt to difficult situations and stubbornly refuse to quit. It taught me that while the right attitude may not be the silver bullet of success, it certainly makes a world of difference.
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