Over the years as a coach and consultant, I have found that they way that people think determines their quality of life. The exact same event (or opportunity) can occur to two different people, and the way that they think, can create completely different trajectories after the event.
This lesson was brought home to me a few months ago.
My wife and I recently moved to a new home. My youngest daughter Emily was just turning 13, and her sister, Courtney, was 16. Both of the girls were excited about the pending move as it approached – they looked at it like an adventure. Both of them had been deeply involved in our decision to move and both had voted yes.
At sixteen, Courtney had a busy social life with lots of friends in our old neighborhood. In spite of that, she was eager to move to our new home 4 hours away, because she was excited by all the new activities especially snowboarding at the local ski-resort and boating on the innumerable lakes that are nearby in the summer. As the move date approached, her mom and I kept asking her if she really wanted to move – was she sure? She kept assuring us that she was.
Unfortunately, it turns out she wasn’t. She wasn’t thinking about all that she would have to give up when we moved – her friends and her social life. Reality set in immediately after we moved. Courtney was seriously depressed. For two weeks she did nothing but go to school and come home to sleep. She declined offers to get together with classmates after school and when school let out for Christmas, sleep was just about all she did, unless she was complaining that she wanted to move back home.
Her mother and I were worried that we had made a big mistake. Then one day everything changed.
Almost overnight, she stopped sleeping all the time, she stopped asking to move back, she started to make friends, she went snowboarding almost everyday with her new friends and she was “back” – she seemed to be really happy. What was amazing was that change this happened so quickly.
After I few days, I noticed a handwritten note taped to her mirror. When she got home that day I asked her about it. She said it was by someone named Chuck Swindoll that someone at school had given to her. Here’s the quote I found that morning:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... an organization... a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
I don’t know Chuck, and I have not read anything that he has written as far as I know, but I owe him.
As for my daughter, I am so proud of her. She was able to do something that most people with many more years of life experience simply refuse to do. She decided to stop being a victim to her circumstances. She chose to be happy. She embraced the positive opportunities all around her, and let go of the loss that she couldn’t change.
It’s now 7 months later and she is as happy as ever.
All of us have the ability to change our thinking, to make it more productive, to find the best in any situation. Sometimes situations are a lot more difficult than a move when you’re sixteen, sometimes they are matters of life and death.
A few years ago I watched my brother Pete die of cancer. In the last week of his life my brother chose not to give into fear and despair, but instead chose to make the last week of his life count for something good. He intentionally and compassionately made each member of his family feel good about the personal relationship that they had had with him. His wife, his kids… and his brother.
In any situation, any situation at all, you have a choice in how you think - and that can make all the difference.